Titania and The Hunter

Chapter 65: Beginning x ɓuᴉuuᴉɓǝꓭ

Every new story arc has gotta start somewhere! So here we go!

########Hunter########

A chill ran up his back.

Something he hadn't felt this strongly in 7 years.

It was happening again. And this time with such intensity and power that he couldn't hope to stall it like he did before. When it happened again, that would be it.

The end of Magnolia.

Mystogan fastened his wrappings around his face and started to pack up again. When he picked up the Lacrima, he paused to stare at it for a moment before playing the recording he had received.

("Hi, Mystogan.") Mira greeted him pleasantly with a fond smile on her face, ("I just wanted to give you a call and let you know that we have a new member that just joined our guild today! She's a sweet little girl named Wendy Marvell, with her talking cat Carla as well. And she's a Dragon Slayer just like Natsu, Gajeel, and Laxus. I'm not sure when you'll show back up in the guild, but if it's anytime soon then maybe you can say hi? She's really sweet and I bet you'd enjoy meeting her.")

Wendy Marvell.

Was this coincidence? Fate? Or some cruel joke?

The first person he had ever met when coming to this world. His first friend in an unfamiliar place, and the first person to reach out to her when she was lost and confused. They both made a special connection with each other that he still remembered to this day.

Did she still remember him?

He had promised himself that he was going to look out and protect her while traveling this world. But then the chill came...and he had to leave her behind.

She probably hated him. And he wouldn't blame her for feeling that way.

Anima.

The reason he was here...the reason he had left Wendy behind...

It was coming once again.

########Hunter########

"HAAA!"

Wendy yelled and thrusted her hands forward, throwing her attack out at the sturdy tree. Instead of the single blade of wind like Naruto had used in their training, she decided to bombard the tree with a continuous stream of wind as sharp as she could make it. She could see the bark and wood start to shred and peel away under the unending attack she released. She pushed for a few seconds longer, feeling her control and focus start to strain as time went on until her it finally faltered.

Her wind barrage stopped and the tree had been so damaged that it creaked and fell over.

She flinched as it slammed on the ground and echoed through the forest. After a moment her surprise subsided and instead she felt elation and joy. She turned to see Carla and Naruto looking amazed as well as she threw up her arms, "I-I did it!"

"She did it!"

"You did it!"

Carla flew up and rushed into her arms for a hug as Naruto clapped proudly at her display. The blond Mage smiled as he walked over, "When we started you couldn't even cut into the side of the tree without going at it with several attacks. Now you can cut through it with one move! Way to go Wendy!"

She blushed from the praise and meekly giggled, "Thank you. I realized that what I couldn't achieve in a single attack move I might have been able to with a continuous strike instead. B-But it still needs some work, and it takes a while to make any lasting damage-"

"No." Carla pulled back and shook her head, "Don't you dare do that. Don't make your efforts seem like less than they are."

"She's right." Naruto grinned, "You worked hard and improved this far with all your hard work. Be proud with how much better you've gotten now."

Wendy smiled and nodded, "I-I will. Thank you Naruto-San." She looked down and hugged Carla tightly, "Thanks for sticking with me Carla."

"I always have and always will. Now what next? Should we trying honing your technique or training different-"

The distance ringing of bells echoed out through the forest and made them silent. Wendy and Carla looked in the direction of the town and tilted their heads, "What is that?"

"Is that the cathedral bells?"

"Holy shit! No way!" They looked up and saw Naruto's excitement as the bells continued to ring, "I can't believe it!"

"W-What is it?"

"'He's back!"

########Hunter########

"Ugh," Lucy groaned on the table as she wept silently, "I need rent money~."

"Is it that bad, Lu-chan?" Levy asked the depressed blonde as she grumbled into the wood. The short blue-haired girl grimaced at her friend's pained response before patting her back, "Well hey, how about we go on a job together? I kinda need a little flow of income myself."

"You too?" Lucy grumbled pathetically, "Why? I thought you were doing your jobs pretty consistently?"

"I was," The Script Mage murmured with a pout, "But I've had to postpone my plans recently because Gajeel's been…preoccupied."

Lucy lifted her head, "He's…he's not still looking for a cat, right?" Levy blankly stared at her in response, "H-He can't - it's been weeks! How is he still out looking for a cat of his own?"

"It's only gotten worse." Levy dejectedly whimpered, "Before I would have called it a gross need or an obsession but now…"

Lucy grimaced, "How can something be worse than an obsession?"

########Hunter########

"Hello my little kitty friends~, let me give you a proposition~."

All the stray kittens in the alley looked towards the man dressed in a suit and viciously strumming a guitar. Gajeel rocked the axe for several seconds before striking a chord and holding it for as long as he could, "I'm looking for a feline companion. They have to be tough! They have to be strong! And most importantly they have to put the Salamander and brat's cats to shame with how fucking awesome they are!" He strummed on his guitar once more and nodded, "But don't worry…this offer doesn't come free!"

Jet slid in by his side with a tray full of Jewels, "All the money you could want."

Droy came in from the other side, "And you'll never want for fish again!"

"So what do you say?!"

Some of the cats had returned to licking themselves or sleeping. Others had just left. But most had just ignored Gajeel's speech and went right to Droy the moment he unveiled the fish on a plate.

The Iron Dragon Slayer was left posing for nothing as his eyes twitched from the many sleepless nights he had stayed up preparing that pitch.

"I don't know why you thought this would work." Jet said as he awkwardly looked down at the tray of money that'd been forced into his hands, "I mean why did you think stray cats had any concept of monetary value?"

"A-And why'd you drag us into helping you?" Droy asked as he knelt down to offer the fish platter to the cats, "Don't you hate us? Or we hate you? Or both?"

"I need a cat." Gajeel muttered to himself despairingly as he dropped to his knees and stared out into the distance, "There has to be one. One fucking cat in this world that can be my partner."

"Have you seriously tried to recruit every cat in Magnolia?"

"Of course I have!" Gajeel screeched, sending the two Mages stumbling back in fright and making all the cats still hanging around run away in fright, "I chased 'em! I've coerced 'em! I've bribed 'em! But none of 'em stick around!"

"Who cares?" Jet shrugged, "Would it really be that bad if you didn't have a cat partner like Natsu?"

The loud, deliberate crack of Gajeel's neck as he turned to look at them shut both Shadow Gear members up.

"I will find a cat." The former Phantom Mage snarled with a vacant stare, "The strongest cat. The bestest cat. Even if I have to make a cat." He turned to Jet and Droy, "Make a cat…"

"I don't like this."

"We need to run."

########Hunter########

"There is. There definitely is." Levy nodded.

As the pair of friends sighed defeatedly, Erza and Koyuki made their way to their table to join them. The armored redhead sat with them as the little brunette climbed up beside her and smiled, "So what has you two so down in the dumps?"

"Money~."

"Gajeel's an idiot~."

"Ah, more of the same I see." Koyuki giggled at her side and Erza gently patted her head, "Well if you two are desperate for work and getting your minds off your teammate's foolishness, we can-"

The sound of the cathedral bells rang across the entire town and shook the walls of the guild. The sudden cacophony of sound startled everyone and caused a lull in their conversing and rambunctious behavior. They all listened to the sound in shock and disbelief.

Lucy blinked in confusion, "Um, what was-"

"Hey!" Natsu leapt down from the second floor, dropping on their table and breaking it in half in the process. And despite Lucy's terrified squawk, the pink-haired Mage was focused on the sound with a massive smile on his face, "Is that what I think it is?!"

"Aye sir!" Happy dropped down as well, landing on Natsu's head and grinning, "He's coming! He's coming!"

"I can't believe it!"

"It's actually him!"

"Oh man, that ringing takes me back!"

"It's about time!"

As the many members of Fairy Tail cheered and celebrated, some of the newer arrivals were bewildered by their excitement. Lucy looked around confused before she noticed that while Erza also looked excited, Koyuki looked just as confused as she felt.

As Lucy looked around, she noticed Juvia looking absolutely stunned by the fact that Gray was smiling and cheering while she didn't know what to do. The blonde Mage titled her head, "What's-"

"Hey!" Naruto came running through the front entrance with Wendy and Carla flying behind him. The whiskered Mage had a big grin on his face as he arrived in the center of the commotion, "Is it really happening? The town hasn't changed yet, so he definitely hasn't arrived."

"It's any second!" Natsu exclaimed with glee, "Gildarts is finally coming home!"

As Natsu's declaration caused another wave of cheers, Lucy, Wendy, and Carla still looked lost. Wendy looked up at Lucy, "Gildarts?"

"He's supposed to be another S-Class Mage like Erza and Naruto. And he's supposed to be really, really strong." The Celestial Mage scratched her head, "But honestly I haven't heard much about him otherwise."

"Juvia has heard Gray-sama speak of him in high regard," Juvia added, "Why haven't we met him before now?"

"Oh, because he's been off on a job for the last three years so he's never come back until today."

"Three years?!" The girls all reeled back in shock at that information. And they were even more surprised to see the relative normalcy the veteran Fairies had talking about it. They thought they had gotten used to the unexpected weirdness of their guild but there always seemed to be more they just didn't know about under the surface, "What job could he have taken that made him stick around for three years?!"

"Well actually he's been away all these years on a 100-year guest." Erza clarified, "A quest so difficult and trying that it hasn't been completed in the hundred years it's been issued."

"So it's not that he's late." Gray shrugged, "More like he's back way earlier than we expected."

"Of course he is! Because he's Gildarts! What else can you expect!" Natsu was brimming with childlike joy at the thought of seeing his old friend again after all these years.

Something his new friends couldn't help but pick up on, "Geez, Natsu, I don't think I've ever seen you this excited to meet someone." Lucy found his giddiness adorable, "It's actually kinda cute."

"Of course I'm excited!" Natsu's fists suddenly erupted with flames, "I finally get to challenge him to a fight again! This time I'm gonna win for sure!"

Lucy stared blankly at her friend, "Not sure what else I should've expected."

"That's all well and good," Carla bemoaned with her paws covering her ears, "But what is with this incessant bell tolling? I can feel it in my cranium!"

"Oh, it's the city's warning system for when Gildarts approaches."

"Warning system?"

"C'mon," Naruto waved them to follow as they made their way towards the guild's entrance, "You don't wanna miss this."

Everyone came to the front of their guild hall and looked out excitedly. They watched and waited, listening to the ringing of the bells and watching Jet and Droy arrive back to the guild. Finally the bells finished and an announcement called out across the town.

("Now beginning Gildarts shift! Repeat! Gildarts shift is about to begin! Please return to your homes!")

There was a rumbling and shake across the entire town that even reached the guild. The Fairies looked out with excitement as they watched the landscape and geography of the town suddenly rise and slide away. The newbies watched with gaping mouths as the town slid apart into two pieces.

And left a giant pathway from the beginning of the town to the guild's entrance.

They stared in complete shock before looking to the others for an explanation. Mira smiled, "Gildarts' magic can cause a big mess and he never really focuses when he walks to the guild, so more often than not he ends up breaking through buildings and homes and businesses. In a guild full of wreckers and destroyers, no one here holds a candle to Gildarts!"

Was…was that supposed to be a crowning achievement? And was a whole town changing its structure so one guy didn't break everything really the easiest answer? And how was everyone taking this in stride?

"WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?!"

Gajeel freaked out scream echoed out through from the depths of the town. Levy looked at Jet and Droy as they conspicuously looked away, "You two made sure to tell him about the Gildarts shift, right?"

"We did!"

"Or I think we did, right?"

"Well we were running away and yelled it back at him."

"I was sure he heard us."

"WHERE THE FUCK AM I?!" Gajeel roared out for help.

Everything was crazy and the shifting town only added to the insanity, but everyone went silent as a figure could be spotted approaching along the empty path the split town offered. The figure slowly grew closer and with each step the anticipation in the guild grew higher.

Until finally he reached his destination.

The crowd of guild members stepped back to make room for the tall, scruffy middle-aged man who walked through the entrance. Gildarts' orange hair was still slicked back and he had the first inklings of a beard from the scruff around his face. Overall, despite his years away and that he looked quite tired, the strongest Mage in Fairy Tail hadn't changed much.

As for the people he left behind-

"Gildarts! Fight me!"

"Give him more than five seconds through the door!"

Gildarts maw widened with a yawn that sent a shudder through his body, smacking his lips and approaching the closest person in his tired haze, "Excuse me, miss? Do you know where the Fairy Tail guild is? I thought it was at the end of town but this place is way too big and clean to be it."

"No, this is it. We've remodeled quite a bit since you were last here, Gildarts."

"I – wait what?"

She smiled cheerfully and pointed to herself, "It's me. Mirajane. Don't you remember?"

"Mira?!" The S-Class Mage was nearly knocked off his feet as he looked down at the shorter white-haired woman and could barely recognize the girl that had just became an S-Class Mage before he left, "Holy crap there's no way that's you! What happened to your hardcore look and attitude and - I don't know if I've ever seen you smile outside of a predatory smirk or vicious, maniacal grin."

Mira took that all in stride and giggled, "Now now, you've been gone awhile Gildarts. We all changed in your absence."

"I'll say!" The orange-haired man looked around and noticed the vague resemblances between the group around him and the people he left three years earlier. He chuckled in amazement as he looked around, "Lisanna? Elfman? Dear lord man you've gotten big!"

Lisanna giggled and waved as Elfman flexed, "Of course! No man wouldn't grow up after all this time!"

"It's good to see you Gildarts."

He smiled and looked around again, "Gray! Cana! Levy! Kids! Man it's so good to see you!" Gildarts clapped hands with some familiar and older faces who congratulated him on his return. The older man weathered the wave of questions and inquiries as he noticed a familiar pair in the front of the group, "Erza! Naruto!"

The pair smiled as the older man walked over to join them. The redhead nodded his way, "Gildarts. It's good to see you in our halls again. It's been too long."

"Tell me about it." Gildarts nodded.

"You doing alright, old man?" Naruto said jovially with a smirk towards his senior S-Class, "The wear and tear of time take its toll on you? Must've if it took you this long to come back to us."

"Ah, see you're still a mouthy little shit. Guess some things never change." Gildarts scoffed before he looked at the two and noticed something. He tilted his head curiously, "Has something changed since I left?"

"Lots."

"Shut up brat, you know what I mean. Is something different with you two?"

They looked between each other and shrugged, "It could be any number of things. My hair is a little longer since you left."

"I've grown taller."

"I changed the armor I wear normally."

"I got my left arm back."

"No, that s not-" Gildarts paused and looked down at Naruto's limb and noticed it really wasn't covered by a metal prosthetic anymore. So many questions lingered on his tongue and looks of confusion flashed over his face rapidly before he shook his head. Pushing that aside he scratched his chin, " That's not it. Something different. Feels like you two are really comfortable and…"

The orange-haired man paused and blinked in surprise. He looked back and saw Mira smile and nod her head eagerly. Gildarts turned back to the two and chuckled, "Aww, you two crazy kids finally took the plunge, huh?"

Naruto scratched the back of his head and grinned as Erza nodded proudly, "Almost two years now and couldn't be happier."

"Well I'd say congratulations but what I really wanna say is it's about time." Erza shrugged unbothered by his joke as Naruto clicked his tongue and flipped him off. The older man cackled before he looked down by their legs. He noticed a little figure hiding behind them and meekly peeking out to look up at the returning Mage.

Gildarts leaned down a little to get a better look as Koyuki leaned out a bit further to do the same. He smirked and chuckled before he stood back up, "I guess it was a really long time, wasn't it? Enough for a tot like her to grow up into a kid." He looked around the guild and admired everything that had changed in the years he was gone, "I guess a lot of you kids have grown up now, huh?"

"GILDARTS! I WIN-"

His hand swung down and slapped Natsu into the ground as the Dragon Slayer charged towards him eager for a battle. No one except the newbies were surprised to see the powerful, ambitious Fire Dragon Slayer beaten with a single move. They stood gobsamcked as Natsu was indented into the planks at their feet while Gildarts chuckled wholeheartedly, "Well I guess you kids haven't grown up too much. Good to see you're still yourself Natsu."

"Hey Gildarts!" Natsu pulled his head up and smiled, "Glad to have you back!"

"Glad to be back." Gildarts started making his way through the crowd and heading towards the counter. Sitting atop it was Makarov as the short old Wizard Saint slowly partook of his ale and looked up at his returning guildmate. Gildarts grinned, "Hey Master."

"Hello Gildarts. I'm glad to see you back with us." As the old man placed his mug down and looked at the tall S-Class Mage he noticed the man had a look of resigned excitement and joy when facing him. And he wasn't sure who else might have noticed already, but his footsteps were uneven and his gait was less powerful than it usually was.

"Didn't make it through, did you?"

As the guild was shocked by the claim, Gildarts chuckled, "You could tell?"

"My boy you've never been overconfident but you've always come back from your jobs with a look of accomplishment in a job well done. Except this time."

"Sorry Master," Gildarts shrugged, "The job was just too hard. I thought I was handling it but damn did I mess it up. I swear I thought I had it handled but I tripped up before the finish line."

"Well if anything that just proves that things like this really do happen to the best of us." Makarov reached back and poured a drink into another mug before holding it up, "I'll tell the other guilds and the job request will be opened up again. Perhaps someone else will carry the torch to the end for you. Care for a drink to celebrate your return?"

Gildarts smacked his lips but shook his head, "There's nothing I'd like more Master but I've been told to hold off on partying for a few days." He clapped his own stomach, "And I've been promised to hold myself to that advice on threat of severe bodily harm from a dear friend of ours."

"Well then I guess we'll have a cap for another day." Makarov said before immediately downing the whole mug in one go. He ignored the betrayed scowl on Gildarts' face before wiping his mouth, "What are you gonna do now?"

"Well I'm gonna stick around for a bit and have fun." The strongest Mage in Fairy Tail announced, "Haven't been home in awhile and I thought I'd relax for a bit while I'm back."

"Hey! Gildarts is here to stay!"

"Hooray!"

"Gildarts! Come party with us!"

"Maybe next time! Been three years since I left and I've gotta go dust my place off! Hey Natsu," He called out to the Dragon Slayer as he pulled himself out of the ground, "Come by later there's something I wanna talk about."

"Really?"

"Yep. See ya."

Gildarts waved as he walked through a wall and destroyed it completely with his Crash magic.

"Gildarts goddammit! We just got this new hall! Stop putting holes in it!"

"Yep! Gildarts is back!"

The guild celebrated anyway despite the guest of honor heading back home. Koyuki stepped out from behind Naruto and Erza before looking up at them, "That Ojii-chan was really the super strong guy that was away this whole time?"

"That's right. Gildarts is stronger than Naruto and I could ever be." Erza nodded to her little sister.

"Well I wouldn't say ever." Naruto shrugged, "I mean I did pass against him in the S-Class test so…" He noticed Erza's raised eyebrow and nodded, "Okay I'm sure he kinda let me pass…and I didn't really even get a hit off on him…but it's been three years now! I'm totally stronger and could probably hold my own against him!"

"You're welcome to try." Erza offered before looking to the side, "But you'll have to get in line."

"Gildarts wants to talk! Oh man what's it gonna be!"

"Natsu! Your legs! Your legs are still in the floor!"

"Well hold on I'll get them out."

"Don't burn the wood!"

Naruto sweated a little as the thought that even after all this time Gildarts could still floor him with one hit brought bad memories of when he also used to challenge the older man to matches. He had fought all manner of super powerful Mages and fighters and Wizards Saints as of late…

But Gildarts was Gildarts! You were an idiot to pick a fight with him on a whim!

"If he's the strongest," Kohukk asked sadly, "Then why did he look like he was in pain?"

It seemed even she had noticed how Gildarts was slow to move and bend over. Whatever had happened on the mission had left Gildarts in a worse state than anyone in the guild had ever seen him.

So what had he fought during the 100-year guest that could beat the strongest Mage in Fairy Tail?

########Hunter########

"They'll find Dragon Slayers and bring them to us."

"It's their sacred mission."

"Go. Live."

Carla opened her eyes as the faint dreams in her head started to fade into obscurity again. She looked down at the arms curled around her and looked back at her charge.

Wendy was sleeping peacefully and contently. There were still faint tear marks in the pillow under her head but compared to the way she had cried herself to sleep when they first arrived at the guild it was clear she was handling the change much better. The young Dragon Slayer dreamily murmured in her sleep and squeezed Carla a little closer to her chest.

Wendy was the first person Carla had ever met when she hatched from her egg. Her first contact. Her first friend. Her first loved one. Wendy was devastated by the loss of Cait Shelter and Carla felt much the same way, but she also knew the loss was far more manageable for her because Wendy was still by her side.

Wendy meant the world to her…which made her true nature all the more despicable.

In all her years the dreams and reminders of her true mission were sporadic and unexpected with months or even years between them. But ever since coming to this new town, meeting these new people, and joining Fairy Tail they had become nearly a daily occurrence. Perhaps being in proximity to three Dragon Slayers at once was causing her to think about her mission too much.

But it didn't matter.

It would never happen.

As long as Carla drew breath…as long as she had strength in her body…

She would never allow any harm to come to her dearest, closest friend.

Wendy yawned and slowly opened her eyes. She looked down at her feline companion and smiled, "Good morning Carla."

"Wendy wipe your mouth. You shouldn't be drooling when you wake up."

"Huh?" She quickly wiped her mouth and panicked, "I-I just woke up! Geez Carla, do you have to be so mean?"

"I'll be whatever I need to be as long as it helps you."

########Hunter########

"Do you lot seriously need to keep starin'?" Gildarts asked incredulously as he flipped his cloak back and revealed his prosthetic arm and leg for the others to see, "I mean they haven't changed much since you last got a look."

"I mean it's just crazy that it happened to you." Levy answered while sitting back down, "Is that why you've been resting at home for the last few days?"

"Yep, getting fitted with new replacements and sorted around the town again." Gildarts scratched his stubble with a sigh, "Man it feels like everything's changed and moved around since I was here. And people won't even let me walk through the door to their establishments anymore - they make me purchase stuff from ten feet away! What kind of welcome is that?"

"The normal kind." Gray stated with a smirk, "They never let you anywhere near their buildings even before you left Gildarts. You're an insurance risk."

"Do they let you in?"

"Of course they do. Why wouldn't they?"

Gildarts looked down, "No shirt. No shoes. No service."

"Wha-" The Maker Mage looked down and realized he had stripped down to his skivvies again, "Dammit!"

As he rushed to recover his clothes, and Juvia watched him rush by as she nearly reached her boiling point, Naruto stepped in and took his spot at the table, "So did you consider your options? As someone who used Reformation Metal when his arm didn't work for years I can vouch for its effectiveness."

"Yeah considered that right away when I got back. I only had enough money to send for an arm right now and it'll be a few days until it arrives."

Levy titled her head, "What about your leg?"

"I'll hold off on that for now. Can't imagine I'll be needing anything other than a sturdy stick and boot to support me for now." Gildarts shrugged, "Or I might not need them at all." He looked towards Naruto and leaned in to whisper, "You willing to share the secret to recovering a missing limb?"

"You got an ancient demon sealed in your body that wildly regenerates your injuries and nearly overwhelms your soul?"

"Nope."

Naruto shrugged, "Then you're shit outta luck."

"Thanks for nothing punk." Gildarts groused as he reached for a mug to drown his annoyance in. But a gauntlet swung out and roughly smacked his hand before he could grab it. Gildarts recoiled and Erza shook her head sternly, "Dammit. I swear when I'm fully healed I'm gonna drown myself in booze."

"Yeah that's the first thing you wanna hear from a severely injured person." Naruto looked up and noticed Wendy and Carla enter the guild through the front entrance. He quickly stood up and waved them over, "Wendy! Come over here! I gotta introduce you to the biggest sleaze in the guild."

Wendy quickly made her way over as Carla reluctantly followed behind her. The blue-haired young lady smiled, "Hello everyone. How are you today?"

"Wendy," Erza smiled towards the young girl before waving her hand towards the large man across from her, "Let us properly introduce you to the strongest man in Fairy Tail, Gildarts Clive. Gildarts, this is Wendy Marvell, our newest member and the Sky Dragon Slayer."

"I-It's a pleasure to meet you, Gildarts-San."

"So you're one of the new members that joined our little family, huh?" She nodded as the S-Class Mage chuckled, "Man our new batch of recruits are super crazy this year. Two former Phantom Mages with one a Dragon Slayer and the other with the hots for Gray. A Celestial Mage that apparently is blazing a trail of destruction everywhere she goes-"

"Lu-chan hates the rumor mill surrounding the jobs she does with the Fairy Titans."

"And a young lady already strong enough to make the Raijinshū nip at her heels and follow her lead. That's quite impressive little lady."

Wendy blushed with embarrassment, "T-That was just for a job."

"And this," Naruto reached down and picked Carla up, "Is Frowny Feline!"

"Unhand me you brute!" Carla screeched and clawed at the blond man savagely in anger, "I will not be manhandled like this!"

"See? She's very grumpy."

"Naruto-San." Wendy frowned and said his name sternly as he shrugged and placed Carla down. The white cat looked like she still wanted to scratch his eyes out but Wendy picked her up instead and hugged her close, "I wish you two wouldn't argue so much. Why can't you get along?"

"Because he's a brash, foolish, unbearable brute!"

"And she's too easy to windup."

Erza and Levy spared each other a look and then sighed as they heard the two continue to argue with each other. However the faint crash of lightning in the distance earned the blue-haired girl's attention as she looked up, "Oh, it looks like a storm is coming."

"Well the forecast did say that we would have a storm coming but this is sooner than expected." Erza noticed Levy's furrowed expression as she looked at the door, "What is it Levy?"

"Gajeel is still out there and now he's gonna get caught in a storm. Pfft, whatever. Gets what he deserves at this rate."

"This still about the cat thing?" They nodded as Naruto sagged and sighed. He shook his head, "Okay. Enough. I'm calling an end to this." Naruto drew a line in front of him with a frown, "I'm gonna go out there and find that idiot. And then I'm gonna crack his skull open and drag him back here kicking and screaming. Anyone have a problem with that?" With a lack of response or arguments, the blond S-Class nodded with resolve, "Then let's go hunting."

"Catching Gajeel isn't going to be easy." Erza warned him, "Any plans?"

"He's cuckoo for kitties, right?" Naruto looked down in thought at Carla and she hissed at him in return, "Okay, not that one. Happy?"

"Aye sir?" The blue cat curiously came over after he was called.

"I need your help with a very important mission. Do you mind helping me?"

Happy nodded, "Sure! What is it you need?"

"I need you to be bait to catch Gajeel out of his crazy cat obsession."

Happy turned pale and gulped, "Uh…can I take back my offer?"

Naruto shrugged, "Sure I don't mind. I just need a replacement." He looked back at Carla who continued to hiss, "And if I had to consider my options-"

"I'll do it!" Happy bravely announced, "If I can do this and protect Carla from the dangers of interacting with a deranged Gajeel then so be it!"

"So brave!" Erza, Levy, and Gildarts clapped at his theatrics as Happy flexed his little arms and Carla rolled her eyes in response. Naruto and Happy started to make their way out on their mission.

"Hold on I'll come too."

Wendy placed Carla on the table and started to follow despite the white cat calling out to her, "Wendy wait! Don't bother with their stupidity!" As the white cat went ignored she dropped down on the table and frowned, "That girl! Is she going through her rebellious phase?!"

"This." Gildarts chuckled with a content smile, "I missed this."

########Hunter########

"Hey Wendy, can you taste storms?" Happy asked while flying between Wendy and Naruto as they made their way down the streets of Magnolia in hopes of finding their errant Dragon Slayer, "Like does a cloudy day taste different than a sunny day? And does a it taste different before and after it rains?"

"It does. And it's a very interesting taste." Wendy smiled pleasantly as she nodded and took a deep inhale, "Every little thing that changes the air and barometric around me can produce a different taste."

Naruto chuckled as they walked along, "Man I always thought it was pretty cool when Natsu ate fire, but being able to eat air and sky? Now that is something I'd like to try."

"I'd definitely recommend it if you could eat the sky like I could. It's quite the treat. But that also means it can be rather hard when the air isn't very pure or filled with something filthy."

"Oh what's pollen season taste like?" Naruto asked as the younger girl gagged and shook her head. He chuckled amusingly before he stopped and quickly held his arm out to stop Wendy and Happy from going any further. The S-Class Mage slid up to the wall and stood deathly still while Wendy and Happy quickly followed his lead and hid beside him. Naruto peeked around the corner and spotted their pray.

What was once Gajeel Redfox was now a crazed beast stalking along the ground, desperate for a feline compatriot so that he could prove his superiority over the other Dragon Slayers of Fairy Tail. He sniffed at the air and snarled like a rabid animal, "Get cat. Prove I have cat. Rub it in faces. Prove to pinky and the brat that I'm the best in the guild. Laugh at their miserable faces until my throat is hoarse. Get cat-"

Wendy shuddered and whimpered, "Did – did I do something to anger him?"

"No, no, you're okay Wendy." Happy quickly consoled the girl, "He's just crazy." The blue-haired girl looked even more miserable at the clarification before the blue cat turned to Naruto, "So what's the plan?"

The whiskered man smirked, "It's pretty good. You're gonna love it."

They didn't.

As Gajeel prowled along the ground he growled, "Where are they? Where are they? Where are they~-"

"Meow~."

The Iron Dragon Slayer jerked up and looked in the direction of the cat's meow. He charged towards the corner of the alley, "CAT! CAT! CAT!"

But the moment he turned-

"Meow~!" The Dragon Slayer was caught off guard by the sight of Naruto and Wendy standing together as the blond Mage threw his voice, "Meowwwww~." He smiled and snickered as Wendy cautiously stepped back, "Hey Gajeel! Guess what! We're sick of your shit and want you home now!"

"Hunter!" He grunted in spiteful anger, "Don't get in my way! I need to find a cat companion and prove I'm the best Dragon Slayer in the guild!"

"Well that's interesting because Wendy has some thoughts on that." The young girl squeaked with fright as their attention turned to her, "Go ahead Wendy. Just like we practiced, okay?"

"O-Okay." The little blue-haired Mage nervously nodded and steeled herself, "Gajeel-San, you don't need a cat partner to prove that you're the best Dragon Slayer!"

The former Phantom Mage kept scowling but slowly uncoiled his muscles, "Oh yeah?"

"Yep!" Wendy gulped, "B-Because you'll never be the best! Because it sucks to suck! A-A-And you suck a-a-as- butt!" Wendy exclaimed with a furious blush, "I-I'm sorry! I couldn't say it!"

Naruto smiled proudly, "All good. You did great."

Unlike the blond's sunny disposition, a black miasma of bloodlust and fury started to emanate off the black-haired Mage. Wendy yelped in fright as Gajeel aimed his glare at the whiskered Mage, realizing he had put her up to get a rise out of him. Gajeel's arms became coated in metal as he tightened his fists, "You're gonna pay for this bastard!"

"Happy now!"

"AYE SIR!"

Happy flew down and snagged himself on the back of Gajeel's outfit. Before the Dragon Slayer could respond he was lifted off the ground with the feline's wings spreading out from his back. They circled around in the air very quickly for nearly a full minute before Happy suddenly took a sharp turn down-

And spiked Gajeel directly into the ground.

Happy, Wendy, and Naruto all stared in quiet anticipation as they saw the Iron Dragon Slayer sprouting almost directly upwards from the ground with most of his head in the pavement. After a few seconds of silence Naruto pumped his arm victoriously, "We did it!"

"I-Is he okay?"

"Eh he's a tough guy. I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Y-You're sure?" Wendy and Happy looked between each other with uncertainty, "I really wish we had discussed this more before you made me spike the guy into the ground like that."

"If anything's wrong then we'll fix him up after we get him back." Naruto made his way over and was about to tear Gajeel out of the ground until he noticed their little audience. A pack of cats had gathered around, watching them curiously. Naruto waved at all the cute critters, "Aww, it's okay little guys. You don't have to worry about this guy ever ag- GURGH!"

A metal pipe slammed into his back and dug him into the ground. Wendy and Happy watched in shock and horror as Gajeel pulled himself out, his face covered in metal as he ground his teeth together, "You fucking shit! I'm gonna make you pay for that!"

Naruto hissed and rubbed his back as he picked himself up, "What the hell are you complaining about? You can turn into a hunk of metal at the drop of a hat? I'm the one that got blindsided with a metal girder breaking my spine!"

"Well you're getting in the way!" Gajeel's hands turned into blades as he stood ready to fight, "And if you wanna keep doing that then do it at your own risk! And don't blame me if you're so badly beaten you bleed out in the middle of the street."

"Oh is that a threat?" Naruto smirked, summoning magic around his fists and taking a stance, "Because now when I drag your battered corpse back to the guild I can say I was provoked."

Happy sweated, "Man you wouldn't think they were in the same guild with the way they talk to each other. Or even that they're supposed to be the good guys!"

"G-Gajeel-San. Naruto-San." Wendy spoke as the tension continued to build. The two powerful Mages were moments from crossing blows before-

"Meow!"

"Cats!" Gajeel panicked as the pack of felines suddenly stormed off and ran away. The Dragon Slayer abandoned his animosity and immediately chased them, "Come back! Don't run! I just want to be the best with you!"

"Gajeel!" Naruto cursed and followed his trail, "Dammit come back here you idiot!"

"W-Wait-"

"Wendy!" Wendy and Happy stopped just before they could chase after their friends as Carla came running over. The white cat slowed down, "Are you okay? I heard a commotion going on and ran over!"

"Oh, Naruto-San and Gajeel-San were having a little spat." Wendy answered, "They ran off that way and we were about to follow-"

"Come along Wendy," Carla lifted herself up and grabbed her friend's hand as the clouds above them started to crack and rain, "This is too dangerous for you."

"What?" The Dragon Slayer said in confusion as Carla's paws tugged on her hand, "But I said I would help Naruto-San-"

"That idiot is only going to drag you into foolhardy, reckless plans that will endanger you. I can't sit back and let that happen."

"It's okay Carla." Happy floated up to her side and smiled with a macho hint in his tone, "If you're not around then I'll protect Wendy. I'll show you that-"

"I am not trusting you to be around her!"

"Carla! Don't say that! Apologize to Happy!"

"I will not!" Carla cried out, "I will not trust someone who doesn't even know who he is!"

As rain continued to pour down and Wendy argued with Carla, Happy floated in space and blankly looked ahead. Confusion filled his head as he whispered, "But I know who I am. I'm Happy, right?"

"Carla you can't keep acting like this to our friends!"

"He is not my friend! And I can't trust him to look after you!"

"He's a member of our guild now! Of course you can trust him!"

"He's a fool who has no idea who he is! I don't know what future awaits his partner with him around but I won't let it endanger you too!"

"B-But I love Natsu."

"Carla you can't just be nice to me! We're a part of Fairy Tail now! We have to trust and care about everyone!"

"But you are my responsibility! I have to watch out and protect you!"

"No you don't!"

"Yes I do!"

The girls' argument had gotten so heated that they paid no attention to their surrounding. Even Happy was to engaged in the back and forth to care about the crashing clouds. Or the intense rain that blanketed the entire town.

It even took them some time to notice the hooded figure that had approached them through the raging storm.

The two felines and young Mage finally noticed the sudden addition and looked up in shock. Without pause Carla quickly flew in front of Wendy and shielded her, "Stay back!"

Happy looked at the figure in cloaks and wraps with several staffs attached to his back and gulped, "A-Are you Mystogan?"

"I am."

"What do you want?" Carla asked warily as she kept her furrowed gaze directed at the suspicious figure. Mystogan looked past the scowling cat and focused on the girl standing behind her who looked confused and hesitant.

"Hello Wendy."

She stared at the man in silence as her eyes slowly widened, "That voice."

Mystogan reached up for the cloth and wrappings that covered his face before slowly untangling them. The others watched on in silent anticipation as the last of the bindings were removed…

To reveal a familiar face they had all seen before.

Wendy gasped, "J-Jellal?"

He nodded, "It's been a long time."

########Hunter########

"Nah, you can't eat this delicately or with finesse." Gray advised as he lifted his hamburger up for a demonstration, "All the crap between these buns is too much to nibble or cut through. If you wanna eat it you gotta eat it like this." The Maker Mage widened his mouth and took as big a bite as he could possibly get before chomping down and tearing the burger apart. With juice and condiments around his mouth he murmured through his mouthful, "Chee?"

"J-Juvia saw Gray-sama, and I'm doing my best. But," Julia lifted her burger and tried to do the same as Gray, but struggled to gorge herself on the meal as easily as he did. The bite she took was much smaller and cleaner, without any mess still on her face, "Juvia can't do it like you do."

"Yeah I guess not." The raven-haired man shrugged, "No shame in that. You'd have to pretty much unlock your jaw to force that all in."

"Just give me some time!" Juvia quickly said in a panic, "Juvia will prove she can widen her mouth and eat a lot of meat!"

"O-Okay. Do your best."

"Juvia will!"

Macao and Wakaba glared from another table, "Fucking youth."

########Hunter########

Carla looked at him in shock, "But that's not possible! We watched Jellal get taken away in chains! He should be locked up in the Magic Council's prison!"

"I am not that Jellal." He shook his head, "I know of him, and we share a face, but we're not the same person. I come…from a different place. And from there I share a name and face with him."

The white cat was startled by what he said, "You mean you-"

"You." Wendy stepped forward, past Carla and faced with the man in front of her wearing the same face as her savior years ago. Her lip quivered and eyes watered as she asked, "Are you my Jellal? Are you the one who saved me 7 years ago?"

He gave a small, quiet nod.

Which was enough to send her over the edge. Wendy's shoulders shivered and tears finally spilled down her cheeks to mix with the rain. They could only watched as a dam burst in the Dragon Slayer's heart that had been holding back 7 years of sweeping emotions and feeling. She rubbed her eyes to desperately stop the flow but couldn't impede it no matter how hard she tried.

She murmured, "I-I've…I've w-wanted to see you again…for a long, long time."

Jellal's dour expression softened slightly at her words, "As have I."

########Hunter########

"So what's eating you?"

Cana looked up as Gildarts sat down across from her. The bikini-clad brunette looked startled for a minute before shrugging, "What are you talking about?"

"Don't know. Been a few years since we last saw each other and I feel like you're the only one who hasn't welcomed me back yet." The scruffy older man said with a faint smirk, "Disappointed I got my ass kicked and had to lick my wounds back in the nest?"

"Please. I'm not some starstruck kid who expects you to be perfect. Natsu still is but I'm not." Cana looked aside with a frown before her eyes lingered on his new scars and injuries, "Are you okay?"

"Nothing I can't deal with." He said as he rubbed his replacement arm, "But honestly it's my pride that's hurt worst. I thought I could handle any job and complete it as long as I had Fairy Tail's insignia on my chest. But now I kinda dragged it through the mud."

"I know you were always the strongest and toughest guy around, and failing might seem like a new thing to you," Cana held her mug up, "But take it from one of the mortals in the guild…screwing up, getting beat, and then picking yourself up is how the rest of us in the guild do things." She slid the mug over, "Welcome back to Fairy Tail."

Gildarts looked at the offered drink and took a deep breath, "I think I'm still recovering."

"Then give it back."

That's all the incentive Gildarts needed to take it and take a gulp. He quickly put it down, as to not incur too much damage, and slid it back towards Cana, "Oh that's good shit. Gonna remember to down a barrel of that as soon as I can."

Cana took her mug, threw it back in a couple of gulps, and slammed her empty mug down.

Gildarts whistled with amazement, "You got better while I was gone."

Cana wiped her mouth and turned her red face aside, "I guess we'll see."

########Hunter########

"W-Where did you go?" Wendy whimpered, "Where have you been? W-Why did you leave?" She wiped her eyes, "Why didn't you come back?"

"I'm sorry Wendy. I have my reasons for being away, but right now they would only be an excuse." Jellal said, "I'm glad you are okay. And I'm glad you were able to make so many friends."

"I did." Wendy sniffled and rubbed her eyes, "So many good people to help me and watch out for me. And the first one was you." With puffy red eyes she looked up at Jellal, "Please, tell me why you were gone for so long. Why-"

"I'm sorry." Jellal stumbled on his feet, causing those who watched him to react and reach out to help him. But he dropped to his knees and nearly collapsed from exhaustion, "But we don't have time."

"W-What's wrong?" Wendy voice was filled with panic, "Are you hurt?"

"Just tired. I've been holding it back for so long. But now it's coming." He looked at the darkening clouds, "Anima is inevitable."

Carla gasped, "Anima?"

"What is that? What does that mean?"

"Soon…Magnolia…everything here…will disappear…"

"W-What about Fairy Tail?!"

########Hunter########

"Master," Erza called to Makarov as she approached his spot, "Have you passed on the news about the 100-year quest?"

"I have. And unsurprisingly quite a few people showed interest in completing such a difficult task themselves."

"Well I wish them luck." Erza said, "Any task that can get the better of Gildarts is not one to be taken lightly."

"What about you Erza?" Makarov questioned, "Why not take the job yourself and see if you could do it?"

"I'm not sure if I'd be strong enough to do it-"

"You'd be the only one who thought that."

"-Plus with all this time Gildarts has been away," The redhead paused and shook her head, "I wouldn't want to be away from the guild for that long. I think I'd miss too much."

"Heh."

"What?"

"I remember you being a much more cavalier risk-taker not too long ago." Makarov said with a chuckle as the S-Class Mage slightly blushed with embarrassment, "I guess you've come to appreciate the easier life, huh?"

"Hardly. I'm still bold and crazy and wild for a woman my age." Erza quickly defended. But then she looked out over the guild and saw Koyuki speak with Lucy and Mira, Natsu getting cheered up by Lisanna and Elfman, Cana and Gildarts reminiscing about jobs, and all the other people that made up their guild enjoy their rainy day in, "But I can still appreciate a day like this."

"That, my dear, is appreciating the easier life. Looking at all you have around you…and loving it."

########Hunter########

"It's too late." Jellal said morbidly, "The guild - everyone - it's too late to help them."

"No it's not!" Wendy cried out as she turned and ran down the street, "I'll warn them that we have to evacuate everyone! They'll be able to do it!"

"Wendy! Let me help!" Happy quickly flew by her side, "I can try to reach the guild sooner!"

"Quick Happy! I'll tell everyone!" The blue cat nodded and sped through the rain. As Wendy ran through the streets she cried out, "Everyone! Please! We have to leave! Something is happening to the town! We have to run!"

She called out but no one answered. Her voice drowned out by the storm and rain. And even as she screamed until her voice went hoarse it was too late. The little girl ran through the streets and saw her guild come into view before-

The buildings around her swayed.

There was a ringing in her ears.

The area lit up and-

########Hunter########

"CATS!"

"GAJEEL ENOUGH! WE CHASED THEM OUT OF THE TOWN LEAVE THEM ALONE!"

Naruto chased after Gajeel who was chasing after the pack of cats that had quickly charged out of the storm brewing over Magnolia. Both men were getting tired from the run but both had a reason to keep sprinting on.

But one of them was faster.

"HA!" Naruto tackled into Gajeel's back and pinned the Dragon Slayer to the dirt and mud beneath them, "Got you!"

"NOOOOO!" Gajeel cried out while reaching for the retreating pack of cats. As they disappeared from sight Gajeel twisted around and grabbed Naruto's cheek, "You bastard! You ruined it all!"

"Ow!" He cried out as his cheek was stretched to its limit. Naruto retaliated by shoving his fingers into Gajeel's nostrils and yanking up.

"AH! FUCKER!"

"SCREW YOU!"

"DIE IN A FIRE!"

"NO CAT'S EVER GONNA LOVE YOU!"

"TAKE THAT BACK!"

"NEVER!"

As the two men wrestled and bickered in the rain they slowly noticed a bright spot in the corner of their eyes. They disentangled and looked towards the source of the change in shock.

There was a hole in the sky. Within the sea of black storm clouds there was a giant white hole that almost looked ethereal and otherworldly. No rain or lighting or wind rushed through the blank spot in the clouds or the space underneath it. And under those clouds was…

Nothing.

"Where'd Magnolia go?"

########Omake: The Great Crucible Pt. 1########

("Is everybody ready?!")

"YEAH!"

("Then welcome to 8-Island's first eating competition! The Ramen Rush!")

"YEAAAHHHHH!"

"It's such a large crowd." Wendy looked around and marveled at the size of the audience the food eating contest had garnered, "And this is a new restaurant?"

"That's what everyone else said." Carla stated, a little miffed that she and Wendy had been dragged down to Hargeon and thrown into a sea of people without much warning, "And then they ditched us just like that! Why do we have to watch this garish competition?"

"We'll because Max-San is acting as the MC for the event."

("We're happy to see so many people out here today!") The sandy-haired Fairy Mage announced to a wave of cheers from the crowd, ("Special thanks to Yajima-San, the owner of 8-Island, the sponsor for this event, and the cool that will be cooking all the ramen today.")

"I understand he's in charge of the event but why did we have to come down?"

("Now let's bring out our contestants!")

A line of men and women walked out on stage and waved to the crowd. Among the eight participants were Gray, Natsu, Elfman, and Naruto to join the other civilian competitors.

("I recognize a few familiar faces from my guild, and you should notice we have a few eating contest champions gracing our stage today! This is looking to be one heck of a show!")

"Oh! Naruto-San and the others are competing!" Wendy brightened up and started to cheer with the crowd, "Good luck everyone! Do your best!"

"But where's everyone else?" Carla inquired, "We came down with a full train car worth of people so why is it only-"

("And to make sure we keep a running tally of our contestants' scores, here are our lovely scorekeepers!")

The crowd devolved into a mass of screaming, howling animals as Erza, Lucy, Mira, Lisanna, Cana, Juvia, Levy, and Ever walked out dressed in maid outfits for all of them, and a bunny costume for Erza.

Carla sighed as the cheers around them nearly deafened her, "That explains the crowd. I hate this. Pigs."

Wendy dejectedly touched her chest as she fell into the depths of despair.

("Are we ready?! Then are your marks! Get set! GO!")

########Hunter########

Done

Man I've been looking forward to this! There's always some part of each story arc I have made up in my head already and this one has been bouncing around in here for awhile!

So here we go!

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