Author's note: Writing interactions between someone with a lot of secrets, a sly old demon, and a ninja can be complicated.

I'm not sure how long this story will be. I will say that I have no intention of leaving any arc unfinished.

I own nothing. Please support the official release.

Episode 3: Home of the Shadow

Xxxxxxxxxxxxx

"This is it. Sei-Rha's definitely here." Kurama sniffed the air. "Naruto above the cave-"

"I saw it," Naruto muttered. "We should've known that he would be hiding in plain sight." He strode to the cave's entrance. "To think this mission would lead us to finally finding Half-Fang's home…"

There was nothing special about the cave's entrance at a glance. It seemed as if part of the hill that had sunk deeper into the earth. Just like all the other caves in this part of Serene. The claw marks above the entrance were all that made the cave unique. There must have been a fight near here.

Naruto's hand went to his neck. He was grateful his fingers were met by the comforting steel of his headband rather than the jagged scar Half-Fang had carved into his neck. There's always a stronger demon right, Half-Fang? It should've been comforting, it should've filled him with glee, but Naruto couldn't feel anything.

"What is this place?" Mystogan asked.

"It's where we'll find Sei-Rha, " Kurama scowled while glaring at the claw marks over the cave's entrance, "That's all you need to know."

"It's fine, Kurama," Naruto said as he adjusted his headband to make sure it covered his scar completely. If Sei-Rha's here, then old Half-Fang is definitely dead. He pointed to the claw marks. "These belong to a demon we fought a few years back."

Mystogan stared at him for a moment before sighing. "All right, how should we do this?"

"Can you light up the cave?" Naruto asked Mystogan as he stroked his chin.

"No."

"Then You'll go last since your spells are better support than my techniques," Naruto responded. I guess I need a weapon out if we could be ambushed. He couldn't count on having the time to weave hand signs. Naruto unsealed a katana and a flashlight. I wish I had my bisento.

"I go first," Kurama told them as he strode to the cave. He glanced back at Mystogan. "Do you have a weapon that you can use in a small tunnel?"

"I've got a Dark Knife and a regular knife," Mystogan drew a black trench knife. Naruto narrowed his eyes. That's a knife that can fire small blasts of Darkness Magic. He's well prepared. I wonder if those are all the weapons he's got?

He frowned. Lighting up the surrounding area shouldn't be hard for a mage of his caliber. He started at the staves strapped to Mystogan's back. I've only seen him use magic through a weapon.

Kurama grunted before striding into the cave. "Let's make quick work of this thing."

XXXXXXX

Sei-Rha covered its tracks well. As a shinobi, Naruto appreciation that. That appreciation turned to grudging respect about fifteen minutes after Kurama told them Sei-Rha's scent had disappeared. They must've searched more than ten chambers with no sign of any life in them.

Every so often, Kurama's ears would perk up, and he'd sniff the air, and Naruto would feel hope well up in his chest. Then Kurama would huff and grumble about the demons of this island being cowards. Naruto frowned. Sei-Rha probably wanted to lure as much of Serna Town's militia to its cave as possible, so maybe it planned to have them wander around the cave system until they were exhausted?

"Stop!" Mystogan whispered. Naruto paused to look back while Kurama only stopped and continued to sniff the air. "There's something wrong here." Naruto stared at him blankly. "Something wrong other than losing our trail," Mystogan corrected. Kurama stiffened, glancing around the chamber.

"An illusion!" Kurama hissed. Naruto froze, then he felt as though the cave was spinning. He blinked and turned.

Naruto's eyes widened. "The tunnel behind us is the third from the entrance!"

"Look!" Mystogan pointed at the ground. A few yards before them, were several footprints clearly belonging to two men and a four-legged creature. "It looks like we've been through here several times."

"We've been going in circles," Kurama growled. "For at least twenty minutes now!"

"It's a weak illusion that affects a specific area," Mystogan said, "The chambers we've been through all looked similar..."

"So all the illusion needed to do was suppress our suspicions that we were going in a circle, " Naruto grimaced. Damn it! We were caught in an illusion so weak it's broken when you realize you're in it? A glint from a stalactite a few feet from him caught his eye. There! His shuriken struck true, embedding itself in his target. A small, red lacrima rolled from behind the stalactite. That's the source of it. "It must have more lacrima hidden around here. At least we know what to look for now."

"Yeah," Mystogan nodded, "But I doubt Sei-Rha will set up that type of illusion twice."

"Enough talk," Kurama cut in. "That thing knows we're here now. Let's move." Naruto and Mystogan nodded, following the fox as he trotted forward. They walked in silence for several minutes after that. The chamber almost seemed to blend, making Naruto wonder if Sei-Rha had intentionally altered them so that they would look similar to disorient potential intruders. Finally, they discovered another illusion lacrima that was set to hide a tunnel.

The next chamber they found had a putrid stench and the metallic scent of blood that made Naruto scrunch his nose, even though they'd not even entered the chamber yet. Kurama stopped at the entrance. "We're going in the right direction for sure," he said before striding into the chamber.

Mystogan covered his nose. "How do you know?"

Naruto placed his hand on Mystogan's shoulder. "That smell is-"

"Hurry!" Kurama hissed.

"You'll see," Naruto muttered as he strode after Kurama. The sight made him pause. Several rotting limbs were laying across the chamber, dried pools of blood made patches of the earth a deeper shade of brown, and broken spears littered the floor.

"Even I didn't smell anything until we were close to this cavern," Kurama told Naruto quietly as they walked. "It can hide more than its scent. Naruto… this thing might be from Zeref's book. Or worse."

Naruto grimaced. It probably hid the smell of this slaughter so we couldn't prepare ourselves mentally. "I agree," Naruto muttered, "It's definitely not just a strong demon." In the center of the room, Naruto noticed tiles with what appeared to be animals or demons carved into them. Best to avoid those.

"These men are a group of militiamen who went missing a few days ago," Mystogan said quietly. Naruto looked back and found Mystogan staring at the remains of the men with a blank look. He was a bit paler, and his grip on his Dark Knife was tight, but he seemed to have maintained his nerve. Naruto faced forward. He's holding up better than I thought he would.

A stone fell from the ceiling, and they leaped to stand back to back. The hair on the back of Naruto's neck rose. "I swear I felt killing intent just now, " Naruto muttered while scouring the cave. The flashlight only helps a bit.

"The ground I stepped on sank a bit, " Kurama cursed. Mystogan's knife took on a green hue as Darkness Magic streamed through it. The green magic lit up the cavern a few feet around Mystogan. "Stay steady," he whispered. "Their first moves will be distractions."

"Mystogan, take this," Naruto murmured as he reached back to give his new comrade his flashlight. Mystogan slowly reached back and took the flashlight. Naruto made the seal of confrontation with his free hand. Yellow chakra flickered from his skin, exposing a few feet around them.

"I get it." Kurama grinned darkly as he called upon his crimson chakra, lighting up the cavern further. Something small rolled along the floor, making them all tense. Mystogan clenched his Dark Knife so tightly his knuckles went white. Naruto's heart thudded in his ears. His arms shifted a deep blue as he activated the Titan's Fist.

Something shuffled, Mystogan immediately shot a green orb in that direction. The orb struck a stalactite, detonating on impact, then something burst from the earth in front of Mystogan. He spun to face the new threat before it struck him with a claw, sending him skidding through three stalagmites and launching the flashlight through the air.

Wind Style: Gale Burst! Naruto spun while swinging his katana overhead, launching a gust of wind that sent the creature flying into a wall. Kurama snarled at something behind Naruto's back and leaped at it.

Naruto ignored his friend, keeping his gaze locked on the creature he'd struck earlier. He sprinted and swung at its torso. The creature leaned back, escaping his attack with a shallow wound. Stepping forward, Naruto slashed, beheading the creature. Naruto turned while forming the tiger sign, making his chakra flicker from his skin.

A black snake lunged at his throat. Naruto flinched, bringing his arms up. The snake's fangs bounced off his arms thanks to the Titan's Fist. Naruto sliced it in two. It dissolved into dust immediately. He turned to help his comrades before greasy arms wrapped around his arms, yanking Naruto into the cavern wall, making him shout. His chakra sank back into his skin, leaving him nearly blind.

Movement in front of him caught his eye. Naruto inhaled deeply as the creature lunged. He blew, launching a gust of wind that sent his foe soaring into a stalagmite.

Channeling chakra to his legs, Naruto ran. A shriek came from behind him as he broke free from the arms and wrenched whatever held him in place from the wall. Its small, circular form skidded into Naruto, who spun and slashed the creature in two. It dissolved into dust as well.

A green orb soared past him and crashed into cavern's wall. He turned to see Mystogan shoot a yellow beam from one of his staves through the head of something twice his size, which disintegrated. Naruto scoured the area. Fire flickering in a corner caught his eye, but Kurama was nowhere to be found.

"Kurama?" he called.

Mystogan stiffened. "Councilor! Behind you!"

A snake lunged from the corner of his vision. Naruto spun, but before he could strike, a tornado flew past him, drilling into the foe behind him. He sighed as he watched the snake dissolve. He smiled. "Good timing, Kurama."

The familiar sound of small paws clicking on the ground came from behind him. "You still lower your guard too easily, Naruto."

"Good thing I have you," Naruto responded, as he knelt to pick up the flashlight. Kurama rolled his eyes.

"I apologize," Mystogan said, inclining his head slightly, "I lost my composure."

"It's fine," Naruto shrugged. He checked to make sure he still had a few batteries for his flashlight and breathed a sigh of relief when he found them. "It worked out."

"These creatures were summoned when I stepped on one of those," Kurama said, pointing at the tiles with creatures carved into them. "They probably had their shadows stolen by Sei-Rha. "

Mystogan nodded. "There will be more. Many more. They're not strong, but they'll whittle us down with time."

"Sei-Rha might be expecting us now," Naruto murmured. After a moment, he smirked and turned to his comrades. "Come on. We shouldn't keep our host waiting."

Xxxxxxx

It was another hour of walking before they saw any other hints of life. Naruto turned off his flashlight and stared at the torches along the tunnel walls. Why? Why would it let us see? Maybe it can't use its spells in complete darkness? And why haven't we been attacked yet? It didn't matter, he supposed. Naruto knew they had to forge on, or the men Sei-Rha had taken would die.

"Wait," Mystogan called after another fifteen minutes of silence. "Do you hear that?" he waited for a moment. "There's something close, but I can't tell what it is."

Naruto frowned while Kurama sniffed the air and shut his eyes. "Water," Kurama said, "It sounds like water dripping from a faucet. No, it's different somehow." He frowned. "I can't smell it either."

Whatever it is, it has to be important if Sei-Rha hid its scent. "We'll probably see what it is if we keep going," Naruto shrugged and continued down their path. Kurama strode until he was ahead of Naruto and threw him a glare for going in front. Naruto snorted, earning another glare. I wonder how many people would guess he's so protective?

"The dripping is getting louder," Kurama said, his ears twitching. Naruto's grip tightened around the hilt of his katana as a pit settled in his stomach. He knew this feeling. The end of the mission was near.

They took a turn, and the end of the tunnel was in sight. The dripping was loud enough to be heard without straining now. The three of them stepped out of the tunnel and gazed into the darkness. Mystogan drew a staff, which created light that illuminated everything near them. For a moment, even Kurama was lost for words.

The cavern was enormous, but that wasn't what baffled them. Before them, there were broken homes with holes, slashes, and walls that appeared to have been smashed down. The houses were separated into several lines with streets of stone between them. "It's… a village?" Naruto whispered.

"This is more than a village, this is a town," Kurama muttered as he scoured the area.

"Whatever this place is, it seems to have been abandoned long ago." Mystogan sighed as his light spell receded completely before striding to one of the homes. He placed a hand against it. "Could this place have been destroyed by Sei-Rha?"

"It wouldn't be weird," Naruto said while drawing his flashlight and striding to Mystogan, "Demons have long lifespans, I know of two who are older than a thousand, ya know." He placed a hand on the house. He stiffened and checked three more homes. Naruto turned to Kurama, who was sniffing the cavern entrance. "Kurama, touch one of these walls!"

Kurama was beside him in a moment. "Just touch it?" When Naruto nodded, Kurama pressed his paw against the home. He lowered it after a moment. "I see, Plant Magic is being used to reinforce the buildings here. Must be from a lacrima, if it came from a person or creature directly, we wouldn't be able to feel the magic flowing through it this easily."

"I'm no expert at guessing the age of buildings, " Naruto said, "But I'm sure this town has to be pretty old. Why would anyone go through the trouble of hunting down lacrima to reinforce this place?"

"They wouldn't. Unless there's some sentiment involved." Kurama's eyes narrowed. "There's no logical reason for a creature to do so, but maybe we aren't dealing with something that can think."

Naruto gave Kurama a considering look. "Go on. Speak your mind."

Kurama frowned as he thought. "What if a lacrima has been running magic through this place for centuries? It could've been programmed to stream magic through these buildings until ordered to do otherwise."

"That would explain it," Naruto said while narrowing his eyes. "The magic required to do something like that would be enormous."

Mystogan sighed. "So, we could have an enormously powerful magical artifact to recover and a demon to kill."

"It looks that way," Kurama grunted.

Naruto cleared his throat, drawing their attention. "We can look into this later. Every second we spend here is a second Sei-Rha could be planning." As they moved to begin their search again, a green orb shot from the center of the town, soaring into the cavern ceiling. Naruto stared at where it impacted with wide eyes. "All right, search over."

Ominous magic washed over them, making Naruto and Mystogan shiver. "Showtime, " Naruto muttered.

"Naruto!" Kurama hissed. "The entrance is gone!"

Naruto spun, pointing the flashlight toward the entrance. He couldn't find the entrance or the light from the torches that lit up the tunnel they traveled down. "What the hell is this?"

Mystogan's staves glowed for a moment. "It's no illusion. It must be a barrier."

Naruto gritted his teeth. He hated to admit it, but retreating was the best course of action they could take. He reached for his flak jacket's zipper when another green orb flew over the town's center. But the militiamen are as good as dead if we run. Kurama stared up at Naruto with an unreadable expression.

"We'll finish this now," Naruto declared. His katana disappeared in a small puff of white smoke and his arms darkened as he activated the Titan's Fist. Kurama nodded. It was all Naruto needed.

Mystogan nodded with slight hesitation. "I couldn't face the master if I ran."

With that, they strode into the town. As he walked, Naruto noticed every house in the town were the same shade of brown as the first home. Every house is the same size, the same color, and have the same number of rooms. It might just be that they were constructed the same way, but could it be that they were created by a single spell?

It didn't take them long to reach the center of town. It was a circle-shaped clearing twenty-feet wide and twenty feet across. It was empty. Was this the town square? "Wait," Naruto called. Kurama stopped and glanced back at him. "Let me check first."

Kurama stepped back with a nod. Naruto shut his eyes and flipped through hand signs slowly. Mystogan watched him like a hawk, which Kurama caught. Naruto formed the tiger sign and pointed at the town square. Hundreds of red and green letters emerged from the ground. "A barrier with three layers," Naruto murmured, "The third layer is self-repairing."

Naruto exhaled. The letters cracked before shattering. A pillar emerged from the center of the town square. Atop the pillar, there was an emerald lacrima the size of a man's head that gleamed brilliantly, illuminating the town square. Slowly, the earth near the pillar sank to form a circle around it. A silver liquid rose to fill the trench a moment later.

Naruto opened his eyes. "I couldn't break the third layer, but that's fine. It's not meant to bind or harm those near it. It keeps people out."

"Extraordinary," Mystogan breathed.

Naruto grinned, wiping the sweat from his forehead. "I got my rank for a reason."

"Mito would've destroyed all three in half the time," Kurama said as he strode into the town square. "Don't get cocky." Naruto rolled his eyes as he followed.

Mystogan took a step into the town square when a black oval spread across the earth beneath them. An invisible pressure fell upon them like a tidal wave, throwing them face-first into the dirt. Naruto's flashlight sank in on itself until it was flat."What the hell is this?" he hissed.

"I-it must be... a seal made of Sha-shadow Magic," Mystogan gritted out, his grip tightening around his staff. His other hand twitched, as though it yearned for a weapon too. He pushed himself up slightly, then slammed into the earth again with a grunt.

"Never heard of Shadow Magic like this, " Naruto admitted, grimacing as he shoved himself to a knee. He panted. My chakra feels weird. I can't even summon my golem in this seal!

"Is there any Shadow Magic this bastard hasn't mastered? " Kurama growled, baring his teeth as he forced himself into a crouch.

"Damn it," Naruto cursed. He scowled, accepting physical strength wouldn't be enough and forced a hand up to grab the zipper of his flak jacket. His eyes widened when Sei-Rha crawled from a shadow to their left. Its silver eyes shone with satisfaction.

What he could see of it was obscured by its black energy. He gritted his teeth. Faster! Faster! Kurama snarled and exhaled a stream of fire at Sei-Rha. It extended its claw, blocking the fire without flinching. Naruto's flak jacket opened, and the kanji for release shone on his belly.

The gravity of the seal lifted from him. Sei-Rha's eyes widened as Naruto slammed his palm into the earth. A giant fist of stone exploded from the ground and struck Sei-Rha's back, throwing it onto its belly. The seal beneath them disappeared in an instant.

Kurama and Mystogan leaped to their feet. Lightning shot from one of Mystogan's staves into Sei-Rha's head, making it flinch. Kurama blasted a tornado from his maw, sending Sei-Rha flying into the wall of a house. As one, they launched a stream of fire, a pressurized orb of wind, and a yellow beam at their downed foe. Black spikes rose and weathered the attack for their master. Sei-Rha bared its teeth and shoved itself up.

"I'll say it one more time. I got my rank for a reason ya know!" Naruto smirked. "Now, it's past time to slay this demon!"

XXXXXXXXXXXX

Author's Note again: I plan to update my Acnologia vs. Dragon Slayers rewrite next. We'll see what happens.

Naruto's jutsu:

Gale Burst: a jutsu Minato invented in his teens. This just unleashes a strong gust of wind with the swing of a weapon. This jutsu, which doesn't require hand signs, is perfect for those who fight with weapons. (This is an original jutsu I created.)

Naruto blasting a snake with an exhale isn't a jutsu. It's something any wind user can do. It's what Danzo used while in midair against Sasuke to direct where he would fall.

Kurama:

His tornado and fire abilities are from the anime.

Biju Twister: a tornado that can be fired from his month or created as a natural tornado.

Fox Fire: his fire stream from the anime. The fire mentioned in this chapter came from him.

Mystogan's Spells:

Thunder: a bolt of lightning. Its strength depends on the caster. For the sake of this story, this spell is the one Laxus uses to launch lightning bolts from his hand or calls down from the sky.

Thunder is used by Makarov in a video game. That's where I got the name.

Dark Delete: the green orb Mystogan used. It can be used in a barrage of several, weaker spheres. Zero used it against Natsu.

Ray: a basic beam of light magic. It can explode or piece the foe. The thinner version is the one that pierces and is more advanced. This is what Makarov used to run Jose through the shoulder.

Bright: Just lighting up the room with Light Magic.

It's harder to cast Bright through a magical item. Since it requires considerable concentration, it leaves Mystogan wide open. Not the best spell to use when you're with a small group of people in enemy territory.

Sei-Rha's spells:

Dark Delete: the green orb that he shot into the ceiling.

I won't be revealing the name of the barrier/seal spell he used. It's a bit of a spoiler.