Disclaimer:The following story is a fan made work of fiction. Fairy Tail and Mahou Sensei Negima are owned and written by Hiro Mashima and Ken Akamatsu respectively. Please support their official releases.

Chapter 1

Bonds of Golden Fire

Nestled within the secluded hot spring behind his home, the old wizard Warrod gave a sigh of pleasure as he submerged himself in the steaming water. Building himself a private hot-spring bath had been done on a whim almost a decade ago, and it had turned out to have been one of his better ideas. The calming heat soothed his aching body in a way which nothing else could match.

A typical night would see him soaking in the bath for a short time before he went to sleep. Yet tonight was different. On this evening, Warrod had guests with whom to share its pleasure. Guests who came from the guild he had helped found almost a century ago and who were even now demonstrating that its wild spirit still burned bright.

The young flame wizard, Natsu, had just given an impassioned speech on how he would defeat Zeref's demons. The young man had hollered and yelled as his fists waved in the cool night air. The boy's passion burned as bright as the fire magic he wielded, warming the old man's heart as he listened.

For the youngster's determination was infectious and Warrod would not see it crushed by doubt over things that were long since done. He was certain that even Mavis herself would have smiled at the boy's words and joined him in his fight.

Warrod sighed to himself once again and shifted his head, moving it out of the path of a flying sword. In the course of giving his impassioned speech, the boy had not paid attention to where he had thrown his hands while speaking. If Warrod were to guess, and he was certain that his guess would indeed be proven correct, the night was about to grow more entertaining. The young boy had made the mistake of hitting his redheaded companion and now looked to be in serious trouble.

He watched as the pink-haired dragon-slayer backpedaled away from the angry redhead as she rose from the flagstones. The sword she had just flung at his head quickly returning to her hand. Natsu's expression paled as the fury on her face deepened. Fury which was just about to erupt.

"Naaaa-tsuuuuu!" The woman growled out. "It is time for you to receive your punishment!"

"Erza, wait, no, I didn't -"


Warrod and the other fairies laughed as the naked redhead assaulted the equally naked pinkette with righteous vengeance. The bond between those two was especially strong to Warrod's eyes, with the flavors of childhood and battle mixed together. The woman's current rage was built upon a foundation of love and respect for her errant comrade, and this powerful foundation shone through as clear and bright as the noonday sun to the elderly Mage's eyes. It was present within each of the fairies gathered in the springs, as they laughed and shouted out suggestions and ideas to their quarreling comrades. The scene transported the elder mage to days long past. Days when he had been a young mage on an adventure with a motley crew, a crew whose hopes and aspirations were higher than the stars themselves.

Mavis and her successors had done well in bringing the founders' shared dream to fruition. The elderly mage had seen many things over the years as he rose within the ranks of magic. Many of which were quite terrible. Many of which were good. Yet in all those years, Warrod had seen nothing in this world which could outshine the bonds forged between true mages of Fairy Tail.

"Erza, please, my head can't do that. It really can't!"

"Ho. Is that so, Natsu?" Erza muttered darkly. "Then strop your struggles and accept your fate!"

The redheaded woman had a fearsome look on her face as she used two hands to squish Natsu's head like an overripe grape. The woman briefly let go of him after she spoke and in a shower of light invoked her Re-Quip magic. A sturdy leather whip appeared in her hands as her tone of voice darkened further.

"You still dare talk back to me? Know your place!"

Warrod heard the whip snap and winced. Oh well, he thought to himself. The boy was young, and from what the old mage had garnered from listening to people such play was only growing in popularity among the youngsters these days. Everyone sought pleasure in their own way and he was not one to judge them for it.

Although, with that thought in mind, Warrod might as well take advantage of the situation to gain some pleasure of a different sort. He waited until the young woman had finished her actions.

"I have some fruit that could fix that for you later," he told a groaning Natsu. "Would you be interested?"

The boy looked up with hope written all over his handsome features. "Really?"

The old mage showed his teeth as he smiled. This was too easy. "No. That was a joke."

"Argh! Don't screw with me you old geezer! I'm seriously going to die right now!"

"Aye sir! Natsu's face looks like a ripe tomato right now. I think that Erza should pop it and see what happens."

"Quiet Happy! She doesn't need any more ideas."

Warrod's smile widened as he watched Erza bring out a massive pair of blunt pincers from her personal store of weapons and step closer to the pinkette. The woman had apparently agreed with the blue cat's suggestion and intended to see what would happen. Meanwhile, the boy's reddened face paled once again at the sight of it. He scrambled to his feet and started to run away as the cat and Erza called out for him to stay put.

Elsewhere in the pool the ice wizard Gray quietly joined his remaining guild mates; the blonde haired celestial spirit mage named Lucy and Wendy, the young Sky Dragon Slayer with blue hair. For a brief moment nothing happened as the three joined Warrod in watching the antics of Erza and Natsu. Then, seemingly from out of nowhere, Lucy screamed and grabbed the blue cat to shield her body.

"Lucy!" Happy spluttered as water splashed his face from the girl's movements. "My body isn't meant to hide your fetishes."

"Shut it, Happy!" The busty blonde responded with a blush. "My body is too young and beautiful to be violated by a pervert like Gray! And I don't have any fetishes, you stupid cat!"

A flash of light flared into being as those words left the girl's mouth. A celestial spirit – Virgo, if Warrod was any judge of things – popped into view beside Lucy. Clad in a stunning black bathing suit which left little to the imagination, the spirit immediately chimed into the conversation.

"But you do, princess. In fact, you have a multitude of them," the spirit said flatly. "To begin you have a whip like Erza's and you often undress when -"

"Forced Gate Closure!" Lucy cried out, swiping a key that she produced from beneath the water. The spirit disappeared in another flash of light. "No one asked your opinion!"

Meanwhile Gray scowled at Lucy and gave voice to his displeasure. "Oi, Lucy, stop calling me a pervert, you dumb ass. Virgo was right; you're naked almost as often as I am." The dark-haired boy's scowl deepened. "At least I have an excuse. My master trained me this way. You're just a free spirited stripper."

Lucy's head snapped back to face Gray again. "I am not dumb, you pathological stripping pervert. And unlike you I don't strip by choice!" Lucy whined as she desperately tried to find a bush or rock to hide behind. The blue cat had started to struggle in her grasp and no longer covered everything of importance. "Everyone always takes my clothes off. Like that damn pink pervert currently getting punished by Erza."

Happy covered his mouth with one paw as he twisted around to stare into her eyes. "And yet no one ever touches what's underneath, pffft!"

Warrod finally let loose a hearty, belly deep laugh at the cat's remark. Ah, but those had been the wrong words to say.

Lucy's grip visibly firmed as the young woman plunged the blue cat face first into the water. "Die, Happy, die!"

At this point the other two girls, Wendy and the white cat named Carla chimed in as well. The blue-haired girl was worried over Happy's safety, while the cat seemed to be cheering Lucy's actions. Gray, meanwhile, just stared at them all in apparent boredom as he sipped water from a glass of magicked ice.

Ah, Warrod thought to himself as he watched the byplay continue, to be young again. Contracting my old guild to take this mission was one of my better ideas. Nearly as good as creating this wonderful hot-spring.

Warrod was glad that he had sent the mission request to Fairy Tail. His wish to save the Sun Village had turned out better than he had thought possible. He had initially requested two who represented the guild's spirit for the mission to save the frozen village. He had instead received not two but seven amazing Fairies.

The antics of Fairy Tail's mages continued under the starry night skies. The scarlet haired woman mercilessly beat down her pink-haired companion as the blue-haired girl tried to calm the older woman down. Happy grabbed Lucy's keys, and with them, convinced Gemini to play with Gray while transformed as Lucy. Gray tried to run away but knocked Erza down in the middle of her assault on Natsu, forcing the ice mage to share the fire breather's gruesome fate. Warrod soon found himself joining in as well. He stepped closer to them with a rock in one of his hands, offering it to whomever proved themselves worthy of his three tests. All of the young mages stared at him uneasily until he announced that it was a joke. Then they all tried to drown him.

The mages laughed and played in the steaming water for what felt like an eternity. They fought and they cried as they spoke, telling stories of dreams shared and comrades gained deep into the night. They were Fairy Tail, the guild filled with bonds of golden fire.

The laughter shared between them almost made Warrod miss the vanishing of a spell-ward. For a moment he hesitated. The ward was his weakest and it was possible that it had failed on its own, or had encountered a rogue magical beast of some kind. Then a second ward fell and a third soon after, leaving only five intact. With three wards failing, it was clear that the cause was a person. Whoever, or whatever, it was, they were moving fast. Warrod had never felt anything like it.

By the time he was able to make contact with the first ward's remaining essence a fourth ward had failed. The person was moving through them at a blistering pace that a Saint level wizard would be hard pressed to imitate. Yet the second he was able to feel the ward's essence and learned the identity of the one who was causing this destruction, Warrod wished that it was only a mere Wizard Saint coming to call on his door.

The attacker's identity was the most dangerous wizard the world had ever known; Zeref! The most powerful dark wizard in this world and the man who had taught Fairy Tail's founders how to wield magic so many years ago. Nearly a hundred years had passed since those days, but there were some magical presences one never grew too old to remember.

Warrod stood up, his back suddenly as straight as a metal rod, and stepped out of the spring, stretching his senses throughout the plants of his abode. With Zeref coming towards him, ripping apart powerful wards as though they were nothing, Warrod had to move quickly.

To make matters worse, the old mage could feel multiple other beings, each reeking of their own dark magic, closing in on the house as well. They were a ways off yet, but were approaching quickly. Warrod stretched his sense to their limit, trying to get a better handle on the situation.

Two were close to Zeref's location. One of the presences felt of fire. The other one felt of ice. Both were in close proximity to each other. As for the others... Warrod could not grasp their numbers or abilities, and that worried him. They were scattered in every direction and creeping closer at a constant rate, and if Warrod judged it correctly, were moving together in an organized pattern.

Warrod felt his spirit begin to drop. The only reason for such a maneuver was to cut off any avenue of escape from those caught within its grasp. If he and those with him were to try and escape then it was likely that the net would constrict around them, stopping or slowing their movements. If Zeref caught up to them in such a situation there would be little chance of survival.

Even Warrod, one of the so-called 'Four Gods of Ishgar', the four mightiest mages in all of Fiore, was as nothing before the might of Zeref.

With that thought chief in mind, Warrod took final stock of his options. None of which looked particularly grand.

Neither fight nor flight would work in this situation. The first would result in their annihilation. The second would turn into the first after only a short while and inevitably lead to the same conclusion.

Warrod needed a third option, and thanks to his old friend Mavis, such an option existed.

Warrod made his choice and pulled his consciousness back into his body. Time was of the essence.

He turned his attention to the young mages splashing around and clapped his hands together. The magically amplified sound sound cut through the humid night air.

"Mages of Fairy Tail," Warrod snapped grimly as he gathered his power. "Gather to me. Enemies approach and there is not much time before they are upon us."

A pause filled the air, soon broken by Gray and Natsu's synchronized muttering.

"Huh? This isn't one of your lame jokes now, is it? You senile old fart." The two boys said in unison.

Warrod spared a brief moment to curse his sense of humor but moved on quickly. He could not allow their disbelief to slow them down any further.

"This is not a joke," Warrod said harshly. "Now, move!"

Using his tone seemed to have worked, for the remaining merriment left their eyes.

Erza was the first to react. Re-quipping a silver battle suit upon her skin, the young woman moved to Warrod's side with the savage grace of a warrior heading into battle. The others soon followed suit with young Natsu giving a growl and a grunted curse as Lucy grabbed his white scarf from a nearby rock. The blonde haired girl ran to his side and handed the boy his scarf, joining Gray and the others in a line behind Erza as she completed the transaction.

Warrod glanced around, judging their combined powers once more and reaching the same unhappy conclusion. The strength gathered in this spring was not great enough to stand against the approaching threat. It was not even close. The dark mage would rip through the members of Fairy Tail like a hot sword slicing through paper, and Warrod himself could not hope to withstand the dark mage's powers for any length of time.

The only path forward was the one forged by Mavis all those years ago. He could only hope that it was still within his ability to cast the spell.

From her spot in line Lucy muttered under her breath as she held a small towel pressed against her body. "Natsu, Gray, don't you dare look at Wendy or me. Keep your eyes shut until we find some clothes."

Gray shook his head in annoyance. "Like I said earlier, Lucy," the dark haired man spoke, "it's nothing we haven't seen before from either of you. Besides, there's something more important at the moment anyway."

The boy turned his attention to Warrod. "Hey, you old geezer, are you sure that something bad is headed our way? I can't sense a thing out there."

"Yes, young one, I am certain." Warrod said sadly. How he wished that he could tell them otherwise. "The time for jokes is over. Zeref is coming, and I only know of one way to defend against him. I must use Mavis' spell of ultimate defense. Fairy Sphere."

The faces of the mages at his side grew pale. Natsu and Erza looked angered while both Wendy and Lucy jerked their hands out of the grasps of their friends. Warrod had expected his words to get a reaction out of them, but not anything like this. What could have caused it?

It all became clear to him as soon as the blue-haired girl spoke. "No," Wendy said in a horrified tone. The girl pressed both hands to her mouth as her eyes grew wide. "Not that. Please don't use that spell. We don't need to leave our comrades behind again. Abandoning our comrades for seven long years... I-I don't know if I could do it to everyone else a second time."

"So that's what happened on Tenrou Island," Warrod murmured to himself. The young girl's words made him hesitate as the pieces of a long unsolved puzzle began to coalesce. If Fairy Sphere had been used on Tenrou Island of all places, and Zeref had also awakened, then it was likely that the first master had also awakened.

If only she was nearby, maybe they would have stood a chance the dark wizard.

Erza took Warrod's silence voice her own opinion.

"Elder," she said forcefully. "Respectfully, sir, I believe that spell cannot be our only option. With our powers combined, and you leading us as our captain, we could fight anything on this planet."

Natsu's nostrils flared with flame as he agreed with the redheaded mage at his side. "Hell yeah! No way is there a single mage on this planet who could stop us all. Hell, we could take on a dragon with Wendy and me! Even Ice-pants, Carla, and Happy would chip in if something like that happened."

Gray raised an eyebrow at the other man's words. "Don't make me freeze your dick off, Natsu."

"Aw, shut it Gray. Besides," Natsu said with a low growl, "I owe Zeref for damaging my scarf. No way am I letting him walk off easy after he almost broke Igneel's gift to me."

"Aye, sir!"

"Ha! Tell 'em Happy!"

For a moment, as Warrod stared into their eyes, the old mage allowed himself to believe that they might be right.

Touched by their dedication and spirit, he reconsidered his options. Zeref, for all his power, was not omnipotent. Perhaps he was wrong and they could triumph after all. Maybe Mavis' predictions were also wrong, and the young Fairies had grown strong enough to handle this great test.

Then a slow, steady clap filled the air, gripping Warrod's heart with its steady beat. Its sound signified that they had waited too long.

"Well spoken, Natsu. I would expect no less from the son of Igneel," spoke a calm, lighthearted voice. "But you have failed to live up to my expectations in time, and alas, events are forcing me to hasten my plans."

It was Zeref who spoke as he stood at the doorway to Warrod's home. Clad in dark robes, the man looked as though he had not aged a day since Warrod had last seen him.

Stopping his clap, the dark mage stretched out his hands towards the group of Fairies. The air began to hum with power. The look of utter calm never left his eyes as the magic of death flowed forth towards the Fairies. "Begone."

"Get down!" Warrod cried out. Gathering every ounce of energy he possessed, the ancient mage summoned a wall of wood to block Zeref's deadly magic. A barrier formed of life to block Zeref's magic of death, and a spell passed onto Warrod by the very mage he now strove to defeat.

The wall shot upwards from the ground faster than the eye could follow. Great trunks and boughs ripped through the ground, sending shards of stone shooting through the air as the stone flooring was torn apart. A hiss of pain from behind him told Warrod that at least one stone shard had found its way into someone's skin.

Yet it was a price the elder mage was willing to pay. For the wall he had summoned held firm against Zeref's dark spell.

"Not bad, Warrod," Zeref called out from behind the wooden barrier. The man's magic welled up again as the dark mage gathered his strength for another attack. "You have gotten better over the years. But this wall of wood will not save you for long."

With a thrum Warrod felt in his body, the dark mage's attack redoubled in strength.

The elder wood mage threw his arms wide and forced the wall to change. It would not last the way it was, and to contain the dark magic assaulting it a new form was needed. Warrod shaped the magic, and just before his barrier collapsed, finished the spell. A flash of green light filled the hot-spring as the magic took effect.

From the wall's sturdy trunks grew a cage of branches which quickly stretched around the dark magus. Their brown limbs flew outwards before wrapping inside, trapping Zeref within their embrace as they entwined. The power contained within them would reduce the flow of magic to the one trapped within their embrace. It would hopefully buy Warrod and the others time they would need to cast Fairy Sphere.

As Warrod's spell reached completion the ground beneath the cage began to cave in. Zeref had redirected his magic and now sought to undo the spell at its roots. With sweat dripping down his face, Warrod forced his spell's roots to surge out, racing against Zeref's power. As Zeref unmade Warrod's spell, Warrod constantly remade it. Their two magics, magics of life and death, struggled against one another for supremacy in a back and forth which would end in one of their deaths. The one with the greater stamina would win this fight. Something that Warrod feared was, for the first time in decades, not in his favor.

Suddenly fire and ice flashed around his back, flaring so bright and fast that Warrod had no time to react. The spells struck behind Warrod's back, drawing a pained cry from the cat Carla and sending at least one other to the ground in a meaty thud. Warrod flinched as flames touched his right shoulder before quickly disappearing. The ice spell's cold lingered longer, chilling his left side. It appeared that those he had sensed following behind Zeref had just made their presence known.

"Dammit!" Natsu yelled beside the elderly mage. The young man had most likely been the cause of the fire's disappearance, using the potent magic of his dragon father to devour the flames of his enemy. "That blast came too fast to get all of it. You guys okay?"

Murmurs of assent came, but Warrod couldn't tell who it was speaking. He twisted his head back to take a look. Thankfully none of them seemed to be wounded.

The young blonde Lucy, along with the two cats, were picking themselves off of the ground and touching their singed hair. The three of them looked shaken up but healthy. Standing above them, the ice mage Gray gave a shudder. A dozen spear points of ice were halted a fingers width distance from his face, stopped only by a sword held in Erza's hand.

The redhead appeared to have cut into the ice in midstream, forcing it to split and halting its momentum long enough for the dark-haired ice mage to completely end the assault. Both she and the other girl, Wendy, looked to be untouched by the twin assaults.

"We're okay Natsu." Gray said as he shattered the spears of ice trapping Erza's blade. The dark-haired man's head swiveled around as he looked into the night. "Did anyone see where that shit came from?"

Natsu and the rest shook their heads, but it seemed that one of the youngsters had seen the sources of the twin attacks.

Erza lifted her newly freed sword and pointed towards the sides of Warrod's house. Her voice rang out as with authority as she called out instructions and pointed in two directions.

"There, and there, one man on each side. The blast of Ice came from the left while the fire came in from the right. Gray, Natsu, the two of you split up and take them out. We're too concentrated in our current position. Leave the center to Wendy, Carla and me. Everyone else; pick a partner and move out."

"Alright Happy, let's move out."

"Rodger that, Natsu!"

"Then that leaves you and me, Lucy."

"Argh! Fine. Just as long as you keep your eyes pointed forward the entire time you pervert."

With their decisions made the mages of Fairy Tail split up and set off. Lucy tried to grab Natsu's clothes on her way out, but a look from Erza sent the blonde haired mage running after Gray. Warrod tried to call out to stop them from leaving, but his voice failed him.

The old wizard's struggle against Zeref's magic was too great. Despite the cage's magic blocking ability, the dark mage had renewed his assault. It was taking all of Warrod's might to stop his old teacher from breaking out of the cage and killing them all.

He could only mouth the words he wanted to yell and listen helplessly as they scattered into the night.

It could only be a short matter of time before the sounds of battle rang as Fairies and Demons met in combat.

Natsu and Happy took to the air and shot off towards the group's right. "Ne, Natsu, is this the direction of the fire user?"

Natsu nodded his head. "I'm pretty sure it is. I caught a whiff of smoke from this direction before the wind shifted, and this is where Erza said it came from too. Whoever the bastard is he's mine. Ah! Look there!" Natsu spotted a figure flanking the group's right, trying to stay of Erza's line of sight. He pointed a hand at it to focus his partner's attention. "Let's go, Happy! Dive-bomb attack"

"Aye!" The blue cat cried.

"Fire Dragon's -" Natsu began.

Below them, the figure finished his flanking maneuver. Sighting his targets, the man smiled and raised his hands.

"-Slash!" finished Natsu with a roar.

With a thud and a blast of fire, Natsu's attack sent the man went flying into the thick forest behind Warrod's house. Natsu grinned triumphantly while raising a blazing fist. "If that's all he's got then this'll be a piece of cake, Happy."

"Or a yummy fish, aye!"

Gray and Lucy were in hot pursuit of a fleeing shadow. They had picked up the figure's movement shortly after a loud boom had sounded from the other side of Warrod's home and had pursued it for the last two minutes. Yet something wasn't right.

Suddenly uncomfortable with the situation, Gray placed a hand behind him and touched Lucy's shoulder. Her momentum stopped, and as he turned his head to meet her eyes, Gray saw her mouth close. Lucy had seen the look of unease in his eyes and, thankfully, stilled her voice.

The shadowy figure he and Lucy were pursuing had never varied its distance from them once during their pursuit of it. Even now Gray could see it lingering within sight, and seeing it there confirmed Gray's instincts.


"Lucy – it's a trap! Ice Make – Dome!" Gray yelled. He slammed his hands together, his closed right fist crashing into an open left palm. An ice barrier sprang up around himself and Lucy, enclosing them against an attack from any angle.

The defensive shield sprang up just in time. A crashing wave of ice came rolling in from three sides, crashing against Gray's barrier and threatening to crush it.

"Lucy, I need some backup." Gray grunted out as a second wave crashed into the barrier. Cracks shot through the ice as it began to buckle. "This guy is good."

Lucy nodded and held up a golden key. "I'm on it! Gate of the Lion – Open!" A brilliant flash lit the surrounding trees, illuminating Lucy and Gray's faces as a dashingly dressed man in shades appeared.

His golden hair rustled in the air currents released from the summoning spell, but for all of his impressive appearance the man's slightly foolish smile ruined the entrance. This feeling was only confirmed when the man placed an arm around his master's bare waist and drew her close.

Gray tamped down his annoyance. Womanizer that Loki was, the leader of the twelve Zodiac spirits was a dependable fighter and a good friend. The spirit just needed to be focused on the situation at hand.

"Enough of the flirting Loki." Gray said. "We've got an enemy out there and I'll need your help to deal with him." He could feel the force behind the enemy's ice magic fading, which was a surefire sign of an incoming attack. They needed to launch their own counter-assault before that happened. "We don't have long before the next attack hits so get your shit in gear and hop to it man."

The only spirit member of Fairy Tail grinned at Gray's words. "So this guy is tough enough to make you nervous, eh Gray? Don't worry about it. I'll take out anyone who tries to harm my golden princess, even if she is cheating on me with you, partner."

Lucy squawked in indignation at her spirit's words. "What? I am not cheating on anyone with anyone, you stupid spirit! So just shut up and kick the ass of whoever is throwing this ice at us."

"As my Princess commands, Lucy."

Golden light flared into life as Loki finished speaking. The magical power of Regulus, the spirit's lifeblood and source of strength, lit up the night.

The spirit turned his attention to Gray. "Combo number eight?"

Gray nodded. The spirit was referring to one of the combination abilities they had worked on before the guild test on Tenrou Island. They hadn't had a chance to use it back then, but all of that preparation would come in handy this time.

Gray squared his shoulders and prepared his spells. "On my count, Loki," he said. Magic began to build up in his body, urging to be released. A cold frost began to glitter in the air around him. "Let's get this over with quickly. Three… two… one… mark!"

Boom! The barrier of ice, which had shielded them from the enemy's assaults, shattered outwards with explosive force. Shards of sharpened ice tore into the darkened forest in a deadly hail as they sliced into anything in their path. A cacophony of cracking and crashing noises followed as the dense foliage surrounding them absorbed the brunt of damage. All of which was secondary to its main purpose; to distract the enemy and leave them off balance for Loki's following attack.

Yet that attack did not come, and as the seconds ticked by Gray grew concerned. What the hell was Loki thinking?

Lucy's sudden gasp was the first sign that Loki wasn't just being slow, but that things had gone terribly wrong. Gray turned his head around once more to see just what was going on behind him. What he saw made his eyes widen from shock.

Loki entire body had been frozen solid. His hands, raised in the act of casting his magic, had been stilled before it could be unleashed.

The shining glow of his magic, magic which should have been lancing into the forest in a golden stream of destruction, was instead fading fast. Their combination had been countered in a manner Gray had not even thought possible. For a moment he was caught flat footed, staring at his frozen friend's countenance.

Thankfully, Lucy was quicker to respond. The golden haired girl frantically swiped two golden keys in the air as she invoked her celestial magic. "Loki, go home. Close Gate! Next, Gate of the Goat – Open!"

A second flash lit the woods as Lucy's next spirit was summoned. A well-dressed satyr with arms folded across his chest appeared in a burst of golden light. Calm and resolute, the spirit's gaze pierced into the dark night. Unlike when Loki had been summoned, however, there was no time for talk; the enemy's next attack was already on its way. Gray swung his hands up and began channeling his power as fast as possible.

The sound of ice smashing against ice filled the woods.

Back at the hot springs, Warrod could only grit his teeth as Zeref's magic slowly ate through his wooden barrier. This was a battle he could not win, but the gap between the two of them was heart rending.

He, Warrod, stop the dark mage Zeref? On his own? Even the thought of it was ridiculous to the old mage.

The gap in power between them was too great. Even worse, it was Zeref who had taught Warrod magic in the first place. The dark mage knew every strength and weakness of the power being used against him, putting Warrod at twin disadvantages.

Then the words of a chanted spell came to his ears and suddenly new strength flooded into his body. Power, both magical and physical, raced through his being and into the conjured barrier beyond.

This new power reinforced the elder mage's spell in a way Warrod had never before encountered, almost as if it were both seeping into and surrounding it. The magical energy raced into the barrier, and wherever it went the passage of Zeref's magic was slowed to a crawl. The death wizard's advance was neither halted nor reversed, but the fact that it could be slowed at all was nothing less than a miracle.

How could that be possible? Even Warrod's magic couldn't do that, and he was a Wizard Saint! Warrod had to know which one of the young Fairies was responsible for this feat.

Looking backwards he spotted the young blue-haired girl, Wendy, standing behind him. A look of determined concentration was on her face as she held both of her hands a finger's distance away from his back. It was she who was the source of the mysterious spell, for he could see the magic flowing into his body from her raised hands.

Warrod did not know why her magic was able to resist Zeref's, but to have her present at the old mage's side for this battle... well, maybe fortune had not deserted them after all.

"My thanks little one." Warrod said with a forced chuckle. "Those old buns of mine needed a little warming."

Flushing crimson at his words, little Wendy could only stutter and mumble a response. Seeing her so flustered helped cheer Warrod's spirit further. Even in the midst of a battle to the death, his sense of humor was as sharp as ever.

Sadly, it seemed not everyone agreed. Erza placed a calming hand on Wendy's shoulder and gave the elder mage a glare. The younger girl's stutters stilled under the older girl's hand, and the serious atmosphere Warrod had tried to lighten with his joke descended upon them once again.

"Elder," Erza stated dourly, "do you need my help to defeat Zeref, or may I go join one of the other pairs in battle?"

Warrod turned his head away as he thought of how to reply. The redheaded warrior's courage was admirable, but her appraisal of the situation was completely wrong. The other mages needed to be retrieved, not joined. But how could he convince her of this?

"Elder," she continued fervently, "please answer my question. Time is of the essence and we need to divvy our forces into the most effective units possible."

Luckily for Warrod, another voice answered in his stead. "Quiet Erza, can't you see that the old coot is struggling? Even with Wendy supporting him, the geezer is fighting against Zeref! He doesn't need any distractions."

"Maybe, Carla, but Natsu and the others are also fighting out there in the woods. While I trust that they can handle their opponents, we still know neither the strength nor the total number of our opponents. If our opponents have reinforcements then it is imperative that I go out to reinforce our comrades!"

"If they do have reinforcements and see Wendy, the old geezer and I totally undefended, what would happen then? Wendy can't support Warrod and fight someone else at the same time, and the old mage is probably fighting a losing battle as it is."

The two of them argued back and forth with one another, each refusing to give ground. Warrod, though, was thankful for their disagreement. It prevented Erza from running off as her comrades had done earlier and kept her nearby as Warrod composed his thoughts.

When he finally spoke it was with a heavy voice that cut through their arguing voices. "I understand your feelings, my little fairies. When someone attacks you, and you are strong of both heart and spirit, the urge to strike back immediately is hard to control. But you must trust in my words when I say the following: that fighting this battle will not end in triumph, and that victory over our foes is impossible this night."

Erza's eyes widened. "But, Elder-"

"No, my courageous fairy, victory is impossible. I lack the power to destroy Zeref even with your help." The wood mage's great eyebrows waggled in sorrow. Though the woman was unable to see it, he could only hope that his feelings came through in his voice as well. "I have contained him for the moment but his magic is slowly turning my barrier to dust, as surely as the sand which surrounds my abode would turn this land to desert without my intervention. There is nothing I can do to stop Zeref's magic from ultimately devouring my own."

Warrod's eyes flickered to the sides, where fiery explosions ranged on one and towers of ice rose from the other. "What is worse is that I fear that you are right and that our guild-mates have found terrible opponents of their own. Before I engaged Zeref I could sense further enemies both weak and strong in the distance. Without support, Natsu and the rest may be unable to return... and without their aid, the casting of Fairy Sphere is impossible."

Shifting his stance, Warrod placed both of his hands onto the wooden barrier and let them sink into the wood. By fusing his body with his spell he could greatly increase its potency, but at a high cost. If the spell were to be shattered by Zeref, Warrod would also lose the parts of his body that had fused with the spell.

It was a spell of desperation, but when combined with the reinforcement Wendy had given him then doing it could buy them time they needed to get everyone back together. Because no matter how he reinforced his spell it would not be enough. Warrod needed everyone gathered together to cast Fairy Sphere, and it needed to be soon. Or else he would not have the strength needed.

"Now go," he spoke. "You must summon them back while I still have the strength to cast Fairy Sphere. For the sake of our guild and the crest that we all bear, please do as I ask."

Erza stood still for a long moment, locking eyes with the elder mage. The muscles in her face tightened and loosened spasmodically. Warrod watched one of her hands twitch, tightening around the sword it held. Every instinct the red-haired knight possessed seemed to be screaming at her to ignore his words and fight their enemies with her blades.

A desire to fight the enemy, to never give in to them. It was an admirable sentiment and one that every true member of Fairy Tail possessed in abundance.

Still, it was not what was needed in this moment. A short time after their gazes locked she turned her head away and nodded in defeat. "As you say, Elder. I will follow your wishes in this regard."

She walked away from his position and moved out of his sight before speaking. "Wendy, Carla, go get Natsu and Happy. I'll locate Gray and Lucy. Come back here as soon as you find them, and move quickly. Understood?"


The two young girls quickly gave their assent. It seemed that they had followed his conversation with Erza and had also decided to follow his wishes.

Upon hearing their response, Erza left with the speed of which only top class mages were capable. The black armor that she had shifted into, her Black Wing Armor, gave her the gift of flight would conceal her form in the night. Warrod felt her presence move towards the woods, towards their missing comrades.

As she left, Warrod saw Carla hit her furry face with a single white paw from the corner of his eye.

"We just sounded like Happy, didn't we, Wendy?" The young cat said with a grimace.

Wendy nodded, crestfallen to Warrod's eyes. "Erza... she has that effect on people." The girl gulped as she spoke. "It's really frightening."

"If only it worked on Zeref..."

"Wendy. Carla. I said move it – now!"

"Aye, Erza!" The two girls chorused again. Then the two leaped into the air even faster than Erza, speeding off into the night to find the young girl's fellow dragon slayer.

Natsu screamed as a blast tore through his body. The guy he was fighting used some sort of weird power that Natsu couldn't figure out. Blast after blast had hit him and he had no idea why! For only the second time since he had mastered Igneel's dragon magic, fire was hurting him. It wasn't right!

Natsu's body slammed into the ground with a heavy thump. As the pain flashed through his mind the dragon slayer tried to push it aside and think. He had punched his opponent too many times to remember each one with any sort of clarity, but it seemed like every time he that he landed a hit on his enemy's body an explosion tore through Natsu own as well. There had to be some kind of trick going on, something the dragon slayer could use to flip the table and pound his enemy into the ground. He just couldn't figure it out. Yet.

"Is this all the famous, mighty son of Igneel can offer?" Natsu's opponent called, sauntering into view from behind a burning tree. "And here I thought that a human raised by a dragon might offer a more challenging fight. Damn am I disappointed."

The man was of average height and well built. To an ordinary person he might even appear to be close to human, with only two furry ears and a cat's tail giving his inhuman nature away. But Natsu was no ordinary person either, and to the dragon slayer's nose the man smelled wrong, like no other creature the dragon slayer had ever encountered.

Except for two. Lullaby and Deliora, the demons created by the dark mage Zeref.

As these thoughts ran through Natsu's mind the man continued to close in on Natsu's position. A dark grin lit his eyes in deadly amusement as he kept speaking.

"Well, in the end I guess it doesn't really matter. You could be the son of a space monkey or a nine-tailed fox and it still wouldn't matter. See, all things quake at the feet of demons. And before Jackal, you were doomed the moment you followed me into the woods."

Natsu slowly lifted his head from the dirt. His limbs were heavy and some of his ribs didn't feel quite right, but he wasn't finished yet. This battle had only just gotten started, and sooner or later he would see through his opponent's damn trick. Then the ass-kicking would begin and Natsu would laugh as he tore the demonic bastard a new one.

As for his opponent, so what if the guy claimed to be a demon? To hell with him. If he thought that a few broken bones would keep Natsu from beating him to death, then the man wouldn't see his end coming.

"Now lift up your head and witness your demise, mortal," Jackal purred as he continued to close the distance. "No attack or defense can save you from my blasts, for with every blow we land on each other you come one step close to death."

That's it! Natsu thought to himself. As soon as the words came out of the man's mouth, Natsu replayed every moment of their battle in his head and saw that the statement matched up perfectly.

Every blow Natsu had landed on Jackal had also caused an explosion to hit Natsu as well. But the next question was how did it occur. Was it transferred by contact from body to body? If so, was it delayed or was it instantaneous? Or was it something else?

Bah! Screw the thinking – Natsu would find out when he punched the guy in his smug face. That was more his style anyway. Then his partner chimed in, completely ignoring the information Jackal had just given them.

"Natsu, I'm coming!" Happy cried out from above. The blue cat began to dive, aiming for Jackal's head.

Natsu choked on his own breath as he forced himself to stand. "No Happy, stay back!" Pushing himself up on aching and burned muscles, Natsu stood unbowed as he glared down the approaching demon with a cocky grin. "I've got his trick figured out buddy. And you know what? Demon, human, or sack of shit, it doesn't matter." A vein ticked above Natsu's left eye as Happy broke off his dive. "He's mine."

Jackal sneered at Natsu's words. "What's there to figure out, dumb ass? I'll frickin tell you!" Jackal slapped his chest and crowed. "My body curses those who dare touch it. Plain and goddamn simple. It is unavoidable and inevitable. Your own hits doom you to a symphony of explosions as I curse you; again and again and again!"

Stopping short of the bloodied and defiant dragon slayer, the demon let his sneer drop. He stared at Natsu with an impassive gaze. "Know your place, mortal."

Natsu grinned wildly as he cracked the knuckles of his flaming right hand. "Know yours first, asshole. Fire Dragon's Iron-Fist!"

With a flash of fire and a burst of magical power, Natsu sent his enemy flying out of sight and deep into the forest.

Then Jackal's cursed explosion tore into Natsu, sending him to the ground and ripping the surrounding area apart. Blood and dirt soon clouded his sight as a ringing noise filled his ears.

A feeling of intense vertigo grabbed him as the demon's explosive attack vented its power upon his body. He tumbled through the dirt until he slammed against something hard and solid enough to halt his moment. Natsu's lay still and gasped for air as he waited for the feeling of vertigo to pass. It only took a few moments before his dragon-slayer constitution asserted itself.

He slowly wiped his left arm across his face to clear his vision and considered Jackal's trick. The curse was time delayed after all. Slow enough for him to catch it, Natsu considered as he blinked blood and dirt from his eyes, but fast enough that he would have to pay close attention or risk getting pounded.

The dragon slayer tried to move forward but stopped, grabbing hold of his knees as his body told him to be still. Damn, but Jackal's last attack had done a number on him. With his body in such a terrible condition, Natsu would have to give it everything he had in order to win.

A rustle in the air caught his attention, and a second later Happy's worried faced filled his vision. "Natsu, you don't look too good." The cat murmured mournfully. "Will you be alright? That guy is really tough after all."

The flying cat studied his friend closely as Natsu continued to take his time recovering. "Maybe we should find Wendy and have her take a look at you while that other guy picks himself up and tries to find us again. I think he flew pretty far away."

Natsu forced himself to let go of his knees and straighten up. "My body's good enough, Happy. Besides, they've got own fights and we've got to end things here."

He took a deep breath as wind blew through the smoke-filled air. A perplexed look rose on his face as he picked up a powerful and familiar scent.

"Or maybe they'll come to us?" Natsu growled in confusion. "What the hell?"

Wendy bit her thumb as she and Carla flew through the air. The battle hadn't been going for very long, but already there was a swath of devastation carved into the landscape. Trees lay broken in long columns with huge pieces of ground churned and ripped apart. Everything was on fire and smoke filled the air.

Whomever Natsu was fighting must have been very powerful to withstand the blasts he had unleashed. It made the damage she had seen on Tenrou Island pale in comparison.

"Wendy, I can't see them at all," Carla said. "Can you smell them?

Wendy took a quick sniff and let out a worried sigh. "I can, but with all the smoke in the air I can't pin it down. I'm sorry for failing, Carla."

Wendy wanted to cry at her failure. She could usually pick out Natsu's distinctive smell of burnt sulfur and fiery brimstone from miles away, but there was just too much smoke and fire for the young dragon slayer to pick it out. On a battlefield like this the pink-haired man might as well have been invisible to her, and Wendy felt useless as a result.

Carla must have sensed these thoughts, for the white-furred cat hugged the small dragon slayer tighter in her arms. "It's okay, Wendy. We'll find them soon, safe and sound as well. I can feel it. Maybe the noise will start up again, or maybe your dragon hearing will pick up their voices."

Wendy smiled in relief. Trust her friend to know how to calm her down. "Thank you Carla," she whispered gratefully.

"Carla! Wendy! Down here!"

"Ah! See Wendy? There's that yowling tomcat already. Too stubborn and too dumb to die, just like his master."

"Carla! I have a booboo. Can you kiss it to make it feel better?"

"Whatever you do Wendy, please don't treat it. If that fool is still acting like such an idiot then it isn't worth your time to even look at it. I swear, why does he have to be such a giant idiot? Why?"

Wendy giggled a little at Carla's soft tone and scowling face. The white-furred cat was too harsh on her fellow Exceed, and it was only in times like this that her true concern for his well-being surfaced so openly. On a night when everything seemed to be going wrong, seeing this remain true was comforting.

Happy kept yelling as the two girls descended on his position, but his partner was utterly silent. Wendy could tell that Natsu saw her, but her fellow dragon slayer seemed to be brooding over something.

"Natsu! Happy!" Wendy called out as she and Carla landed next to the boy and his cat. "You've got to come back quickly! I just came from the springs, and Warrod says that he can't hold Zeref for long, and that more demons are approaching, and that –" Wendy stopped talking as she let out a gasp.

She had just gotten a good look at Natsu's wounds through the black ash that covered his body. He did not look good. In fact, he looked horrible!

"Natsu! What happened to your body?" Wendy screamed at him as she rushed over in a blue blur. "Let me heal you."

"Eh, it's not anything to worry over. I'm just a little singed is all." Natsu yelled out as she looked him over. He tried to back away, dodging her smaller body with all the ease of a punch drunk prize fighter. "The guy I'm fighting has some sort of weird little trick that took me a while to figure out is all. But I just got the hang of it, so the next time I see him his ass is mine!"

"Quiet, Natsu!" the young girl growled out. "I am a healer, and I will worry about it! Can't you see that you're not okay? Please, just stay still and let me heal you."

"But the guy might come back and try to attack." Natsu said as he tried to beat her back with his one good arm. It was not enough, and soon enough she had him in her grasp.

Just like Natsu, Wendy was also a dragon slayer. Increased strength, speed, and senses were the norm. They had basic physical abilities that far exceeded the human norm and training only enhanced them. Furthermore Wendy was still uninjured, and she was filled with determination to conquer her unruly patient.

She was able to bypass his flailing arm and grab his wounded one with ease, snapping at him as she did it. "I don't care, Natsu! You don't have a choice in this. Staying still will just make it go faster."

As the elder dragon slayer growled at her in annoyance, Wendy was surprised to find herself growling right back at him. Natsu was durable and tough – all dragon slayers were – but no one in his condition should try to pass themselves off as being completely okay. Especially not when the healer expressed worry over him. The quick diagnosis she had gotten from her magic had confirmed her initial worries.

The young man had three broken ribs, half the fingers on his right hand looked to have contusions, and if the splotchy marks on his bare chest was any indication then Natsu was both burned and suffering from massive internal bleeding. Whoever or whatever Natsu had been fighting hadn't used anything even close to resembling 'little tricks.'

Argh! Not only is Natsu being stubborn, but he's trying to pass it off as nothing, just like he always does,Wendy thought to herself. It was maddening! The young dragon-slayer could feel herself growing angrier by the second as she placed both of her hands on his chest.

"Little tricks do not cause this sort of damage Natsu." Wendy bit out as she tried to quickly heal the worst of the damage. She was mad and not in a mood to let him off the hook with her usual sweetness. "And big boys don't try to lie to their healer about the state of their injuries!" She glared at his chest as she spoke, but as usual any word which differed from his own in regards to his medical condition were completely ignored.

"Bah! It was just a little trick with a big punch is all, but now I've got it all figured out, so no worries, Wendy. If that bastard thought I hit him hard with that last punch, then he won't know what to do with himself when my next one lands. A few more hits on him and the guy's finished! Ain't that right, Happy?"

Happy landed on Natsu's left shoulder and poked the dragon slayer in the cheek. "Ne, Natsu, I don't think he knew what hit him the last time you punched him. It's been over a minute and he still hasn't come back." Happy clapped his paws together and visibly beamed his enthusiasm. "I know – maybe you killed him!"

"Ha! That guy is a pansy, so I probably did end him with that last punch."

"Aye! It's our victory!"

"Just like usual Happy. We're the best tag team duo out there."

"Aye sir!"

Over to the side, Wendy saw Carla cover her face with one small paw. "You guys are seriously idiots." the small cat muttered. "Tomcat, even if that was actually true – and I seriously doubt that it is – then things still look bad for us."

Jumping on Wendy's right shoulder, Carla shook her left paw at them sternly. "Natsu looks half-dead even with Wendy healing him. Warrod is losing his battle with Zeref, and according to that old coot even more enemies are approaching us right now. Oh, and who knows what is happening with Gray and the others. For all we know, they could be dead!"

Carla punctuated her words with a sharp rap of her paw against both of their heads. The two males winced while Wendy merely nodded and poked a finger into Natsu's chest for emphasis. The man grunted at her poke and shot her a pout that she swiftly ignored. Carla was saying exactly what Wendy wanted to say, and Wendy would give her partner her full support.

"The most important thing we can do – way more important than waiting to see what happened to Natsu's opponent – is to get back to the spring a.s.a.p."

Natsu's face turned rebellious at those words and he opened his mouth to reply. Thankfully, Carla and Wendy had an ace in the hole to finish this brief argument. "Those are Erza's orders, Natsu, so no arguing either," the white-furred cat stated. "Got it?"

Wendy saw Natsu's open jaw shut fast enough that she heard them click. The stubborn man nodded his head in sullen acceptance. Happy soon followed it with a soft 'aye' and nod of his own.

The young girl felt a flash of jealousy and wonder as it happened. Two separate scoldings from her and Carla only made the man dig in, whereas the mere hint of an angry Erza was enough to get him in line. Erza was amazing! One day maybe she too could have that effect on people.

With a sigh, though, she tried to suppress the feeling. Erza was scary in a way that Wendy would never be, and that was something that would never change. She would just have to find another way to be strong, and until that happened she would have to be happy with what she did possess.

Wendy finished her emergency healing as she thought. She then stepped back to examine Natsu's body one final time. Her eyes traveled across his naked body and, unfortunately, caused her to once again remember her own nakedness. A blush crept into her cheeks as she tried to cover herself up, and the blush only grew worse as she discovered a tattoo on his body she had never before seen.

To cover her sudden embarrassment, Wendy tried to focus on the results of her healing. She had healed the internal bleeding and fixed the broken bones in his hand and ribs. If Natsu tried fighting again anytime soon, though, the healed areas would not hold up with their customary durability. It was a patch job at best, but it would have to do for now.

"How does it feel, Natsu?" Wendy asked as she looked around for something to hide behind. With her work done, her ability to ignore her embarrassment was plummeting rapidly. She jumped behind a nearby tree trunk and poked her head over the top. "Do you feel like you can move around again? I tried to do my best, but it's important that you feel like you can move without hurting yourself."

Natsu rotated his shoulder and flexed his hand several times. He then proceeded to run through a quick series of jabs and punches at an imaginary opponent. Unlike her, the pink-haired man seemed to be totally unconcerned with his own nakedness. At that moment, Wendy wished that she was as strong as Erza so that she could punch Natsu in the chest and make him yelp in pain. Damn him! Damn him for making her the only one embarrassed in this situation.

Whatever Natsu felt as he gave a few more practice punches in the air pleased him, though, because he soon gave a satisfied grunt.

"My hand feels like I tried to punch Gray's thick skull one too many times, and my chest doesn't feel quite right, but I've fought with worse." Looking down at Wendy, the grim look in his eyes faded somewhat as he smiled slightly. "Thanks a ton, Wendy. Let's get back to the others before Erza gets mad at us."

Wendy looked at his smiling face and couldn't help but smile in return. Whatever anger she felt at him faded at his words. The man was a stubborn idiot, but he always knew how to make her feel better about whatever deadly situation came their way.

"That sounds good to me, Natsu," Wendy mumbled out in reply. "Happy, could you pick Natsu up first? Carla and I will follow right behind you."

"Sure! But only if Carla kisses my booboo first."

"That won't be happening you stupid tomcat. Ever. So listen to Wendy and pick up your fellow idiot."

"Waaah! You're so mean to me, Carla!


As the Exceed continued to argue with one another, Natsu gave her head a soft nudge. Wendy jumped in surprise. She had totally forgotten his presence for a moment as she watched the Exceed argue with one another. Something she should not have done, because the man's goofy grin was giving her goosebumps.

"By the way, Wendy," Natsu said. "I never knew that you had a tattoo down there too. Sweet look!"

The blush which lit up her face at Natsu's words could have outshone the moon and she nearly swallowed her tongue in horror. Wendy had just managed to put her previous embarrassment out of her mind! Why had their enemies attacked while the Fairy Tail mages were in, of all places, an outdoors hot-spring? She wanted to defeat them all the more for causing her to feel this this much embarrassment.

Eventually, once her tongue climbed back out of her throat, Wendy managed to stutter out the only reply which came to mind. "I didn't know you had one either, Natsu."

"I don't have just one," Natsu beamed. "I've got two!"

Wendy wondered if she would ever stop blushing again.

Erza was thankful that she had chosen her Black Wing Armor. It had allowed her to locate Gray and Lucy without running into trouble, and its speed turned out to be a lifesaver. The moment she arrived, Erza had spotted an icy lance shooting at the back of Lucy's head. A quick flash of her sword had ended the threat and saved her blonde teammate.

Unfortunately, by giving up the element of surprise, Erza was now stuck in the same mess as the others. The three guild mates were currently stuck in a narrow hollow between two small hills. Trees surrounded them on all sides while frozen plants, mounds of ice and gaping holes dotted the forest.

Looking at the other two members of Fairy Tail caused Erza to frown in concern. There was no point in sugarcoating things so she spoke what was on her mind. "Gray, Lucy, how are the two of you holding up? The two of you look like you're in rough shape."

Lucy was gasping and visibly shaking. The celestial mage fumbled another key out of her key box with trembling hands. In spite of it being such a short battle, the young woman had already been forced to use six of her ten Zodiac spirits in order to stay alive.

Gray didn't look much better. The young man's body was battered and bruised all over, and one of his eyes looked like it had been hit with a hammer. It was dark and swollen from some attack that had gotten through his defenses. Chances were that he wouldn't be able to see very well with it.

The two mages shared a look before responding to Erza's question.

"I'm alright for more, Erza. I've still got some gates left," Lucy said as she tried to catch her breath. "But I can't do a close up fight."

Gray chimed in afterward with barely a hitch in his voice. "I could go all night, Erza. This bastard won't get the best of me."

A sudden rumbling came, and spikes of ice jutted into the air around their position. Gray slammed his hands together and pressed them against the ground, instantly halting the enemy's attack. The black-haired mage then sent a return blast along the other mage's channel, only to shake his head in disappointment.

"Tch," he muttered. "Missed the bastard again."

Gray then threw her a sharp look. "Any help you could provide would be appreciated, Erza. Or you could just sit back and watch me handle this, your call."

Erza nodded and Re-quipped her armor, swapping out her Black Wing Armor in exchange for her Ice-Empress Armor. The light which shone from the use of her magic couldn't give away their position; the enemy's attack had shown that they already knew the exact position of the Fairy Tail mages.

The moon's light glittered on the blue-white metal, and Erza unsheathed the armor's gleaming scimitar the instant it appeared. As she did, Erza also looked around herself with pursed lips.

This armor wouldn't allow her to fight the man as well as Gray, but at least it was a start. At worst it might make their opponent a little more wary, since any Ice mage worth his weight in water should know the armor's many abilities.

Actually, with the armor now equipped, a new idea had popped into Erza's head.

"Gray, put up another ice dome, quickly," she commanded. "We cannot win like this – but I know a way to do so – crap! Lucy, get out of the way!"

Lucy let out a shriek as the blades of ice Erza had just seen in the distance flew towards the blond girl's head. With blinding speed, Erza knocked the other woman down and blocked the shards of ice with her blade, the sword flashing in the moonlight as it reduced the shards to nothingness. Meanwhile, Gray sent a return blast of icy spears screaming in the direction the attack had originated. With any luck it would buy them a few moments of peace.

"Erza, it's not the best time for a blind defense," Gray noted, eyes calmly scanning the forest. "We're already in a bit of a bind. Going turtle isn't going to help."

With no time to explain her plan in detail Erza injected some steel into voice as she gave her comrade a pointed stare. "It will. So do it."

While visibly uncomfortable with the suggestion, and after shooting her a questioning look, Gray followed her command. "Ice-Make: Dome!"

Erza wasted little time as the man's sphere of ice came up and surrounded them.

"Gray, the moment he hits your ice barrier, let me know and I'll reinforce it. From what I can tell he likes hitting in waves of two to three attacks, but he needs to pause after every attack in order to shift position. That's why your attacks haven't been hitting him. Now, after the enemy's first one ends you'll need to shatter the sphere outwards and send as many sharpened pieces in as many directions as possible."

"You do realize that I already tried that attack before, right?" Gray said while frowning. "There's no way he'll get caught off guard from it."

"I didn't, but that actually makes this plan more likely to succeed. Because this time is going to be very different."

Erza turned to face Lucy. "After Gray's attack, Lucy, I'll switch to my Flame Empress Armor and melt the remaining ice, all while sending a second multi-directional attack into the woods. At this point, you will then use the resulting water to summon Aquarius and have her unleash her strongest attack."

Quieting for a moment, Erza looked at both of her fellow mages with a steely eye stare. Lucy shivered while Gray stared unblinking, but Erza could see the fire to carry out the plan burning within both their eyes.

Good. They were going to need that willpower soon enough.

"Then we keep moving until we reach Elder Warrod." Erza continued. "There is no time for second guessing. So move quickly and efficiently everyone. Our lives may count on it."

The ground rumbled beneath their feet and the sound of snapping trees reached them through the Ice-Sphere's thick walls. A horrifyingly powerful triple-layered blast of ice came screaming in from all sides of the ice sphere, bringing an end to the planning session.

Erza grit her teeth and shouted a single word. "Go!"

The three mages moved in a synchronized blur. Erza used every ounce of power in her armor to reinforce Gray's sphere and stopped the enemy's attack in its tracks. Cracks wove their way through the barrier, but it held strong.

Then, as she Re-quipped into the orange and red Flame-Empress regalia, Gray shifted his stance and cried out, "Ice-Make: Hail of Daggers!"

The sphere and surrounding ice shattered and became a deadly hail that blasted through the enemy's next wave. Stages one and two of her plan had gone off without a hitch. It was time for stage three.

Erza gripped her sword with one hand above her head and swung it in a complete circle as she yelled out. "Flame-Slash!"

Fire leaped from her sword, flash melting the remaining ice into water. Undeterred by the ice, the flames spewing from her sword continued into the forest unabated, setting toppled trees on fire and further distracting the enemy mage. Stage three was done, and now everything rested in Lucy's hands.

Lucy scrambled from where she had thrown her body to the ground. As the water fell from the melted ice and hit the ground, the young woman swiped her key in it and gave out a shout. "Gate of the Water Bearer: Open!"

But nothing happened. The key had missed the streams of water, and without the water Aquarius could not be summoned.

Erza felt a cold chill run down her back as she saw Lucy's eyes widened in horror. The celestial mage had to summon that spirit! If not, the enemy was going to hit them with an attack they were not prepared to take.

Her head swiveling desperately, Lucy let out a strangled cry and dove at a nearby puddle of muddy water. Shoving the key deep into it with a wet squelch, the blond yelled the words of summoning once again. "Gate of the Water Bearer: Open!"

The resulting flash of light was the most beautiful thing Erza had ever seen. From the radiant beam emerged a beautiful, blue-tailed mermaid being wearing a white and blue bikini top. A cruel smile framed the woman's face as she slowly wiped a splatter of mud away from one eye. Mud which covered her entire body.

A slow and terrifying laugh echoed in the night air as Aquarius began to summon her magic. "Ho-ho-ho."

Lucy could only gulp in fear as she stared into the spirit's face. Although this had been Erza's plan and Gray's water, it appeared that the spirit's wrath was focused solely upon its summoner.

"Lady Aquarias," Lucy whimpered softly, "Please punish me with your strongest attack."

Aquarius' smile grew wider. "Luuu-cyyy," the spirit cooed in response. "For summoning me in a puddle of mud I won't just punish you. I'll kill you. I'll kill all of you!"

Erza sighed and closed her eyes. She would have preferred a more controlled blast but this would have to suffice.

The torrent of water Aquarius soon blasted them with sent the three mages streaming through the woods, carried away by the spirit of water's summoned tsunami. Away from the enemy and towards their allies. Just as Erza had planned.

Warrod's breathing had begun to slow. With Wendy's absence, Zeref's magic had quickly returned to its former rate of erosion. The old mage had tapped into his life's essence in order to reinforce his spell and it was beginning to take a toll. He was not as young as he once was and only had so much left to give before he ran out and died.

How Mavis had ever contended with the powerful dark mage Warrod would never know. It was taking his own life just to keep him in check, and Zeref had yet to unleash his full power.

A scent of smoke and blood filled his nostrils as the sound of flapping wings descended upon the spring. Warrod sensed with no small amount of relief that the two dragon slayers had been the first to arrive.

Wendy ran up to him the moment her feet touched the ground, summoning her magic as she moved.

"Elder Warrod, please hold still as I reinforce you," the young girl said as she placed her glowing hands a short distance from his back. Strength flowed into Warrod's limbs as her magic flowed into him, slowing Zeref's advance once again while simultaneously rejuvenating Warrod's tired mind.

"Natsu, please keep a watch for the others. It is going to take everything I have just to help Elder Warrod keep Zeref sealed."

Natsu punched his right fist into his palm, wincing for a brief moment as he did. Wendy must not have been able to fully heal the man's wounds in the time she had been gone.

"You've got it, Wendy!" Natsu replied. "Happy, Carla, I'll cover the ground. Get into the air and warn me if anything starts to get close."

The two cats acknowledged their roles and took to the night sky. Warrod lost sight of their small bodies immediately but knew that they would be nearby. The elder mage considered his next move as the three members of Fairy Tail moved.

After seeing Natsu's torn and tattered state Warrod knew that his decision to call the youngsters back was the correct one. Warrod could feel through the plants that the dragon slayer's enemy was closing in on their position – and fast. As were the enemy's distant companions. If the one enemy had hurt the young fairy so heavily then it could only get worse with additional foes. The fairies were outmatched and outgunned as it was, and it would only get worse with time.

A sudden rumble coming from the tree's on his left cut off his thoughts. Warrod's eyes widened as the cause soon came into view, forcing the elder mage to quickly rooted his feet to the ground. He didn't know if it was an attack from their enemies or just a spell gone wrong, but whoever had cast the spell had clearly lost control of it.

A gigantic tidal wave of water was spilling from the forest, crashing into the hot-spring and flooding the surrounding area. As it hit, Warrod heard Natsu give a strange cry of joy that was soon cut off by the water's torrential downpour.

The wave crashed over and through the area. Trunks of destroyed trees swept through, and Warrod's body was battered by rocks. The roar of the water filled his ears as his body was surrounded by the wave. His rooted feet tethered Warrod's body against the storm of water until it passed.

Once it did, the sound of several muttered coughs came from behind Warrod's back. More coughing than Natsu and Wendy could have made on their own.

"Wendy," the wood mage rasped, feeling this throat start to rip under the strain of his own voice as he uprooted his feet, "is everyone present?"

One of the voices stopped coughing for a moment as its owner took a deep breath in order to reply. "Yes, Master Warrod." A slight pause and another cough. "They're wet, but seem to be okay. Natsu, please check them to make sure."

As she finished speaking, one of the coughing voices suddenly rose in pitch.

"Natsu! Please stop pushing Gray's head deeper into that puddle of water!"

"The bastard deserved it, Wendy. His goddamn naked body slammed into my face! I'm scarred for life!"

"No! Bad Natsu! Killing him is still a bad thing to do."

A shudder ran through Warrod's body as the exchange continued. There wasn't much strength left in him. Zeref's magic was close to breaking through and there would be nothing he could do to stop the dark mage from killing them all.

It was time to begin casting Fairy Sphere.

Warrod took a deep breath and began to speak. He needed to gain their attention quickly. "Mages of Fairy Tail, gather around me and hold hands. But close the circle only when I remove my hands from the barrier."

The mages moved slowly as they tried to rid themselves from the effects of the giant wave.

As they moved around him, jostling for position, Warrod could hear crashing noises coming from all sides. The ones the mages had been fighting were making their move, and their other comrades were moments away at best.

Warrod wished that Mavis had been present for this battle, even if it had only been in spirit. Maybe she could have found a way out of this battle that he had not. Alas, it was only him, and he only knew this one way.

Warrod ripped his arms from the barrier with a savage cry and stepped backwards. The severed stumps of his hands stayed behind as he did.

Natsu closed the gap and came to stand across from Warrod's shuddering body, holding tightly to Erza and Gray. Gray held one of Happy's paws while Erza gripped Carla's paw tightly, and they in turn joined hands with Wendy and Lucy. Lucy and Wendy then placed their hands on top of Warrod's forearms. With that the circle was complete.

Warrod felt their energy flow into him, providing the power to unleash one of Fairy Tail's three great magics. Gathered like this, with their power combined, it took only a moment to cast.

"Fairy Sphere!"

The spell flashed into existence just as the wooden barrier broke under Zeref's power. Its holy glow suffused the area, bathing the land in a white light that clashed with Zeref's dark might. The two strove against one another, with Zeref seeking to destroy and Warrod seeking to protect. On top of this came spells cast from the dark wizard's minions, turning the hot springs behind Warrod's house into a vortex of destruction.

Yet from the moment the clash began Warrod sensed that something was wrong. There was a mesh of energies which threatened to undo Fairy Sphere before it could be completed, something that Warrod had never encountered before.

Zeref's dark magic and the power of his cursed minions churned against Fairy Sphere's holy power. They attacked the spell's very essence, seeking to undo its most basic components. Warrod focused his mind, willing the energies to hold and forcing them along their proper paths. The forces went back and forth as each struggled for dominance.

Then a third force interfered.

Somehow Celestial magic began to leak into Fairy Spherefrom Lucy's body. It's powerful nature began, which defied mortal knowledge to this day, began to override Warrod's will. It came from the young girl, Lucy. The blonde's head was thrown back in a silent scream, her body tense and rigid as the power of the celestial realm burned through her system.

As Fairy Tail's magic of light and Zeref's magic of darkness struggled for dominance, the Celestial magic transformed the spell and its intended function. Multidimensional energies joined with the spell's space-time matrix, creating something new and unknown.

As the spell activated and darkness took his eyes, Warrod knew that something had gone wrong beyond his power to fix. The spell which had finally activated was not the Fairy Sphere spell created by Mavis, but something new and completely different.

Warrod had failed the world. He had failed Mavis. But worst of all, as darkness took him, he knew that he had failed the young fairies who had depended on him for survival.

Then he knew no more, and with a flash of silver light, the area around Warrod's home was emptied. None escaped the spell's power, and the battle that had been raging came to an end.

All that remained were stones and trees as the moon shone on a broken home.

Natsu awoke to a black, starry sky. The stars which shone above were strange and different; he did not know them.

A shudder of pain tore through his body as his eyes widened in confusion. It was so intense that it threatening to send him back to oblivion, but Natsu refused to give in to it. His friends had to be somewhere nearby, and if Natsu was hurting this badly, then they might have been hurt even worse.

As he lay and fought against the pain, Natsu heard the voices of two young girls and a young boy, none of which he recognized. They were agitated, their pitch sounding high and fearful.

Something was wrong. Something was very wrong, and if he stayed down then he would be unable to find his friends or fix whatever was going on nearby.

Natsu stood, wincing as he rose to his feet. The pain from his wounds was still there, as was a whirling sense of vertigo, but the dragon slayer pushed it aside. He had felt worse and would be damned if he let a few aches and pains stopped him. Gray and Gajeel wouldn't have let it stop them, and there was no way that Natsu would let those two beat him in toughness. It took nearly a full minute but eventually Natsu felt his senses return to normal.

He could still hear the voices of the two girls and some others in the distance. As he gazed around his current location, he could tell that he was in a forest, one where the foliage was less dense than the one by Warrod's house.

Natsu sniffed the air. It smelled different too, with the odors of different plants and animals mixed in with other, more metallic smells that Natsu had never encountered in his life.

It only added to his confusion. Fairy Sphere had transported him into the future and buried him under a pile of dirt and rocks the last time it was activated, but it had also kept him in the same general area where it had been activated. Instead, this time it seemed to have transported him to somewhere he had never been, and Natsu had no idea if any of his friends had been transported with him.

He couldn't see them and he couldn't pick up their scents. The thought of being separated caused a dagger of fear to drive into Natsu's heart. For while he could handle himself in a pinch the same was not true of all his guild-mates.

Then a burst of dark magic washed over him from the direction of the voices. It felt like that of Zeref. A shot of adrenaline hit his body, instantly banishing the pain.

Natsu then set off on a quick pace to join the distant fight. There was no way he would miss out on a chance to sock the smug smile right of that bastard's evil looking face.


A/N: As my story progresses within the Negima universe, I'll try to incorporate any powers/developments from Fairy Tail's manga (the ending was utterly terrible, but I'm hopeful about the 100 year quest sequel) that seem to make sense for the characters I have taken. I've got most of the story plotted out and I've built in some plausible safety valves just in case. Additionally, UQ Holder and anything attached to it will not exist for the purposes of this story unless explicitly stated – period.

In separate news, I'm back! Here is the (hopefully) long awaited rewrite of my longest fic. I've got more chapters held in the bag, and aim to get through the Mahora Magic Festival at the very least. The next chapter will be up by tomorrow and a third will go up on Friday. I have too many fun ideas for bouncing around in my head for me to just abandon them unwritten. Expect most chapters to be shorter in length than this one, and for the releases to slow down to once a month or once every two months when we get two chapters beyond the old ending point. These days I'm writing slower and putting chapters through more edits, so you will usually be 2 or 3 chapters behind where I am currently writing.

For those of you who are new to this fic, thank you for checking it out. This story starts in chapters 46-48 of Negima and in chapter 355 of Fairy Tail. It accepts everything prior to that – unless I explicitly state otherwise – as canon. You may also see that some things are already AU for both Fairy Tail and Negima.

As for those of you who are returning readers, I appreciate you and all that you do. There have been a few minor changes in this chapter from what was previously posted, but nothing of great significance.

To the comments section:

Tartaros: The canon ending for Tartaros always bothered me. In this fic, expect for them to be semi-important recurring villains. They'll receive some power upgrades and boosts along the way, and taking them out will be a major event. They will also have a far more intimate relationship with Zeref than they did in canon… and a few of Negima's characters may even be joining their ranks.

Zeref: The dark wizard himself was another complete and utter letdown. His fight scenes with Natsu and Mavis were trash, his motivation (fear of Acnologia) made no sense – especially when he had ridden on Acnologia's back on Tenrou – and the fact that his relationship with Natsu was resolved so quickly (Lucy literally rewriting the story of Natsu to save him) was utter bull. That won't happen in this story. He will be back. He will be evil. And there will be deaths when he returns.

On Warrod and the Fairy Tail Crew: Consider all of them, except for Warrod, to be at their canon power level at this point in the manga's timeline. Just like with Tartaros, Warrod and the other Wizard saints were a complete letdown to me in FT canon. For the purposes of this fic, Warrod (and by extension, the other two top Wizard Saints) have received a significant boost in power. Not enough to go pound for pound with Zeref, but enough to last for a couple of exchanges – especially when on their home turf, like Warrod was at his home. Natsu and some of the others will eventually reach this level, and in time exceed it.

I think that I'll keep this comment section in my author notes going for awhile, but I'll only put major points here. Leave a comment or send a PM if you have any further questions and I will try to respond to them. I won't answer any major plot points, but I am happy to provide clarification on or take constructive criticism.

The Pairing List as of 2/15/2019:

Negi: Chisame, Kazumi, ?, ?, and possibly ?. I could honestly throw in half of his class – as well as a few others like Takane D. Goodman – but nope. I had to draw the line somewhere or else it would just explode and take over the story. I still honestly find myself waffling over 2 of my hidden choices every time I look at my story. I quite honestly might end up changing at least one of them if I feel like it would be in the best interests of the plot, but ugh! It's stressful to even consider.

Thankfully, for it to be a Negima fanfic the girls will be throwing themselves at Negi, so I will have plenty of room to construct a romance between Negi and virtually any other girl not already paired off. And… expect to see a death or two among this large selection of girls and women as I try to keep all of you in suspense.

Natsu: Erza, Chao, Wendy, and ?. Because I couldn't see anymore than 4 being with the guy with the way I am shaping everyone's respective characterizations. Nor could I see any of the other girls surviving the chosen 4. And unlike with Negi, Natsu's girls are set in stone. There will be no changes or additions.

Konoka and Setsuna. Because it just works so gosh darn well.

Happy and Carla. Because I want the two morons to finally embrace their feelings for one another.

Lucy and ?

Eva and ?

Gray and (eventually) ?

Takamichi and ?

Chamo and a lonely Iron Maiden. Because Karma can really be a bitch.

And many more which will remain a secret. Additionally, expect the two groups of multi-pairings to be very different in terms of social dynamics. Natsu and Negi are very different characters with very different viewpoints. I want to explore two different types of multi-pairing instead of just going with the cookie cutter approach and doing the same thing.

Unlike in most harem/polyamory/multi-pairing fics the women involved will still keep their brains. There will be some drama between the girls and the guy in both groupings, and Natsu's group will feature at least one explosive fight.

Until next time,