A/N - So, due to my being disappeared for how many years now, I had to take the exceed part of this original story and delete it. I couldn't include it otherwise it'll blow this chapter out even more than it is. It's at 15'000 words as it stands and still not finished! Bugger me. So yeah, short intro just to explain why there's differences in how they get the map Charla draws and stuff. Anyway, please read.
The Naruto-Erza clone pulled his beast around as he scoured the land for any sight of those energy signatures he'd felt back in Louen. It might have only been for a moment, but Naruto would have bet anything that it was one of his guild mates somehow. Problem was, he and L had travelled a long way since then so chances of him finding anything were slim to none. He had to at least try though otherwise he'd be kicking himself furiously later on.
This was also a chance to really try and enter into his character as he'd already made a few blunders in his acting. The biggest one so far was having a soldier return Erza's staff to him. Though he scared the man away with a growl, he saw the suspicion in his eyes. Hopefully with this bit of time though they might forget the slip.
Alighting on the top of a rocky spire, Naruto hushed his Legion as he stood up and shielded his eyes against the sun. Running some chakra through his retinas, the blond-turned-redhead's sight sharpened exponentially and he cast his vision from horizon to horizon. It had been nearly an hour now so if he didn't spot anything it'd be time to head back and regroup. "Come on, come on, give me something…"
Nevertheless sadly, nothing seemed forthcoming. It was rocks and dust and more rocks in all directions. One bumpy old road was the only standout feature of the landscape, a few old tracks winding away into the distance. Sighing, Naruto dropped his hand and shrugged to himself. Unfortunate as it was, he wasn't really expecting anything. Dropping back into the saddle, a sudden burst of desert wind had him pulling his face into his clothes. It left as quickly as it arrived, the only indication it ever blew through being the fresh layer of dust now stuck to everything.
Growling, Naruto shook himself down as best he could and let off a blast of wind powered chakra to finish the job. "Freaking sand, getting all up under my boobs and in my hair, what a mess. You'd bury the Hokage Monument in a day out… here…"
A lightbulb just went off. Those tracks in the road, they should be long gone even after only a day or two. "Where were they?"
Peering into the distance, Naruto spotted them again. It was then he took note of the direction. "That's towards the Royal City," came a soft breath.
Snapping the reigns with newfound urgency, the Legion let out a bellow as it was mushed into action. Moments later Naruto jumped from the beasts back and landed crouched beside the grooves. They were definitely wheel tracks, but there were no animal prints to indicate it was being drawn along. The only other option was that it was being powered magically. This conclusion was supported by the spray of rocks and grit from the tracks indicating power being driven from the wheels themselves as opposed to a tow. With how deep the tracks were it specified whoever this was couldn't have passed through here more than a few hours ago too.
A toothy grin stretched across Naruto's feminine face as he launched himself back onto his Legion. "Let's go find out who this is and get us some answers!"
A rising dust cloud in the distance alerted Naruto to the presence of a vehicle. The cart was fast, but thankfully the Legion seemed to be the undisputed king of speed in this world. It didn't take too long before Naruto drew overhead and looked down. It was sort of shaped like a boat with windows most of the way around the front of it, the glass panels ending where two enormous mufflers poked up spewing copious amounts of pollution into the air. Grinning, Naruto couldn't help himself and stepped off his Legion.
His heavy thump on the roof drew an absolute cacophony of shrieks from within the cart as it suddenly started veering around to try and shake him off. That proved useless as Naruto stuck fast and he stuck his head over to peek through the windshield.
"IT'S ERZA FREAKING KNIGHTWALKER! WE ARE DEAD!"
The petrified howl sounded rather familiar as the car suddenly whipped sideways, whoever it was driving having a panic attack and losing control of everything. Realising the cart was about to tip over, Naruto jumped off the roof and caught the doorframe. Jetting chakra through his feet, he pulled back on the roll and managed to hold the whole thing upright until its momentum stopped. Everyone tumbled out the door and the redhead was pleasantly surprised to see some very friendly faces. Natsu, Happy, Lucy, Wendy and Charla all toppled out in that order to land in an undignified heap in the dust. An almighty retching filled the air and Lucy suddenly shrieked as the motion sick Dragon Slayer deposited his lunch all over her clothes.
"THAT IS DISGUSTING!"
Naruto tried to say something, but all of a sudden the car beneath him kicked up a storm of dust and took off with the ninja in tow.
"Woah, woah, woah!" Leaping off the back of the cart, Naruto caught the bumper and dug his heels into the ground. Grinding the car to a stop, another shriek from within had the blond chuckling. Whoever this was, they were rather vocal. Propping a rock under the rear axle to hold the wheels off the ground, Naruto pulled open the door and was greeted with the most wide-eyed look of fear he'd ever seen. "What the – Natsu? Weren't you just over there?" It only took a moment before realisation clicked and the teen saw the character for who they were. "Oh wait, you're Edolas Natsu. Why are you running away?"
Pitiful squeaking like a cat-cornered-mouse was all he got in reply.
"Oi, Erza! How are you? We thought you'd been absorbed!"
A flying body blindsided Naruto and knocked him clean off his feet. Blinking up in surprise, he realised Happy and Natsu had tackled him. "Hang on, you got the wrong person! Hold up."
Letting go of his transformation, Naruto poofed into existence between the best friends and promptly grabbed them in twin headlocks. "How on earth are you guys alright? I swear everyone had been absorbed! How did you avoid it?"
All he got in answer was growls as the boy and his cat fought against the headlocks. Finally freeing themselves, they made to attack Naruto but were stopped in their tracks as Lucy smacked each with a rock.
Dropping the weapon beside the unconscious pair, Lucy barrelled into Naruto who quite happily accepted the hug. "Oh Naruto, it's so good to see you! What happened, how are you here?"
"It's a pretty crazy story actually! I was sucked up into that Anima thing just like everyone, but the… hang on," Naruto looked around suspiciously before whispering, "the Kyuubi somehow interfered with that and spat me out over near a town called Sycca. I'll cut out most of the B/S and just say I met up with this world's Fairy Tail, battled a couple of crazy knights, got my ass kicked, kicked some ass in returned and then found you here. How about you?"
"First, can you let me go? This is getting awkward." Relieving herself from Naruto's hug, Lucy pointed over at her crazy friends still on the ground with glee. "So it turns out they can't use magic! Mystogan sent me over here after my summon Horologium saved me. He didn't explain anything to me, other than everyone was in trouble and that I needed to help." She then snickered behind her hand, "And if I'm the only person who can use magic I'm not surprised he decided to send me. I'll be everyone's saviour this time!"
Stars of joy danced in her eyes as she envisioned herself as a hero of old. The ninja however blinked at the mention of Mystogan. "He sent you here? Actually, he even spoke to you? The way he acts it's like speaking more than two words actually causes him physical pain. Are you sure he didn't say anything of use?"
Pausing in her elation, the girl pursed a finger to her lips in thought. "Well… nothing that you don't already know? All of Magnolia has been taken, wrapped up in a crystal that they'll break down to top up their dwindling magic supplies."
"He didn't give you any indication of how to turn everyone back or how to get home?" pressed Naruto.
"No, nothing," came the apologetic reply.
Sighing, Naruto slapped his palm to his head. "Yep, good on you Mysty. Just throw us in the deep end with no instructions. Quality effort."
This wasn't something getting mad over would fix though so best to just move on. Brushing past Lucy, the ninja turned his attention to the final two members of the group. "Wendy! Snaggletooth! Good to see you guys! So you have really lost your magic? No idea why?"
Charla instantly started puffing up indignantly so Wendy awkwardly took over. "Naruto! G – good to see you're ok too! Ah, no, we have no idea why we can't use any magic yet. You seem to be able to use your abilities fine though?"
"Not quite all of them." Naruto started chewing on a knuckle as he mused over the problem. "I can't use my Senjutsu (Sage Techniques) properly, mostly because the Ethernano is so weak around here. You probably couldn't pull enough here to muster even a simple spell. That's my guess anyway."
Catching on quickly, Wendy nodded in agreement, but looked over at the resident stellar mage. "That doesn't explain Lucy though…"
Naruto shrugged and kneeled down to scratch Charla's ear. "Who knows? Maybe it's because of what type of mage she is. I mean, all she does is summon things. How long they stay here is dependent on them. Maybe her magic requires only a fraction the amount yours does?"
That statement brought forth a highly indignant grunt. "Oi! That's totally not true! Tell him Wendy!"
Grabbing Charla before she could tear into the extended hand, Wendy struggled to hold the cat tight. "Ah-ha… I doubt it would be something like that Naruto…"
Chuckling at her attempt to save face for Lucy, Naruto switched topic, much to the girl's relief. "So where were all of you headed so quickly?"
Finally wriggling free, Charla dropped to the ground and stomped up to her least favourite blond. "We are heading to the Royal City! As in, actually trying to do something productive like save our fellow guild members, as opposed to scaring the daylights out of us and then having the indecency to question our motives!"
Naruto dropped to his knees and tried to pat her again. "Wow you are so cute! Hey Wendy, have you ever noticed how much Snaggletooth's whiskers twitch when she's mad? It's adorable!"
Sliding past an enraged attack, Naruto laughed obnoxiously and jumped back over to Lucy, metaphorically throwing Wendy under the bus to deal with her livid companion. "So you guys are headed to the Royal City? I never would have guessed this world's Natsu would be a rev-head! How did you meet him?"
"He saved us!" she exclaimed as she ran over to the vehicle. "We'd been cornered by a bunch of those royal guards and we were about to be taken prisoner! But then out of nowhere, Edo-Natsu came screaming in to the rescue with his fantastic car, knocked over all the guards and saved us! He was so cool!"
"He wasn't that cool. We could have gotten ourselves out of it."
Naruto glanced down at a groggy Natsu as he struggled to push himself up. "Oh Natsu! Welcome back to the land of the living. I'm just gonna chat with him now. I'll let you know my thoughts. Maybe we'll take him back when we're done and leave you here. Could be a good trade."
A dejected cry from Happy was like music to the blond troublemaker's ears as he poked his head in the car door. "Natsu? Edolas Natsu? Sorry for scaring you earlier! It wasn't Knightwalker, it was just me in disguise!"
"N-N-Naruto? The crazy blond ninja?"
That earned him a few blinks in surprise. "Uh, yeah! How did you know?"
Tentatively crawling out from the back seat, the pink haired teen breathed a shaky sigh of relief and readjusted a pair of goggles sitting on his head. "Lucy, uh, my Lucy, told me most of what happened. That's how I knew to pick up your guild mates. She also told me you tackled Knightwalker headfirst! Are you mad? You could have been killed!"
Naruto's eyes sharpened at the genuine fear of the Fairy Hunter's name. A wide smile stretched across Naruto's face for Natsu's benefit, but there was no humour in it. "Oh, don't worry about her. She won't be bothering you again. I promise."
"Oh I doubt that very much! She's been our mortal enemy for years, it'd take more than a few beatings to stop her reign of terror! In fact, most of our Guild has –"
A hush suddenly fell over everyone at the abnormally loud, firm command from Naruto. Piercing blue eyes stared into panicked brown and the blond spelt it out carefully and clearly. "Knightwalker will not be bothering you again. I promise you this."
"Naruto… what happened? Who's this Knightwalker?" Lucy's voice wavered slightly, unsure as to what caused the sudden tension.
"Someone you thankfully won't ever have to meet. But like I said, Knightwalker won't be bothering Fairy Tail again." Naruto let out a shrill whistle and a roar in the distance returned the call. "Just trust me on this."
An enormous animal suddenly crashed down nearby and Edo-Natsu's eyes stretched wide. He slowly turned back to Naruto to see an unsaid message being conveyed. He swallowed and nodded very slowly, a highly confused Lucy looking between the two. "Wha… What's going on? I don't understand? And what is that huge thing you just called Naruto?"
"That's my transport around this place! I had to chase it over a rainbow and around a few puffy white clouds to catch it. Just boring stuff like that," the blond shrugged out.
Pouting, Lucy folded her hands and looked away. "Fine, don't tell me where you got it."
"However," Naruto turned back to Natsu and gave him the same humourless grin as before, "If you could tell your Lucy she won't be bothering you again, I'd really appreciate it."
A wordless nod of awe was all the response Naruto needed to step back. "Right! Well I have got to fly now. I've a few unfinished things I need to get to before kicking this King's ass and helping everyone get free. I assume that was what your plan was?"
Natsu exploded into fire as he smashed his fists together with a vicious grin. "You know me too well."
"Great! I'll try not be too late to the party then. Save some guards for me?" The two teens bumped fists before Naruto started walking over to his Legion as Natsu replied, "I won't promise you anything! If you're too late you just miss out! Before you go, did you want a copy of this map we found?"
"Map? What map?"
Natsu ran over to Lucy and snatched a brown, hand drawn map from her back pocket, ignoring her indecent squawk. Holding it out proudly, he gushed, "I found it back in Louen! It looks like a backdoor map into the castle! How good is that?"
Looking at the tatty piece of paper, Naruto raised an eyebrow at the clearly rough, hand drawn map. "You sure this isn't a fake?"
Charla suddenly appeared in a burst of magical feathers and snatched the paper back. "It's our best lead for the moment. You clearly don't care enough to warrant a copy, so go back to whatever you were doing."
"Aww don't be like that Snaggles, you know I'd love to join you!" Dodging a swipe of claws, Naruto ran back over and hid behind Wendy again. "That being said, you're right, I do have other things I need to get to so while I do thank you for the offer, I'll let this chance go."
The two girls of the group though couldn't help but worry for their aberrant friend. Watching as Naruto moved out from behind Wendy, Lucy weakly pleaded, "Are you sure you'll be safe? Wouldn't it be better if you come with us? Strength in numbers and all that?"
Laughing loudly, Naruto grabbed the reins to his beast and began adjusting them. "Nah, you guys will be fine. Besides, I might even beat you there! Keep an eye out for me, I won't be far away. Henge (Transform)!"
A sudden burst of smoke went up and suddenly Erza was standing before them. She kicked her feet up onto the saddle and gave them a two-fingered salute. "Be seeing you soon."
The beast let out a roar and with a single pump of its mighty wings, shot up into the sky and off into the distance. Shielding her eyes against the sun, Lucy watched Naruto disappear and sighed. "That boy has way too much energy. I honestly don't know how we deal with him. Come on you lot, we best keep going. Yes, you too Natsu." Her hand snatched out and caught the already greening boy's shirt as he tried to escape. "If you don't come Naruto won't leave YOU any guards to fight. So tough it out for now!"
Throwing him into the car, she jumped in and slammed the door shut. Waiting for the others to get in, she laughed bashfully and fluttered her eyes at their driver. "So yeah, that was Naruto! He's just as big a menace as your twin, so please don't mind him. He's actually a really great guy once you get to know him!"
She finished with a charming smile and waited for an answer. It pretty quickly became awkward as no reply was given, Edo-Natsu simply staring out the screen after Naruto. Unsure what to say, Lucy tried to find words but was cut off by the pink haired lad. "That Naruto… he's a very scary person. He might be nice, but personally, I don't think I want to meet him again."
With that said, he ground the stick into first and revved the engine. Gunning it hard, the cart swayed from side to side on the rock and the wheels gradually made traction with the earth. With a final crunch of rock breaking, the car came free and took off down the road. Meanwhile, Lucy pondered the ominous comment but wisely stayed quiet and settled in for the ride.
The thud of the animal landing was enough to draw Naruto from his meditation. Eyes opening slowly, he looked around and took in the surroundings. It was a courtyard of some sort, high stone walls all around them and many arched doorways leading away through them. Balconies rimmed the walls, multiple levels reaching up to its fortified edge. The occasional flag was draped from the handrails, a king's seal woven into the fabric. Other than that though, the most noteworthy item the blond could see wasn't even where they currently were. An enormous tower of Turret's and Keep's stretched high into the sky, the confusingly twisted structure reaching up towards the clouds. It didn't look at all like something to be lived in, more like a huge collection of tridents all bundled together and stuck pole first into the ground. How it was supported wasn't visible as the walls of the courtyard were tall enough to hide that, but it was sure something unlike anything he'd ever seen before. It was a shame he hadn't been able to really pay attention during the flight, but composing his chakra construct was more important than sightseeing. Thankfully, his form was stable for now, and just in time too as he heard heavy footsteps approach.
A fist wound itself into the ropes holding him and Naruto felt himself be lifted from his mount. Held outstretch, he dangled above the ground as multiple spears suddenly thrust themselves into his face. "One wrong move and we skewer you. Clear?"
Looking back at Panther Lily as best he could, the blond teen hummed in return, "Be dumb to try anything at this point."
Grunting, the giant cat then barked, "On my mark!" and the group of guards surrounding them all began to move in step with Lily as they made their way into the castle. Swaying in his grip, Naruto tried to spot anything of interest but quickly realised they were moving away from anything important; moving down, down into the dungeons.
It was a rough ten minute walk to get to his cell and once they arrived, the blond found himself tossed into the tiny thing with the metal gate slamming shut behind him before he even hit the floor. Hearing the lock snap shut, Naruto rolled off his face and looked back as Lily pocketed the key. Growling out some orders, two guards ran up to either side of the door and took their positions. The giant cat's eyes then glinted in the low light as he turned his attention to his new captive. "I hope you realise now you are completely at our mercy. These cells here have been specifically designed with magical barriers in mind to keep more troublesome criminals in check. You won't be getting out without my saying and if you try, I'll be notified immediately. You won't like it if I have to come back down her because of that."
Naruto ignored the threat and instead pried back, "So what will happen with the rest of me? Do you think pretty girl Knightwalker will be able to catch that part of me she let go?"
Lily's eyes thinned. He sensed something wrong but couldn't do much about it. For now. "Our Second Commander is like a bloodhound. She will not rest until she has the rest of you in her grasp. Let us hope she will be kind enough to leave those parts of you alive so we can put you back together for your trial."
The blond let out a snort at the ridiculous sounding conversation and shrugged. "I guess we will see. Not like I can do anything right now anyway." The blond then lay down and rolled over. "You can go now. I'm gonna catch up on some sleep."
A dangerous growl bubbled from the panther's throat and several of the guards jumped back as he spun around to stalk out of the room. "Guards, I give you full permission to educate him on why this is one of our special cells. No greater than a four though."
Naruto perked up and looked over his shoulder. "Four whaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
Electricity coursed up and down his body, igniting his nerves. It lasted less than a second but to the clone it was barely short enough for him to hold himself together. Had he not slipped into Senjutsu earlier he could have dissipated for sure. That didn't make it hurt any less though and the charred clone grit his teeth as he watched Panther Lily stride away with a chuckle. Struggling to concentrate, a few errant shocks coursed through his body as the guard's laughter reached his ears. Cursing softly to himself, the blond curled up into a ball and desperately tried to hold form.
"Oi. Maggot. Wake up in the presence of your betters."
A boot impacted with his side and Naruto let out a hiss. Opening a bleary eye, the tired clone looked up to see an imposing figure stood over him. "That's better. On your knees."
He wasn't able to move quickly enough and that seemed to displease his current tormentor enough that they grabbed him by the hair and pulled him up. "No witty come back this time? I'm disappointed."
A tired groan left his mouth and Naruto had to stop himself from falling back onto his face. There was rustling as the person in front of him knelt and he opened his eye.
Erza Knightwalker. Or so it appeared to be.
Her face twisted up into a cruel smirk and she called out to the guards, "You have a ten minute break. Go relieve yourselves. I will be kind enough to hold your post."
Looking past her, Naruto watched as the guards instantly cried out, "Yes, Sir!" and hurried away. He also saw the pitying look in both their eyes as they rounded the corner to the stairs.
"Quickly, scream for me." Naruto looked at the red-head and nodded before letting out a shrill shriek. The departing footsteps instantly doubled in tempo and vanished.
Finally alone, Erza dropped to the side and let her transformation go with a sigh. The Naruto's shared a glance before the prisoner-Naruto shuffled back up against his fellow clone.
"This Knightwalker really was bad news, wasn't she?"
"You should try walking around looking like her. All the soldiers look at me like I'm some sort of god. I heard all sorts of crazy things they were muttering about when I asked which cell you were in. Apparently this is normal for her to come down to 'check' on their latest prisoners."
"You didn't see since your back was turned but those guards you dismissed sure looked like they'd seen some things. Their eyes… they knew what was coming."
Former Erza growled and looked off to the side angrily. "She was a real piece of work. Pain for the sake of pain, no alternative reason. Good riddance to her. I wonder how many others share her thoughts."
"Who knows? I have a feeling this cell was mainly used for our guild members too. It's designed with a shock system that apparently has a pain tier rating. I got hit with a 'four' and it nearly dispelled me."
"How close are you to dispelling anyway?"
"Pretty damn close, but still, it hurt like all hell, so I couldn't imagine how anyone softer, like one of the girls, would have handled something like this."
The two then fell into silence as they considered this horrible place. Both of their gazes had hardened as their minds considered what could be done to avenge their otherworldly guild family. Prison-Naruto let out another imitation yell and then ventured, "So what will we do?"
Erza-Naruto's head flopped over lazily to stare back at his twin. "You know what we will do. Why ask?"
He shrugged. "Just making sure."
They then fell into silence for a few more moments before Erza-Naruto stood up. "Better check and make sure there's no one else down here then."
His twin pulled himself up too and dusted himself down. "Move me to a different cell as well. This one is rather limiting."
The imposter simply nodded and they both strode out. Glancing at one another, they split up and searched each end of the dungeon. The search was interspaced with screams and cries from them both to let the guards know Erza wasn't quite done with her guest. It didn't take too long though and they reconvened after about five minutes.
Erza-Naruto held out empty hands and thankfully shook his head. "Nothing my way. You?"
Prison-Naruto's face darkened. "I wish. Come on, I'll show you."
The two walked about a hundred feet to a lone cell down towards the end. Prison-Naruto gestured inside and Erza-Naruto's face instantly darkened in the exact same way. He turned and each glared into the other's eyes. "Once you dispel I'll put a fresh clone in here."
"Make sure they look like you nearly killed me."
The two turned back to the cell and their fierce eyes burned down upon the small, tattered orange and blue striped hat sat upon a withered, very still form. Erza-Naruto suddenly lashed out and Prison-Naruto exploded.
Blue eyes rapidly widened and a cold red seeped into his pupils as the memories slammed into his head. Yes, it was just as his clones had discussed.
He was going to raze that hateful castle to the ground.
"Where on Edolas is that reprobate? It's been plenty long enough. He better not have got himself caught or killed."
The mutterings of the eccentric, sackcloth coated pilot only increased in pace as L stared out through the cockpit window, desperately trying to spot any sign of his travel companion. It hadn't occurred to him until after Naruto decided to drop out the back of the airship that the blond menace had no way to track him. As such, the last few hours had been torturous on his anxiety.
It was then to his immense relief when he heard footsteps approaching from the cargo hold. Letting out an irritable sigh, his grip on the steering wheel lessened and his knuckles popped in relief. "It's about time. Had you left it any longer and I would have lost you for sure. What the devil possessed you to take on the King's guard anyway?"
There was a sharp point in his back and L growled. "Don't test me you imbecile, we're nearly at the Capital so stop hounding me."
"So that's where you are headed!"
L instantly froze and considered biting his own tongue off. Both to save himself from their hands and also because of his stupidity. Slowly raising his hands, he turned to face several of the King's soldiers standing with their spears levelled at him. "No fast movements, step away from the steering wheel and remove your hood. You have one warning."
Cursing heavily, L's mind boosted into overdrive as he started thinking over every possible option. Taking as long as he could to step away, his internal voice whirled away with possible suggestions. 'These fools shouldn't know who I am, so there's little risk they'd know who I am should I remove my hood. If they don't I can stall it out then steal one of their mounts. If they do recognise me I can use the surprise to attack them. The two on the outside can be used as shields as I draw the middle two off to the side which can then be used to impale that one standing by the door…'
His mutterings were cut off as a heavy thump from behind the ship knocked everyone off their feet. Taking advantage of the confusion, L rolled to his feet and lashed out a kick into the face of the nearest guard. There was a sharp crack and the man fell silent as consciousness was wenched from him. Spinning to follow up another kick, his foot harmlessly bounced off a shield barrier before he was thrown back by a bolt of lightning striking him fair in the chest. Crying out in anger and pain, L looked up at the guards with fury and frustration in his eyes, both hating the guards and his own inability to fight back.
Bristling as one soldier stepped forward, he spat on his shoes even as the man started tying his hands behind his back.
"Oi, what was that? Gyah!"
Everyone froze at the pained cry from the hallway and the soldier tying up L shouted, "You three, go check back there!"
They had only just turned when a blond and orange form phased into existence right in front of them.
Inhumanly fast, the figure flashed through the group before coming to stand beside L. The soldier by his side gurgled as his throat closed over from the chop that made his trachea spasm. A swift elbow to the back of his head then sent him crashing into the floor. He stayed down. The rest of the group toppled over shortly after with dull thumps.
L felt himself pulled to his feet and the cords around his hands simply fell off. Stepping back and rubbing his wrists, the man cautiously looked over the deathly calm young mage before him. Something had really seemed to have riled him up. That red in his eyes certainly wasn't normal. Another ability like his orange eye technique from before? Did it indicate mood? A physical change?
Ignoring the curiosity that tugged in the back of his mind and the feeling of dread flowing off Naruto, L cautiously made his way back to the cockpit and sat back down. "I'm… pleased to see you've made it back unscathed. Everything went to plan I venture?"
Naruto snorted and turned to look out the window. "How far are we from the city?"
A few beads of sweat began trickling down L's cheeks. He wiped them away. They came back. Naruto was feeling positively deadly at the moment.
"Not long now. It will be within sight within the next hour assuming weather conditions remain stable."
Turning from the window, smoke exploded out from the blond and several clones walked out to each pick up a guard. The original grabbed the ankle of the last one he downed and began dragging him out through the hallway. "I'll clean this up and then take a short break to prepare. Let me know when we're close."
L nervously watched the team of blonds walk away and he swallowed. This was going to make things harder.
Naruto stared at his reflection in the mirror and resisted the urge to punch a hole through it. That didn't stop his fingers from cracking the basin though.
Angry red eyes stared back at him, but for the first time, he could not detect a hint of the Kyuubi at all. No, this rage was all his own. The fact he'd tied the guards up as opposed to throwing them out the back of the airship to fall to their deaths was evidence of that.
'Easy there boy, save this for later. Revenge is a dish best served cold. No need to give that old creep out there more reason to obsess over me either.'
That being said, the lack of Ethernano in this world was being a real problem. The fact the Kyuubi's influence had been diminishing upon entering the tailed-beast mode though was raising possibilities. Sage mode was becoming less reliable as the magic in this world dwindled and even with preparation, the length of time he could spend in it was shortening. Thinking back to his conversation with Yajima-san, Naruto let go of the vanity sink and stook up straight. It was time he listened to the old man and really tried to master this. "One hour. One hour till we land. Let's see if I can last that long under this shroud."
Walking out from the bathroom, Naruto slipped into a quiet back room and dropped down into the Lotus Position. Closing his eyes, he turned his attention inward and slowed his breathing. Let's see if he could discover something within.
"Returned again, human?"
The large golden fox stared down at his ward. Naruto stared back up at him, though through eyes of red this time. Noticing this, Kyuubi lowered itself and peered at him. "You, why aren't you more vicious? Surely you should be affected by some of my wrath coming in here looking like that."
Saying nothing, the teen looked over the fox. Frowning, he walked up to the seal stuck fast on the gates. He heard the Kyuubi suck in a breath but ignored it. Tracing a finger over the rune, it remained unchanged even with the increased flow of chakra moving through it. That it hasn't changed in itself though could be part of the answer as to why all this was happening. Kyuubi's hint about the Ethernano having changed his colour, the change in the beast shroud, the gradual reduction in the mindless rage; if you traced all this back it centred on how the seal was filtering the malicious chakra of the rage-beast here and into his body. Could it be that for some reason the Kyuubi chakra was flowing through faster? Did it need less purification now?
Stepping back, Naruto looked up to the Kyuubi and cupped his chin in thought. "Kyuubi, have you been feeling any less hateful lately?"
A deep bubbling rumble filled the room. It was the huge fox laughing. "What sort of question is that? You're asking me if I've changed my very nature? That's like asking if one of your old toads has changed his warts."
"But you have managed to change your colour," Naruto pointed out.
To that, the Kyuubi had no reply.
Remaining silent, the blond continued thinking over the problem. When did it all start? Back while searching for Laxus during that Fantasia Festival. He wouldn't ever forget that.
Why was it increasing in pace though? That was a much harder question to answer. There had to be some sort of trigger and as he thought about it, a lot of what he could remember seemed to have both Senjutsu and these events coinciding… but why? Senjutsu and the Kyuubi's cloak were nothing alike. How did they tie together? Why was his mood less and less influenced by the Kyuubi? How were they connected?
He was close, he was so damn close, but he couldn't quite put it together. It was incredibly frustrating but try as he might it wasn't coming to him.
"Don't think too hard human, you might have an aneurysm."
The sarcastic comment cut through Naruto's thought processes like a hot knife and all the threads the blond had been trying to pull together fluttered away from his grasp. "Damn it Kyuubi! Why'd you have to go and do that?"
More deep bubbling rumbles. "Do I need to answer that?"
Growling angrily, Naruto glared up at the now smugly smirking fox. This wasn't a fight he'd win. Letting out an irritated sigh, the teen took the higher road and let it be. That would annoy Kyuubi more than anything he could do or say in retort.
Maybe later the teen could write it all down on paper and try pull it all together visually. For now though, there were to be no more answers found down here so looking up at the fox, Naruto gave it a nod before fading from view. An indifferent grunt followed him out.
Even as he opened his eyes, Naruto didn't let the lack of answers concern him. All that mattered were the results and still there had been no impact from drawing upon the Kyuubi's chakra. If he was going to destroy this castle, he was going to use everything available to him to bring it low.
His nails lengthened and sharpened.
Naruto rose to his feet as L alighted beside him a moment later. The two of them looked up to watch the Airship begin to lazily circle the city. It had been decided to abandon ship once they reached the city and let the thing fly aimlessly around. It would give the undoubtedly alerted city guards something to chase while they both infiltrated the city. There had been parachutes on board, so all spares had been destroyed and the steering wheel ripped off so if the captured soldiers came to and unbound themselves they couldn't escape.
L had taken one for himself; Naruto choosing to simply drop to the ground. Now closing in on the front gate, L crouched behind a large boulder and motioned Naruto down. "Undergo your physical transformation. You cannot be caught in this city, they would have your head if they saw you, irrespective of how strong you are."
Naruto nodded and went up in a puff of smoke, replacing himself with his female alter ego. "What about you? I doubt you'll get in wearing… that."
To this, L shook his head. "I won't be joining you on this part of the venture. I have my own task I must undertake. I won't need to go in through traditional means. The King and the Lacrima you seek are both beyond those walls, so make sure you DO NOT get caught. I will make contact with you after the preparations are complete."
"Preparations for…?" Naruto let the question hang, curiosity getting the better of him. To his frustration though L seemed happy to keep that a secret. "You'll find out once they're finished. Bide your time, the revelation will come. For now, we must part ways. Beware drawing needless attention for both our sakes."
Then without a word of goodbye, the odd man turned and ran off around the outskirts of the city walls.
Watching him vanish into a clove of boulders, Naruto shook his head and rolled his eyes. As weird as he was though, he'd upheld his end of the bargain and brought Naruto to the city. Turning, he finally took in the enormity of the walls before him. That enormous castle structure his clone had seen pointed up to the sky and it seemed to be smack bang in the middle of everything. At least that was a good bearing to start with.
Standing from his position, the blond walked out onto the road and slipped in with a group of travellers heading towards the front gate. His eyes tracked the guards to see how they were going to react to this group, what documents they'd be checking, id passes they might need or emigration cards they'd collect. Sliding towards the back, the blond watched as the first of the group reached the guards. The guards was reaching up for… a wave?
Conflicted, Naruto stared on in confusion as the group waved back cheerfully and carried on without stopping. The guards didn't even look at them after that, returning to their post, eyes pointed out. Walking past them, the blond stared at them in mild shock. Surely they would have to have been alerted to the fact the rogue Airship was nearby?
This wasn't a gift horse he wanted to look in the mouth though, so ducking his head down he jogged in through the gates and slipped into the crowd.
It was a veritable maze down on the ground but there was no way the blond could do anything like roof hop for a better view. As such he was stuck pounding pavement in hopes of finding a way through the streets but progress was slow. The map he'd swiped from a handbag showed many different ways through the city but repeatedly he was finding roads closed to public access. There were festivals everywhere, or at least, parts of the whole, and that was all making life very difficult.
Finding a free bench to drop into for the moment, the blond rubbed his temples and considered his options. His current missions were one, destroy that accursed tower, two, find the Lacrima his friends were all stuck in and three, work out how to get them out. The tower was easy, a few well-placed explosive tags at the foundations of the monstrosity would have it toppled quickly enough. The real catch was getting everyone away from it to keep any casualties to the King's guard. Next was the Lacrima. It was proving elusive, but even once he found it, what was he going to do? It's not like he could just punch it and it 'magically' reverts to his friends.
The simplest of his choices currently were setting up the demolition of the castle, so with a nod to himself the teen jumped to his feet and ran off into an unused shop. Time to scout. Bringing his fingers up, his trademark technique brought to life a rough fifty clones. They all instantly changed form to various unassuming members of the public and ran out the doors at staggered intervals. Naruto waited until the end to make sure no one noticed the sudden emergence of people from a previously vacant store. Finally empty, he strutted out into the crowd and merged with the masses of people.
Making to head towards the castle again, he suddenly felt something. Whipping his head around, the blond peered through the crowd. He had sensed someone, something very unusual in this world. It was familiar too, so following his nose he zeroed in on the sensation. It was moving through the crowd, staying towards the shops and hopping through protected areas.
There! Under a beige cloak, Naruto spied the form disappear around a corner into an alley way. Stalking after it, the blond jogged after the person when his senses screamed at him. Reflexes kicked him into the air right as a pillar of iron slammed into the ground. Alighting on an awning, the teen's eyes flicked around to try pinpoint the attack. Another rod of iron was launched at him though so without a thought, Naruto arched his back around it and followed its trajectory to see where it came from.
Arm outstretched, Naruto spotted his attacker begin to retreat. Digging into his pockets, Naruto flung a pair of kunai towards the man, the piece of wire connecting their ends turning them into a spinning disk of death. Death though wasn't the end intention and a surprised grunt followed the wire wrapping around his assailants legs and sending him face first into the floor.
The capture wasn't wasted and Naruto hurled himself down onto the figure to pin both his hands to the ground. An angry growl greeted him and to Naruto's surprise, blades shot out from the fabric covering his target's form. His teeth grit as lacerations opened up over his legs and hips even as he managed to dodge the worst of them.
"I don't care who you are, just because you're a girl won't stop me cutting a leg or two off. You picked the wrong mage to attack today!"
It was Gajeel! No wonder it felt so familiar! Diving out of harm's way, Naruto held up a hand and called out, "Wait, Gajeel, it's me!"
Ripping the wire from his legs, the pierced mage stood up menacingly and glared at him. "Who're you though? I don't know anyone like you."
Oh right, he wasn't 'Naruto' at the moment. Releasing the transformation, Gajeel's eyes widened in surprise and exclaimed, "Naruto? What the hell, how are you here? Why are you attacking me?"
"Firstly," came the explanation, "I sensed you and followed you here. You attacked me first so that's on your head." Gajeel didn't look the least bit ashamed at that. "Next, I was sucked up like everyone else but managed to escape. I've been hunting for this place ever since. What are you doing here? How did you get here?"
Crossing his arms agitatedly, the mage growled and looked up at the tower above the city. "Mystogan sent me over. He told me to find the city and any others he's sent over. He didn't mention you though, that's why I thought you were an enemy. As for what I'm doing now, I've got an informant helping me here. Turns out the Lacrima is in here somewhere. I'm looking for it now."
A grin tugged at Naruto's lips. This was going to work out well. "Same thing I'm doing then. Want to team up? I've got a bone to pick with that King."
"You and me both. Don't think of ordering me around though, you get in my way and I'm dropping you."
Naruto shrugged as he went up in a puff of smoke. An inconspicuous female now stood in Naruto's place. "Fine by me. Where are we looking first?"
Gajeel pushed past him as he spoke. "My informant mentioned it was being held in the western half of the city. Just follow the crowds and we'll find it."
Sliding up behind his new companion, Naruto nodded and fell in step. Then, stepping into the throngs of people, the two guild members vanished.
"Children of Edolas, through the power of the Anima, the Holy Kingdom of Edolas has produced enough magic power to last ten years!"
Gajeel and Naruto stood in the shadow of a fate float. True to his word, the informant's tip off had guided them right to the centre of everything. Upon an elevated platform overlooking a several thousand people strong crowd stood what had to be the king. Behind him sat an enormous crystal of Lacrima, probably fifty feet or more in height and width, fiercely guarded by a regiment of soldiers.
"Sing and laugh as one! We must celebrate this joyous day!"
An enormous cheer went up as the sceptre in the elderly King's hand was thrust skyward. Narrowing his eyes, Naruto channelled chakra to his eyes and took in the image of his enemy.
Overly wide, unblinking eyes stared out over his subjects, his arms arrogantly stretched out accepting their praise greedily. His long grey beard and hair flowed gently in the wind, most of it kept in place by the rounded brown Mitre sat upon his head. A brown shawl draped over his shoulders, buckles attaching it and his long light brown cape to the neck of his attire. The sceptre clasped in his hands was a rather tall reddish-brown pole with the top adorned by an intricately designed metal trident. Nestled within the middle looked to be a Lacrima orb which flashed in the sunlight as it was shaken.
"All the people of Edolas have the right to share in this power. The people of Edolas shall be a holy race, forging a glorious new future with our hands!" His intense stare swept across the crowd as his arms flowed in motion to his voice. "Nobody shall steal this from our proud nation! It is ours and ours alone!"
A roar of support drowned out his cry. Naruto grit his teeth as he glared at the scene. These people didn't have a clue where that thief of a King stole that from. Tears flowed freely, hands clasped in prayer and thanks to the King for saving their nation from magical exhaustion.
"But my good people," the King called out, the noise subsiding, "my good people, I, your King, shall provide you even more magical power than even this!" The noise from before began rising again, forcing the King to shout to be heard. "Supplies that will make even this great Lacrima behind me look like trash in comparison!"
He thrust his stave into the rock, a small fissure flowing across the smooth blue face. Twisting and wrenching it out, he made a show of glaring disgustedly at the chips that showered down to the ground. "Such feeble, weak amounts shall never be found in our Kingdom again. We shall not be left starved of energy anymore. From this day forward, I promise as your King to supply magic to you for the rest of eternity!"
The cry from before was dwarfed by the roar that rocked the stadium as the crowd all jumped and cheered their King. Plugging his ears with his fingers, Naruto calculated the distance to the King. 'One good kunai and I could at least take out that staff of his. It'd be a tricky shot, but I think I could do it.'
His hand reached down into his pouch but a grip of steel halted his movements. He found himself staring into impassive red eyes and Gajeel threw his hand back. "Save it. Whatever you're thinking, don't do it. My informant has a plan so we stick to it. Still though," Gajeel looked back at the crowd with disgust, "to think such empty words could move a nation. They're so desperate for a miracle they're willing to believe anything. Weak."
He turned and began stalking away. Naruto's fingers itched to throw at least a rock at the King. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he turned away and stomped after his guild mate. "So what's the next step?"
"Reconnecting with my informant. We head back to the hotel room and wait for him. Tomorrow, we strike."
It was a sparse hotel room, one bed, one chest of draws, a table and chairs, a large window that looked at the wall of the building opposite and a small ensuite. Naruto had sunk into one of the chairs and drawn his knee up to rest is chin on. Unmoving he may have been, his eyes flashed as the occasional clone memory dropped fresh information into his mind, the planned destruction of the tower starting to take shape.
Gajeel meanwhile paced agitatedly, staring from the hole he was wearing in the floor to the door and back. Growling and glancing at the clock, the mage bit out, "What is that glorious bastard doing? He shouldn't be taking this long. Do I need to go out and check? No, he's good, he can take care of himself."
The mutterings and pacing continued as the afternoon dragged on into the evening, the two continuing on in relative silence until finally, there came a knock at the door before a figure let themselves in.
The mage jumped forward; Naruto's eye following Gajeel as he stomped up to the man and demanded, "What the hell took you so long? Not that I didn't think you couldn't take care of yourself, but I was wondering if there were some asses that needed kicking."
Eyebrows began to raise in surprise as the figure turned around and removed their hat to reveal Gajeel's twin! "Oh-ho, I didn't realise you'd picked up company! Who is your new companion?"
"This tag-along is Naruto. He's part of the guild but didn't get absorbed for whatever reason. We caught up in the city so he'll be helping out."
"Ah, wonderful!" The afro'd version of Gajeel strode forward with his hand extended. "Such a treat finally meeting another member of your guild. As you have probably worked out, I am the Edolas counterpart to the Gajeel you know. It's a pleasure."
Reaching back, Naruto continued to look at him in surprise. He'd have never thought the twins would have ended up working together. "Uh, yeah we've already met actually, back in Louen."
"Oh?" That drew the question from both Gajeel's.
"Yeah, um, I'll show you." Crossing his fingers, Naruto went up in a cloud of smoke and the plain brunette who originally met the man was now sat upon the chair.
"In all of my days!" exclaimed Edolas-Gajeel, "What a phenomenal ability! Never in my life have I seen anything like it! Astounding, truly astounding! The possibilities in this magic you all seem to carry really is limitless isn't it?"
His twin just smirked while Naruto scratched his cheek. "What I do is a little different, but yeah, it has its uses."
Shaking his head, Edo-Gajeel composed himself and pressed on. "Undoubtedly. What a find. Well then, you're already mostly filled in on everything. All you need to know is that everything we spoke on back then has been confirmed as you intimately know. What we now plan to do is free your guild members and return you back to your dimension. I have my connections ticking, looking for a way past those Guards now. Until they come back with a definitive answer though, we can't do much."
Naruto frowned as he slipped into a chair beside his twin. "So there's no scouting we can do, no guard schedule we can hijack?"
Fingers massaged tired eyes as Edo-Gajeel dropped his fedora on the table. "I already know their roster. They have overlapping shifts, at no point is that Lacrima unguarded. Our time to strike is looking more and more like it will have to be the day they convert it to energy, that being tomorrow. That is when they will be stretched the thinnest."
That drew a sigh from the blond as he popped back into his usual form. "So we can't just rush them? With me and Gajeel here, we should be able to take most of them on."
"And risk them using the power of that Lacrima against you? They're sitting on top of a power source the likes that hasn't been seen in years. Doing anything like that is just asking them to drop the might of your friend's power on your heads risking not only yourselves, but your friend's lives."
Not the answer he wanted but it made sense. Crossing his arms agitatedly, the blond looked out the window with a pout. Still, it was comforting to know he wasn't in this alone anymore. He could leave guild recovery to these two. That freed up a substantial amount of time for his vengeance.
Piercing eyes turned to glare at the quivering soldier who addressed her. For good reason too, word had been going around the Commander had been in a particularly foul mood ever since visiting that criminal currently held in prison. She'd even beaten him to the point of requiring medical attention but ordered none administered.
"We – we've identified several intruders beneath the palace. We believe it to be the rogue mages from the parallel universe Earthland. Orders?"
"Unexpected, but unsurprising." Naruto-Erza honestly meant that. It sounded like that raggy old map wasn't just a fake after all. "Any idea which members?"
The soldier looked visibly relieved he hadn't had his head pulled off. "To the best of our knowledge, five members. That's all the intel we have at the moment."
"I'd have expected better. Gather your squad and meet in the courtyard ASAP. We're going hunting."
Snapping a crisp salute, the guard then turned and bolted, utterly terrified by the angry scowl pulling at his seniors' features.
Watching him run away, a second, seemingly less fearful guard snapped attention to the fiery redhead. "Sir, update report."
Naruto didn't even nod, just swivelling his eyes around to meet the guards.
"Period one, two and three have been made vacant for you. I can book in a meal for you for period five if wished? Otherwise dinner shall be at seven or nine. Bed time is open for change unless prior arrangements made."
Naruto raised a single feminine eyebrow at the information. "Bed time will be closer to twelve. I'll be having guests over. Dinner for nine will be fine. I will take a snack for five though."
"Roger sir. I'll make preparations."
No further word was said as the guard turned and walked into the shadows and exploded in a cloud of smoke.
For Naruto currently hiding in plain sight as one of the strongest beings in the castle, the convenience of creating clones to disperse information had greatly diminished since all eyes were on him. As such, coded messages were used to convey information. Thanks to this, he now knew that the bottom third of the castle was clear of any potential allies held captive. Explorations were underway up to the final fifth of the towers but his fellow clones were getting tired and needed rest to restore some of their waning energy. Castles within the South-western section were the main foundations of the structure and all explosions would need to start there. Due to the fact that they'd just found his guild members creeping around below the castle though, the project had to be delayed until further notice to make sure they could be snuck out safely.
Mulling the information over in his mind a moment longer, the ninja nodded contemplatively before striding off towards the courtyard. It took only a couple of minutes to reach his destination but by the time he reached it there were twenty-five guards already lined up ramrod straight.
It impressed him somewhat but he didn't let it show. Instead, he locked eyes with them all and pointed at the ground. "So news reaches my ears that some worms have managed to burrow through our great castle foundations. The King would have our heads if he'd heard about this first. Be thankful it was only me and that I'll let you get away with light discipline. Firstly though, a report. Where are they, how far into the castle are they and how did they find it?"
A guard off to his right stepped forward. His voice was stable but there was a slight shaking in his hands. "They have breached the old barriers set up by the former King. Currently they're walking through the caves that lead towards the cellars. For what we've learnt though, it appears your plan to lead them into our hands is working. We believe them to be the Earthland mages we lost at Louen."
Say what? Her plan? Raising an eyebrow, Naruto stared down his nose as best he could and pressed, "This plan. How long ago was it that I set it in motion?"
Confusion ripped across the guard's face, clearly thrown by the question. "Uh, you've always had it there in case members of the Fairy Tail group was bold enough to try and save imprisoned guild mates. Plant a map in their midst if we couldn't catch them and keep watch for if they are stupid enough to make a move."
The hairs on Naruto's neck bristled as he thought of that witch he disposed of. Even going so far as to lure the members into a trap… "Have you been told who these mages are?"
The previous guard who spoke answered. "We haven't been told much sir, other than they are a powerful."
Naruto growled and bit out, "You're damn right they're powerful. Not even all of you combined would be able to take on one of them. You are just lucky you have me here to help. Gather the tie-downs, we're capturing them alive."
"All of them sir?"
Naruto's eyes flashed and he snapped back at the guard, "You're damn right all of them! These people are MY prey! I capture them as I want so you better not singe a hair on their heads! Get your nets and torches and be ready to meet them underground. I'm bringing them to prison myself."
A sharp shout of agreement filled the court and the guards rapidly dispersed to go and exchange their weapons for nets. Eyes burning as they disappeared into the building, Naruto turned and looked up at the tower above which blotted out the evening sky. By this time tomorrow, this place would be rubble.
Not even acknowledging the report, Naruto strode past the guard and down into the basement. "All net bearers to the front. Support, lines two and three. Remaining guards split and run the wings. Pincer them if necessary but leave any force required to me. Stealth is our friend, so attack them before they even know we are there. Oh, and one last thing, make sure to gag them. I want to save their screams for later."
The cellar escape passage lead out into a wide cavernous space, a 50/50 split of natural erosion and man-made expansion. Bioluminescent mould grew around the stalagmites and stalactites, filling the cave with a soft off-green light. Holding up a fist, the guards halted while Naruto walked into the centre of the cave. Looking around the area, his eyes took in the various hide holes and areas of cover he could utilise. "And how long before the mages get here?"
"Approximately 10 minutes on the last report," came the sharp reply.
"Good." Naruto gestured to a few key areas cast in deep shadow and instructed, "Since we have beaten them here, we lay a trap. Nets, down low so you can rush them when the walk through. Weapons, up high so you can deflect any potential attacks thrown our way. Wings, hide beside the opening the mages will walk through. Only interfere with them if they try to run. Wait until they are in the centre of the room before attacking. Remember, swift capture is what we are aiming for here. I want all of them wrapped up so tight they'll pass out if they breathe too hard. Get your positions and wait for my mark."
Scrambling into position, the guards practically melted into the darkness and disappeared from sight. Nodding approvingly, Naruto crept back into a shadow and knelt. Silence fell over the room with only the very occasional soft breath being heard. It wasn't long before some distant, muffled talking was heard though as the group of mages slowly made their way towards them.
Naruto resisted the urge to face palm at the ruckus they made, honestly even if they hadn't known they were coming it would have been so easy to catch them. The noise they made would have had Kakashi-sensei slapping them flat within seconds.
The noise grew as they got closer till eventually a soft light filtered through the door, the preemptive glow having all the guards tensing up.
"Steady…" Naruto's soft voice stilled the guards as the group of five walked into the room, completely oblivious of the danger that surrounded them.
"…this map really is the best! I can't believe how we managed to find it! Right, Lucy?"
"Natsu, stop making so much noise! You're right though, it looks like it lead us right to where we needed to go. Charla, how close does it say we are?"
"If I'm reading it right, the other end of this cave should open up to the King's cellar. We can make our way in from there. We need to be careful once in though as who knows what sort of people might be waiting. Wendy, stay close to me the whole time ok?"
"Charla, I'll protect you from any of those mean people! I'll chase them away with Natsu's help!"
"Hush yourself, boy-cat."
Naruto's arm dropped and the guards sprang into action. Thick, viscous, white goop shot all over the group, wrapping them up tight and throwing them to the ground.
"HAPPY! Escape right n –" Natsu's cry was muffled as binding wrapped around his head, silencing him. The poor blue cat couldn't move though from the shock and was helpless as he and Charla were wrapped up and muffled. Wendy and Lucy were just as quickly apprehended and all 5 were tossed into the centre of the cave, eyes wide in shock as staves crackling with energy were pointed at their heads.
"Well done group, well done." Striding out, Naruto offered his men a couple of crisp claps for their effort and came to stand in front of his prisoners. Lucy's eyes widened massively, recognising the Erza that stood before them for who he really was and she began thrashing around, her muffled shrieking echoing through the cave.
Smirking as ominously as possible, Naruto knelt down to her eye level and snickered back at the guards, "See? That's why I said gag them. I want to savour this for later. As for you lot," he kicked Natsu in the gut for good measure, knowing he could take it, "welcome to the capital. I'll make sure your stay is one you'll never forget since you're all personally invited here. Guards? Do me a favour, drag this lot down to the prison. I'll clean up first before paying them a personal visit."
The mage's newly terrified and confused eyes stared up at Naruto as he stepped back and laughed as he watched them get dragged away. It cut him deep to scare them like this, but it was necessary for the moment.
The midnight bells tolled and Naruto's eyes opened. Both Gajeel were asleep at this point, so silently creeping out of the room, Naruto made his way down to the deserted roads and gently padded towards the castle disguised as his female self. His Erza stand in had already informed him of what had occurred earlier and where the mages were being held. It was time to break them out and prepare the final explosive tags for the morning.
It was much easier to navigate the roads at this hour, the guards being much more infrequent in their presence and the long shadows hiding the ninja as he crept towards the looming tower. The occasional pedestrian wandered around, cloaks and scarfs wrapped up tight around them to ward away the midnight cold. Mimicking them, Naruto easily made his way forward.
Turning a corner into a dark alleyway, the blond stopped dead as a cloaked figure stood before him. Tall, imposing and silent, the figure stood ready and relaxed for him. Eyeing him wearily, Naruto backed up. "If you touch me, I'll scream."
The figure vanished from sight and instincts blazed.
Lashing an arm backwards, Naruto's forearm collided with a shin headed directly for his head. Guiding it past himself safely, the blond pulled his assailant in close and drove an elbow into their chest. A hand just caught the attack before it connected though and using that as a spring, followed Naruto's tug and jumped up over the blond and landed on the opposite side of him. Readying his fists, Naruto made to charge but halted unexpectedly when a hand was held up.
"Stop, I now know it's you Naruto."
"What? Who are you?"
Pulling back some of the scarfs, Naruto was shocked to see a very familiar blue head of hair revealed. "Mystogan? What the hell? How are you here? How did you know it was me?"
"I've fought you once. I'll never forget that fight or your techniques. I've been trailing you since you left the motel after I read your movements. No person moves like that after midnight. That brief exchange was all I needed to confirm it was you. As for how I'm here…" he gestured around him, "you already know this is my home world. Wouldn't it make sense that I'd come over when all of Fairy Tail was stolen away?"
Relaxing his guard, Naruto sighed and crossed his arms. "You could have just asked. Wouldn't that have been easier?"
"No, that was much faster. Now, about your mission you're on, I need you to wait."
"Hang on." Naruto's brow crinkled. No one knew what he was doing, how could Mystogan know? "What do you know of what I'm doing? Who told you?"
Disarming hands were held up as the man quickly explained, "I don't know the specifics but I know a purposeful walk when I see it. With you heading that quickly to the castle, I could only anticipate either you're trying to break someone out of it, sabotage something or destroy someone. To that end, I need you to wait."
Crossing his arms defiantly, Naruto snorted indignantly. "And why should I do that? You of everyone should know what that scum-bag king has done to Fairy Tail and all the other guilds around. Eye for and eye."
Sighing softly, the mage paused for a moment, considering his options. Eventually, soft as a whisper, he breathed, "Because the King is my father."
The wind was sucked immediately out of Naruto's sails. A cold wash ran over him and he felt the blood drain from his face. "You're joking, right?"
A subtle shake of the head was his answer.
"But, but he's such a horrible person! And why are you in Earthland, not here? Why aren't you already trying to stop him from this side?" The blond grit his teeth in frustration for a second before biting out a pained, "What is going on?!"
"I exiled myself to Earthland to close the Anima. My father, he wouldn't listen to me when I complained against his actions of stealing magic from that world so I had to do something. I do not condone his actions, but being that he is my father, I cannot help but ask for more time to fix this."
Mulling over this bombshell information for a moment, the teen crossed his arms and replied, "So you knew what he was doing. Credit for trying to stop him. I can't help but feel that you went about it the wrong way though. Why wait until now to come back here and try something?"
"It was all I could do! I don't have any word to stand against my father, so I fought him from the other side! What would you have done?"
Naruto snorted. "Stood my ground, even if it meant facing the whole palace alone. This means you're a prince right? Then I would have used that status to change things. You had a million different options I never had at your fingertips and you ran away from it."
"Don't you dare lecture me on how I should have handled this!" The first real show of anger Naruto had seen burst from the prince. "You have no idea what I had to deal with. You think I don't know there were better choices out there I could have made? Every day I see the choices I could have made that would have yielded more favourable outcomes! I did my best, what more could you want from me?"
"One that didn't end up with Fairy Tail's master dead."
"What?" Mystogan slumped to his knees like his strings were cut. "What did you say?"
"You heard me." Naruto started walking up to his guild mate. "When I was thrown in prison down there I found his remains. I don't blame you for that, it was absolutely your father who is to blame for that. Him and Knightwalker. Knightwalker I've dealt with, and that old bastard King was next. However... because it's you, I'll leave the King in your hands. You save him, but I'll let you know that come morning that castle won't be standing. Get him out before then, or he falls inside it."
Moving to walk past him, the teen was halted as a hand grabbed his leg. "What?"
Mystogan shifted to face him more, his broken voice still holding firm. "I don't expect you to forgive him for that. Honestly, if you're telling the truth I doubt I can either. Thank you for the warning though, I'll do my best to get him out. Just give me time until the morning and I'll be able to use the Anima to send all of Fairy Tail back to Earthland where they belong."
Naruto raised a curious eyebrow. "You can do that?"
The mage nodded. "For all this mess that has been caused, it's only fitting that I be the one to send everyone back."
Slowly sighing, Naruto gently pulled away and held a hand out. "Come on, get up."
Pulling Mystogan to his feet, Naruto put his hands on his hips and looked him over. "You made some questionable choices, but they were all in the best interests at the time I guess. If you can send everyone back then I'll count that as me forgiving your dad for that crime at least. Are you sure you can do it?"
The mage nodded confidently. "I'm absolutely positive. I'll get everyone sent home."
Walking backwards a few steps, Naruto nodded. "Fine. I'll give you until the morning. I guess I'll let you know too, Gajeel has found his Edolas twin and are working together to try and release the guild. They are staying back at the Motel you followed me out of. It would be worth going and seeing if they can help you with this. Good luck and see you on the other side."
With that, he turned and started jogging away, raising a hand Mystogan's final goodbye of, "Thanks for the info, I will do just that. Thank you."
The five Earthland mages sat bound and listless in a prison cell. Long gone was their indignant screaming and fighting after 'Erza' locked them in there. Cold and alone, all they had was the soft humming of Lucy as she tried to sing to sooth their frayed nerves. Still wrapped up in their bindings, they had nothing to do except shuffle around one another and try to keep warm. Hearing a door open down the corridor, the group stiffened and waited as footsteps clicked closer.
A generic guard appeared at their doorway, bowls of food in hand. "One meal per person, half a meal for the cats. You do anything funny and I'm walking away. The blue haired girl goes first."
Walking out of sight, they heard a door open and close. The door opened and closed again and the guard strode up and picked up Wendy by the bindings. "You eat individually. Wait your turn quietly."
Natsu roared something but was shoved down by Lucy, her eyes pleading and quiet. Shaking her head as the guard left, they heard the same door open and close. Five minutes later, the guard returned with Wendy in hand. "Next, the cats."
Dropping Wendy heavily, he grabbed Happy and Charla and walked out, leaving Lucy and Natsu to crawl over and comfort the bruised girl. The process repeated again until only Natsu was remaining to be fed. Fire burnt in his eyes as the guard effortlessly picked up the young mage and carried him out of the cage. Getting a glimpse of that door for the first time, the guard kicked it open and the teen had to squint as light assaulted his eyes.
Growling and shaking his head, he tried to blink away the stars as he felt the bindings around his arms release. Snatching out a hand, he grabbed the guard and dragged him to the floor with a very girlish squeal.
Eyes clearing, the young teen was shocked to see Wendy and Happy standing over him and Naruto behind them shaking the sticky bindings off his hands. Confusion set in as he looked down and realise it was in fact Lucy's shirt he had wound tightly in his grip. The girl was struggling to stop her shirt from splitting under the pressure of his grip, so letting go in surprise, he jumped back as Wendy helped her to her feet.
"Mmm mm mmmm mm mmmm mm?"
Naruto shushed him as he walked back over and pushed Natsu into a chair behind him. Getting to work on the muck around his mouth, Naruto explained as he picked at it. "I am here to break you out. I had to do it one at a time so I could replace you guys with a clone. Yes I know I left you for ages in there and I'm sorry about that, but the other option was for the guards to catch you alone and who knows what they would have done."
"Pah!" Gasping as his mouth was finally freed, Natsu growled out, "Couldn't you have come any sooner? That really sucked in there!"
Naruto shrugged indifferently as he threw the binding into the bin. "This is the real me. That Erza me was a clone and couldn't do what I needed to. I've found Gajeel here and he's in the process of working with his Edolas counterpart to try and free the guild. I need to get you guys out of here quick smart, this place is rigged to explode in the morning."
"It's WHAT?" Came the unified scream.
Flinching, Naruto hissed and shushed them again. "Shut up! Yes, this place is going to explode, so I need to get you out of here!"
"But how do you know that? Come to think of it, how did the King know where we were?" Naruto looked at Lucy as she mulled over the information. "That map, it wasn't a plant was it?"
The teen nodded in frustration. Let the King take the blame for this one. It was easier than explain what he did to Knightwalker. "Yes. It was. And I'm sorry I didn't recognise it for what it was earlier."
Happy slowly walked up and placed a paw on his leg, offering his support. "That's ok Naruto, we'd never expect you to be that smart anyway."
A vein in the blond's forehead pulsed and he kicked the blue menace away. "Regardless we need to get you out of here. So follow my lead and stay quiet. Once out, I'll have a clone lead you back into the city and over to Gajeel. I'll make sure there's no one else in here before it goes off."
Natsu growled and stamped his feet. "Who'd wanna meet up with Gajeel of all people? He's just a bum metal head with nothing but nuts for brains."
A sharp punch to the back of his head had the boy kneeling and hissing in pain as Lucy stood over him. "You and your stupid rivalry! We are going to go and help save our guild! And if Gajeel is there that's even better."
Stepping past him, Lucy put her hands on her hips and looked to Naruto. "So what do we do now?"
Opening the door, Naruto looked out. Exploding in a puff of smoke, the guard from before now stood before them. "Single file. Follow me closely. I've managed to infiltrate the guards with a few clones and that will help. You'll recognise them as they tug on their left pant leg every thirty seconds. We can get past most of the guards this way, but we still have to be careful. Follow my lead and stay low."
Grace was upon the group and thankfully they all made it out without too many problems. Natsu and his loud breathing was about the only real issue that needed to be dealt with and thankfully a bandanna wrapped around his face muffled that noise.
Finally reaching the main streets, the group breathed a sigh of relief as they relaxed into the shadows.
"Thank goodness THAT'S all over," gasped Lucy, chest heaving. "My nerves are so shot, I just want a bath and a comfy bed."
Wendy and Charla had slumped to the ground beside her, each whimpering their agreement. "It… it was hard but thankfully we had Naruto there to guide us. Thank you for saving us!"
Naruto grinned and ruffled Wendy's hair. "Think nothing of it. I know you'd do the same for me. Now, about that clone."
Generating a guide for them, Naruto stepped back. "You guys take care. Gajeel doesn't know you're coming so you can surprise him. I'm sure they'll work out a way to get everyone back to normal so see what they've found and try brainstorm a few ideas. I'll catch up with you all later."
Natsu pouted at the clone and stared back at Naruto. "You better not have any big fights while I'm doing this. No fair if you do."
Chuckling, Naruto shook his head. "No, no fights. Boring, slow stealth this time around. You wouldn't like it anyway."
Natsu made a face like he'd sucked a lemon. "Ugh, yeah ok I'll leave that to you. Have fun with that."
"I'll try my best!" Turning, the blond ninja slipped into the shadows and disappeared with a wave.
Reaching the back of the castle, Naruto stopped and waited. Closing his eyes, it wasn't long before a wave of memories rushed back into his head. The castle was almost fully accounted for. There had been a few members of Fairy Tail left and they had all been evacuated outside. Noting the still black horizon, Naruto bit his tongue as he considered what he promised Mystogan. "Nothing until morning. It'd be so much easier to make this hit at night. A promise is a promise though."
Making his way to one of the walls, he began running over the dormant tags his clones had set. Double checking them, he nodded as he went about the perimeter.
Crying out in pain, Naruto lashed out and grabbed the needle that poked out from his shoulder. "What the hell is this? OUCH!"
Another one hit him in the other shoulder. Stumbling forward, he wrenched that one from the joint and flung them both to the ground. His arms hung heavily and he slumped forward. "Tranquillisers?"
His mind rapidly started fogging over even as the Kyuubi chakra began purging the anaesthetic. A duller, less painful thump hit him square in the back and knocked him forward. Reaching around, he fumbled around and dragged the needle from his skin. "What is this…"
"Of all the stubborn… just pass out already!"
Droopy eyes stared up as a figure ambled towards him. "Who're you…"
He didn't get a reply, just the muted thump of several more needles impacting his skin and chasing away his consciousness.
A/N - Soooo... almost 2 years since the last update? Tell you what, life certainly isn't fair when it comes to letting someone finish a story. I've been a car salesman for 1 1/2 years now and tbh it sucks ass. Literally no time to think or rest or do anything I find enjoyable. If I was to set up a P - atreon for writing and drawing who'd support my feeble attempt to earn enough to leave my job? Heh heh heh...
Yeah anyway, I wasn't able to get the Edolas arc finished sadly as I am well and truly over writing this damn saga. Ugh. One more chapter. If anyone can remember where I'm up to anymore you get a big fat gold star because I do not expect anyone to remember what I've written this far. Apologies for the inconsistent upload schedule again and for any poor grammatical errors I missed.
I'd say see you soon but who knows what work will let me do. All I can do is offer you my promise that I'll try my best to keep it coming.