Maelstrom of Chaos
AN: Apologies for the delay. I had to review this chapter several times before I finally felt satisfied with it. Without further ado I present you the latest chapter of Maelstrom of Chaos.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and Fairy Tail.
Chapter 5: Predators in the Night Part 1
"GAHHHHH!" Naruto cried out as he was sent flying through the forest, crashing into several trees and toppling them over in the process. Fighting through the pain, Naruto released a burst of dark crimson energy, stopping his momentum and vaporizing several nearby trees in the process
He gasped in pain as his hands flew to his sides. He was certain that he had a couple of broken ribs. He looked up and his breathing hitched as his gaze landed upon the form of a titanic creature, slowly making its way towards him. Its true appearance hidden by the shadows caused by the sea of fire raging behind it. The fires burned with such intensity that it seemed as though the entire world had been set on fire.
Naruto's eyes widened in panic at the sheer amount of killing intent he felt from the creature. He quickly pushed his fear down and steeled his gaze on its massive form. With a loud battle cry, he swung is arms forward, unleashing a powerful blast of energy towards the titan. The night air erupted with vibrant flashes of chaos magic, further adding to the apocalyptic scene. However, when the energy finally dissipated, the titan emerged unscathed from the powerful attack, continuing its march towards its prey.
Naruto watched with wide eyes as the titan continued its advance towards him. Naruto could not stop himself from shaking, both out of pain and fear, as it gave a hollow chuckle that sent shivers down his spine. Thus, as much as it wounded his pride, he turned around and ran through the forest in a desperate attempt to escape.
As he ran, Naruto glanced over his shoulder to see if he was being followed, but somehow the gnarled branches of the dead trees surrounding him began to merge together, obstructing his view of the creature. He flinched as he felt the branches whip and jab into his body the deeper he journeyed into this cursed forest. However, he ignored the pain as he journeyed further into the labyrinth of trees.
After what felt like hours, Naruto soon realized that the deeper he went, the more he noticed the sounds of sinister whispers echoing around him. His pace increased as the whispers grew louder, followed by the sudden appearance of hundreds of red eyes glaring at him through the darkness. It was at that point that Naruto nearly fell to his knees as the whispers evolved into screams of voices wishing for his death and cursing his very existence. Naruto's eyes widened in surprise as the trees began to converge towards him, closing off any means of escape. Naruto growled in anger as the screams around him forced him to clutch his head in pain. Finally, overwhelmed by the claustrophobic environment he was trapped in, he cried out in rage, firing off a shot of red energy in every direction. The energy arrows shot through the prison of trees, reducing them to dust and creating an opening for him to finally escape through.
As he ran, he took notice of his current condition. His breathing was labored as blood flew everywhere from the wounds he sustained, transforming into wisps of smoke when they came into contact with a physical surface. At the very least, he was pleased to hear that the voices and had disappeared.
However, his relief was short lived. Without warning, he screamed and collapsed to the ground as he felt as though his legs were on fire. He turned around to know what had happened, but what he saw made his blood run cold. His legs had become twisted and mangled beyond recognition, as copious amounts of blood fell onto the forest floor. He cried out as he tried to fight through the pain, digging his nails into the dirt as he felt his blood drain from his body.
Naruto's eyes widened when he heard two weak and eerily familiar voices. He looked and felt utter despair as his gaze was transfixed on the crucified, bisected and naked bodies of his comrades, Gajeel and Juvia.
He watched silently, as his near dead comrades looked up at him. He then screamed in despair at the gruesome sight before eyes were gone, reduced to hollow and empty husks. As their empty gaze met his, streams of blood flooded from their empty sockets, cascading down their cheeks. Their mouths opened up, spilling even more blood as they screamed silently with expressions of pure agony.
He gritted his teeth, ignoring his pain as he forced his arms to move in a vain attempt to crawl over to help his dying friends. "H…hold on I am co…!"
His voice caught in his throat as two giant scaled arms came down in front of him crushing his friends in a shower of blood and gore, much of which landed on his face.
Naruto tried to move, but found that he couldn't react. He wanted to scream, cry and smash the ground with his fists until they were little more than bloody stumps. However, the moment he saw his friends die, something inside him broke. He no longer had the will to resist.
He soon felt a strange sensation on the back of his neck. He could feel hot, putred breath streaming down his neck, sending shivers down his spine. Slowly, he turned his head around and looked up where he came face to face with a black void.
Suddenly, three blood red eyes appeared within the void, looking down at him. The glow of the creature's eyes acted like spotlights, absorbing the light around him and engulfing him in total darkness. All three eyes had slits surrounded by a pupil in the shape of an eight-pointed star. This was follows by the manifestation of a fanged smile, grinning ear to ear like a Cheshire cat. Its maw opened up revealing a red abyss, where black liquid came dripping down towards him.
Naruto tried to fight back and raised his arms in a feeble attempt to defend himself, but before he could summon any power the black liquid's descent accelerated. Naruto could only watch as the black liquid came crashing down on him with the force of a tidal wave. He then burst out of the liquid,screaming in agony as he felt the substance eat through his flesh and bones.
In the throes of his agony, he could faintly make out a figure emerging from the corrosive liquid. He instantly recognized the appearance of a red-haired woman whose face glowed with kindness and love.
Naruto looked up and with great effort as he tried to reach out to the woman with what was left of his arm, "Mom… please… help me!"
He cried out desperately, as the feeling of pain and despair that he had not felt since his childhood, came rushing to the surface. He was no longer the confident ace of Phantom Lord, he was once again the scared little kid who lost his mother so long ago. His mother looked down at him and in that instance, he could make out the familiar feeling of his mothers warm and gentle smile. A smile that always inspired hope in him, regardless of how bleak his situation was.
The woman suddenly closed the distance between them and placed her forehead over his. In that moment, Naruto's pupils shrunk to small dots. He watched as her smile stretched beyond the limits of the human anatomy and before he knew what had happened, he had come face to face with what could only be descried as a demon, dressed in his mother's skin.
The demon had three pitch black eyes, and rows of razor sharp teeth curved into a malicious smile. It opened its mouth and Naruto was powerless to stop the demon, as it slowly placed his head into its maw. He only had enough time to let out one final scream of despair before the demon's jaws came crashing down with a sickening crunch.
Naruto woke up screaming with his hands clutch tightly around his throat. He greedily swallowed the air around him as his eyes flew everywhere in an attempt to retrieve his bearings on reality. Suddenly, a wave of white hot pain burst through his brain, as though it was being split open with a burning ax. He hissed as he clutched his head, in a futile attempt to numb the pain. All at once, the mental and emotional backlash that he experienced from his nightmare came rushing up from the depths of his mind. As he started to gag, he put a hand over his mouth and quickly rushed to his bathroom. He slammed the door open and made it just in time to release the contents of his stomach into the bowl.
He heaved and threw up repeatedly, even when he knew that there was nothing left. When he was done, Naruto tried to get back up, but soon collapsed onto the floor. He placed his head between his knees. He soon resorted to suing special breathing techniques provided to him from his master, to regain control his breathing and heart rate. When he felt that the pain had finally diminished to a dull ache, he slowly returned to his feet.
He walked towards the bathroom mirror to assess the damage. When he got there, he looked up to see his eyes void of emotion with traces of dried up tears. As he wiped some leftover vomit from the side of his mouth, he noticed the trace of blood on his wrist. He touched the sides of his face to see more blood coming from his forehead. With shaking hands, he removed the bangs of hair covering his forehead.
He saw that the source of the bleeding originated from his now revealed third eye. The ocular organ gazed back at him in all of its unholy glory. Unlike before, it lacked the familiar marking of the eight-pointed star, and was severely bloodshot with red veins stretching across a white schlera. The eye twitched uncontrollably as it bulged out of his forehead splashing more blood over his skin and even onto the mirror. Naruto flinched from the sudden burst of pain, that he could only describe as though his third eye was trying to crawl out of his skull. Before the eye could cause any more damage, a magic circle with the symbol of Phantom Lord appeared in its center. Arms of shadows began to emerge from the symbol and reached out to grasp the edges of the eye. With great effort, the arms forcefully closed the eye with the sound of a large gate slamming shut.
Naruto sat down to breathe in a sigh of relief. He brought his hand to his forehead to soothe his aching skull. "…This is bad… really bad…!"
Naruto opened the door to his room and checked the hallway to make sure that he was alone. When he was confident that no one was present, he walked out and made sure to lock the door behind him. He cracked his neck and straightened the cuffs of his signature red haori with black flames lining the hem of the arms and bottom. Beneath that, he was wearing a black shirt with a grinning fox with a wide red eye and an eyepatch over the other. The fox had a kunai in its teeth with blood dripping from its mouth forming the words 'Top Predator'. He wore black pants with red lines running down the sides, black open-toed combat boots and also sported a headband with the Phantom Lord symbol engraved in the center.
As he was walking towards the mess hall, he could not help but remember the morbid details from his nightmare. Though he kept insisting to himself that it was only a dream, he could not help but feel that it meant something more. He was so focused in his train of thought, that he failed to notice a certain individual stick his foot out. Naruto cried out as he tripped and fell flat on his face. He got back up and dusted some dirt from his pants as he looked up to the guilty party. He grinned as he looked right into a familiar pair of red eyes.
Gajeel snickered with his signature grin as he munched on some nails. On the other side of the archway he was leaning under, was Juvia. She was wearing her usual brand of clothing, along with her signature pink umbrella and kosak hat, and finally one of her handmade teru teru bozu dolls.
"Better watch out Uzumaki! Wouldn't want you to fall down a set of stairs and injure yourself now, would we?"
Naruto scuffed, "Seriously Gajeel, this stopped being funny the first seven times you tried it. Now it has just lost its comedic value. You really should come out with some better material. Then again, I shouldn't be surprised. It is so like you to lack any imagination."
Gajeel growled as he grabbed his partner by the front of his shirt and brought him to his face. "You want to go you bastard!?" He yelled out with his hand raised into a fist. Suddenly he stopped when his nose suddenly started twitching. He narrowed his eyes and gripped his collar with both hands bringing him closer and sniffing it much to Naruto's growing ire.
"Hey Gajeel what, the…?"
Gajeel pushed him away but still kept a tight grip on his collar. "I take it you had another one of your… episodes?"
"I have no idea what- "
Gajeel then pulled down his jacket revealing a small splash of blood under his ear, right above his neck. "You can wash your face all you want, but it won't completely erase the scent of blood dumbass."
Juvia frowned and walked over to him, taking out a handkerchief from her coat pocket. Using some of her magic, she released some water into the material. She carefully wiped away the dried blood, until there weren't any traces of it left.
"At first it was every few months, but now every few weeks? Your nightmares have gotten worse…. Have you seen the master about this?" she asked with genuine concern in her eyes. Naruto could not help but feel guilty from Juvia'S expression. He then glanced over to Gajeel. Although he was a little brash in his choice of words, deep down, he could tell that Gajeel was also concerned, in his own unique way.
Naruto looked down at the floor and sighed, "I was going to, but I decided to wait until after we finished our mission."
"Naruto if this is…"
"Relax Juvia, no way I am going to leave my team hanging over something as stupid as this. I'll check in with him as soon as we finish this mission." He called out with a signature fox-like grin. Juvia sighed and shook her head.
"Allright, but promise me that you'll see him the second we get back." she berated with a pout earning a foxy grin from Naruto.
"Whatever so long as you don't get in the way. You can jump off of a roof for all I care." Gajeel spoke nonchalantly as he cleaned out his ear with his pinky.
"All right then let's get going." He shouted as he turned around and thrust his fist in the air.
As Juvia followed behind she was unable to suppress the growing sense of worry. She paused when she felt Gajeel stand beside her. He whispered something to her, in a voice that only they could hear, "Just let it go. This is not a problem that we can poke our noses into. This is his business."
Juvia looked back at the back of her partner and friend. Though he tried his best to hide his feelings behind that grin of his, he could not fool her. As someone who had spent the majority of her life in solitude, she understood just how painful it could be to suppress one's emotions.
When Naruto and his team finally arrived at the guild's mess hall, there were barely any people around... Just the way they liked it.
In Phantom Lord, every mission was first come, first serve. Thus, he and his friends had made it a habit of waking up earlier than the other members to get the best missions before anyone else. There were many that tried to outsmart them and attempt to get the best missions for themselves. Unfortunately for them, this proved to be a difficult task considering that the majority of the guild's mages usually spent most of their nights partying and drinking booze.
It was by taking full advantage of their guild mates unruly habit, that Naruto, Gajeel and Juvia had switfly climbed the ranks to become the strongest team in Phantom Lord. Since, Gajeel had joined, he and Naruto had developed an intense, yet friendly rivalry. Though it was clear that Naruto was the stronger of the duo by a fair margin, Gajeel was far from being considered weak. To date, he was one of three people that could actually hold a candle to him, with the other two being Juvia and Master Jose. In addition, Juvia often tended to tag along with the two and had quickly grown attached to their presence and vice versa.
As a result of their unique bond, the three of them decided to form their own team. In the last few months, the formation of their team not only increased their strength and fighting ability, but it had also managed to help Naruto out of his depression following Honomaru's death. Furthermore, their popularity and reputation as Phantom Lord's strongest team had skyrocketed making them famous, or rather infamous, throughout Fiore.
Naruto and his friends scoured the board looking for any job that would get them a decent reward. Gajeel picked out a job that required mages to serve as bodyguards for a famous musician, while Juvia nervously looked at one which said that it needed mages to take care of a rogue monster that was absorbing water from nearby settlements. However, Naruto ignored the missions and continued searching through the board. His eyes went over all manner of quests, from the one's with the lowest reward to the one's with the highest. After a few minutes, Naruto stopped searching as something finally caught his eye. It was a piece of old paper that was hidden behind stacks of newer ones. He removed the paper and saw that it was listed as an A-class request.
He read the description out loud to get Juvia and Gajeel's attention:
"Please Help! Monsters have infiltrated our town! People have been vanishing and we fear our children will be next! We do not have much, but we desperately appreciate any help offered. Please Hurry!"
Naruto frowned as he looked at the reward for the job. The amount for the reward was far too low for an A-class job. Naruto walked up to the man in charge of requests. He was a fairly obese mage with a rough beard and was dressed in a stereotypical wizard's costume. Only his white undershirt was far too small for him, exposing his hairy belly to the world. He also had questionable body odor, much to Gajeel's annoyance and Juvia's disgust as she covered her nose with a handkerchief.
"Hey!" Naruto called out to get the sleeping man's attention. The man continued to snore much to his annoyance. His eye twitched at being ignored. Not wanting to waste any time, he took matters into his own hands. He raised the request over his head and then slammed it down with enough force to leave an imprint of his hand into the desk. The sound from the impact was more than enough to get the man's attention as he abruptly woke up and looked at Naruto.
"What do you want?" Naruto suppressed a grimace when he picked up the smell of alcohol on the man's breath.
"What the heck is with this job request?" The man took the paper and brought out a lacrima sphere. He placed his hand over it and began to review the details of the mission request. The man grunted when he finished and turned to address Naruto.
"Don't even bother with this request. The mission they have is apparently to exterminate a group of unknown monsters. However, turns out the shmucks who requested it are dirt poor and can't seem to afford the standard rate required for this level of difficulty. I am actually surprised we haven't removed this request from the board earlier."
Naruto frowned as he looked over the request. He then grabbed the lacrima, much to the man's protest, and quickly reviewed all the available information on the mission. He also made sure to take note of the date when the request had originally been issued and when it arrived to the guild. Though the request had been approved by the council and mages association fairly recently, he noticed that a large amount of time had passed since the request had been filed for approval.
"Has anyone else taken this job?"
"Of course not! No one would risk their necks for such a low paying job. So now that you know why don't you give it hear and pick out another-"
"We'll take it!"
"… Seriously, if you hand that request over to me then I'll-"
He was interrupted when Naruto slammed the request down hard onto the table, denting it even further.
"I said we'll be taking it. Is that a problem?" He whispered the last part with an intense glare that sent shivers down the fat wizards spine. He then took out a stamp and pressed it on the request, filed it under "accepted requests" and then handed him a copy of the mission to him.
Naruto ignored the man and walked away towards his team. "I've picked out our mission. Let's get going!"
Juvia nodded and followed him, but Gajeel looked slightly ticked off. "Come on seriously?! I wanted to take this musician gig! He's one of my favorite singers and who knows how long this will…"
"Sorry Gajeel, I'll make it up to you, but for now this mission takes priority."
Gajeel looked at him with his trademark scowl and the grunted. "Just remember that you owe me one."
Naruto smiled a he and his team made their way out of the guild hall.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE REWARD IS TOO LOW?!"
Gajeel had his hands gripped tightly around Naruto's collar as he pulled him in close. His eyes and head had become comically larger as he yelled with enough force that Naruto's hair flew up behind him.
Naruto chuckled as he rubbed his head sheepishly. In the haste to get approval for the mission and to leave Oak town, Naruto had neglected to provide additional information to his team. Information that also included the missions low reward. Of course, Gajeel, being who he was, did not take the news well.
"I understand why you would be angry, but just hear me out, ok?" he gently explained, wiping away spittle from his face as he stared down the evil eye he was getting from Gajeel.
Gajeel pushed him back and sat down in his seat in the fancy train suite they had booked for the trip.
"You have 2 minutes, so start talking!"
Naruto nodded and took out the request form and began to explain the details of the mission to his comrades.
"Well despite the mission reward being too low, the request is officially classified as A-class. Now there are only two reasons why this would happen. The first is that either the magic council is getting lazy in their evaluations or the other reason is that-"
"The mission has specific circumstances that forced the magic council to make an exception." Juvia finished for him.
Naruto poked her nose. "Bingo!"
Naruto looked at Gajeel who was listening intently. "The mission states that people have been disappearing, and now even children are being targeted. Plus, from what I could tell, a lot of time has passed since the request was originally filed. Thus, the disappearances could have been continuing all this time, which means that…"
"The number of people that have kicked the bucket may have gone up since the request was originally filed!" he yelled out. After his outburst Gajeel flinched as he felt a wet pink umbrella smack him in the forehead.
"Gajeel! How can you be so insensitive about this? Innocent children could have been killed!" Juvia yelled out in one of her rare moments of emotional rage. Ever since she met her friends, Juvia had slowly transitioned away from her depressing outlook of the world. While, in public she maintained a professional appearance. But when she was with her friends, she tended to be more open with her emotions, especially in regards to certain topics, such as concern fro the safety of children.
Naruto nodded, "Exactly, that is why I took the mission. There number of victims is bound to ave increased and the inhabitants are bound to be in a fragile state. Those people need our help, so we cannot afford to be greedy!"
Gajeel sighed, "All right then I see your point. I assume you came ready for anything?"
"Funny I was going to ask you that." Naruto smirked as Gajeel gave him is signature savage grin and Juvia nodded with determination in her eyes.
A few hours later
Ignoring the pouring rain around them, Naruto and his teammates made their way through the town from where the request originated. A quick survey of the area confirmed Naruto's earlier suspicions regarding the state of the town proved true. As they made their way through the town, they noticed an obvious lack of people. The streets were deserted and many of the houses had their windows closed off.
From the corner of her vision, Juvia could faintly make out the forms of children as they stared at them with fearful curiosity, before concerned parents pulled them away from the windows and then barricaded them, closing themselves off from the outside world.
Juvia frowned sadly at the sight as she looked up at the falling rain, "Well, I can't say that this wasn't what I was expecting this place to be like. Abandoned streets, boarded up windows, and frightened townspeople, I don't need to be a mage to feel the overwhelming sense of fear permeating through this town." Naruto calmly stated as he observed his surroundings.
"Juvia agrees. The rain has a distinct quality that churns Juvia's stomach. For once, Juvia is not responsible for the weather being like this. What do you think Gajeel?"
Gajeel growled and rubbed his nose, "Can't be too sure about this place. Something definitely feels off, but I can't say what. For some reason there is too much…. interference."
"What do you mean 'interference'?"
"I mean that this whole stinking town smells like a damn mortuary. Corpses, blood, graveyard soil, the whole God damn shebang!"
"… From what I read in the report on the way here, this place was once the site of frequent battles between the guild wars over a hundred years ago. Could that be a factor?"
"Unlikely, this all smells recent so that means that-" Gajeel stopped for a minute as he spotted something from the corner of his eye. He whipped around and sidestepped out of the way as an unknown figure rushed towards him. The figure was short in stature and attempted to stab Gajeel in the thigh with a knife. Gajeel growled and lightly kicked the figure in the stomach. Even though he was holding back, the force behind the blow was enough to send the assailant flying through the air.
The figure, who appeared to be male, gasped loudly when he collided with a stone wall almost ten yards away. Gajeel closed the distance between them in less than a second, grabbed the assailant by the scruff of his neck and slammed him into the nearest wall. Gajeel growled as he pressed his arm against his wind pipe. During the scuffle, the assailant's hood had fallen down. Gajeel narrowed his eyes when he saw that his attacker was just a young kid, no older than ten years old. The boy was dressed in old clothing that looked thoroughly worn out. His most defining features were his red slitted eyes, similar to Gajeel's, and his head was covered by a thin dark frizz.
Gajeel glared at the young boy in front of him. "Listen up you little punk. I am in no mood to fool around with a weakling like you, so I am going to let you off with a warning… but if you ever do something like that again then so help me, I will beat you within an inch of your life."
Gajeel then added a little more pressure for emphasis causing the boy to struggle, "Got it?"
Gajeel's intense glare caused the younger boy to shake in fear, but he still tried to maintain a defiant expression on his face. Before things could escalate, Naruto decided to interfere, placing a hand on Gajeel's arm, "That's enough Gajeel. He is just a kid, there is no reason for you to be so violent with him."
Gajeel scoffed, "Fine Whatev-"
All of a sudden Gajeel's nose twitched and he blinked in surprise as his gaze returned to the young boy's. "What the hell? Why do you…?"
Suddenly the small kid opened his mouth revealing sharper than normal canine teeth and bit down hard on Gajeel's arm causing him to cry out in pain and release his hold on the boy. The moment that he was free the boy dropped down and slid between Gajeel's legs, where he then proceeded to run as far away from him as possible, but not before he sent one last glare back at Gajeel and his comrades, before disappearing from sight.
Gajeel narrowed his eyes at the retreating form of the young child. "… Let's go"
Naruto blinked, "Is everything okay? It looked like you recognized him."
Gajeel walked past him, "I'll tell you later… but to be clear, I've never seen that kid before."
Naruto and Juvia were silent as they shared a silent conversation with one another before dropping the subject. At least, for the time being.
Naruto, Gajeel and Juvia sat down quietly on a couch in the mayor's office, as they waited for him to call them in. The phantom mages waited quietly in the rather tense atmosphere, each one occupying themselves in their own way. Naruto was rapidly tapping his hands on his knees, Gajeel's leg was shaking up and down impatiently and Juvia was busy making one of her signature dolls with a sewing kit that she had pulled from out of nowhere.
Unlike her comrades, Juvia was used to quite atmospheres, having spent most of her childhood in them. However, her normally active comrades, were not, and it was clear that it was getting to them. It was so quiet that even the sounds of the grandfather clock's ticking was ten times as louder than usual. They all jumped when an elderly woman in her fifties entered from the mayor's office.
"The mayor will see you know." She bowed courteously as she ushered them through the door.
Naruto and his friends entered the office and spotted an elderly man looking out the window as the fierce downpour bombarded the glass stained windows. As he turned around to face him, it was clear that the man had seen better days. He had heavy circles under his eyes, his suit was unkempt, and he was over reliant on his cane as he hobbled weakly towards them.
"Thank you so much for coming."
Naruto bowed, "No worries. If you don't mind, my friends and I would like to get down to business."
"Of course," The old man nodded as he slowly got into his seat. He folded his hands over each other, as he stared grimly at them.
"Around three months ago, we began to notice that people had started disappearing. At first, we did not think much of it. The first victims were just hunters and local herbalists from the local apothecary, so we merely assumed that they had gotten lost in the forest and were devoured by predators."
"How did you come to that conclusion?"
"When we sent out search parties, to find the missing victims, all we found were areas with dried blood and human remains, ripped apart as though they had been devoured. At the time, we had no reason to suspect that anything else was going on. However, as time went we began to experience additional occurrences ."
"What sort of strange occurences?"
"Ill omens began plaguing our town. Our crops started to die, the animals become skittish, always on guard and easily spooked. Then the weather began to change. Once the sun set, the temperature at night dropped to below freezing and the faint scent of blood permeated the air. It wasn't long before the situation escalated out of control. The disappearances became so frequent that they began to occur on an almost weekly basis. At first, the victims consisted mainly of the elderly, but then the age range of victims started to get younger and younger. Now, not even the children of this town are safe. To date, we have a total of five children who have gone missing... sadly we fear that the worst has happened to them." Naruto and Gajeel frowned at this, while Juvia adopted a sad expression.
"We are a small town and we are barely making enough to get buy. We pleaded to the magic council and though they accepted our request, the reward required is more than what we can afford. We tried hiring mages from mercenary guilds, but they never came back. It wasn't long before word spread of our situation and people started to avoid this town like the plague."
Naruto narrowed his eyes, "Do you have any idea or leads about what could be causing all this?"
The mayor shook his head, "No one has actually seen whatever is responsible for these attacks and abductions. We don't know what it looks like or if it is one or several creatures. We only know that it is violent and tends to strike only at night. Every time an abduction occurs, copious amounts of blood are seen at the scene. I am afraid the only real lead we have is that around the time of the first abductions, people disappeared in areas near the old graveyard on the town's outskirts."
"I see. Thank you for the information pops. You have our word that we will rid you of whatever it is that has been plaguing your town."
With great effort, the mayor got up and slowly made his way towards Naruto. When he arrived, he grasped his hands and tears began to fall from his eyes.
"Thank you my boy! You have no idea what this means to us."
Naruto shook hands with the old man and got up to leave with his group. Just as he was about to open the door, someone opened it before him. He was an elderly man, but unlike the mayor he appeared to be in much better condition. He was garbed in a black priest's robe, wore a dark-lensed glasses and carried red and white walking stick.
"Mayor is everything allright? Are you with company?"
"Ah, Father Ghaou! No need to worry, I was just about finished."
The mayor gestured to the priest, "My apologies, this is Father Ghaou. He is one of this town's most respected citizens and is a pillar of the community. In addition to his duties as minister, he has helped in consoling the families of the abducted, and coordinating charity work to help support us in these troubled times. Without him we would have given up hope a long time ago."
"Father, these fine young mages have come to help us with our problem."
The priest smiled as he used his cane to navigate his way towards them, "I see, well that is good news to hear. Lord knows we have been needing it. You three must be signs from God. I wish you the best of luck." When he finally reached them, Ghaou raised his hand to shake Naruto's.
Naruto smiled as he accepted the hand and shook it firmly, "The pleasure is ours Father. Rest assured that we will get this problem over and done with before you know it."
"Godspeed my son and be safe."
Naruto nodded as he gestured for his team to leave. As they left, Naruto frowned as he rubbed his forehead.
After their meeting with the mayor, Naruto, Gajeel and Juvia returned to their inn where they began their strategy meeting. They huddled around a map provided by the mayor, illustrating a detailed layout of the town and the surrounding territories. Several areas were marked with an X, representing locations where people were last sighted and/or where bodies were discovered.
"So… what do we know so far?" Gajeel asked.
"Well according to the mayor, we know that the creature, or possibly creatures, are apex predators who primarily feed on human flesh. According to witness testimonies, the culprit is primarily active at night, but so far no one has managed to get a good look at whatever is responsible. All in all, it's not much, but its better than having nothing." Naruto surmised as he rubbed his head.
"Juvia disagrees. The mayor did say that the first sightings were traced within the more populated areas all in proximity to the cemetery and that it never strays too far from the region." Juvia replied as she took out a pencil and began to circle locations on the map.
Naruto blinked as he noticed something, "Well all signs suggest we start to investigate the cemetery."
Gajeel frowned, "This is weird."
"You would think that that this thing would prefer going after the less populated areas, where it can obviously find easier prey. Instead, the information we have tells us that its not afraid to seek out prey in the more populated sectors of the town. To me this shows that this monster is smart as hell, and if it is smart, then that means that it knows how to navigate through the town without being noticed. Its sounds to me that this thing is one cocky SOB."
"Gajeel-kun, it could just be a coincidence''. Juvia suggested.
Gajeel rolled his eyes. "What, you think I am just pulling things out of my ass? I was raised by a freaking dragon! I know how predators work. If this were just some wild beast trying to hunt for food, then it would not risk getting so close to a populated area. It would aim more towards the easy pickings, which means less chance of a confrontation with humans. We aren't dealing with some wild animal. Whatever it is that we are hunting, it is intelligent. It knows which areas have the highest and lowest groups of people. However, it is not afraid of hunting in highly populated areas and somehow it even managed to get bodies out of the city without raising any alarms."
Naruto and Juvia frowned at Gajeel's explanation. If what he said was true, then this job would not be as easy as anticipated.
"Regardless of its hunting pattern, at the end the day, it would need to bring the bodies to a place that would allow it to conceal them. It's exactly like the mayor said. He mentioned that mages they hired in the past went to investigate this area. Considering that all things are pointing to a graveyard."
Gajeel nodded his head in agreement, "Until its food source runs out, this bastard is not going to stray too far from its hunting ground. I bet my own supply of pure iron that if this SOB is out there we will most likely find its den or whatever, in this area." He said as he circled the area on the map.
"It's also possible that it could be travelling underground, which would also explain how it can move around without getting noticed. There is also something else that concerns me."
He frowned as he raised his hand to his forehead, "Ever since, we came here, I can feel my third eye reacting to something. The dark atmosphere, the supernatural phenomena and missing bodies, all point heavily to the possible use of black magic. We should be prepared for anything." Gajeel and Juvia nodded in agreement with their leader.
"Once the sun goes down, we head out to scope the area. For now, get some rest. These people have suffered enough, so we need to end this as soon as possible."
After waiting Naruto and is comrades woke up early in preparation for their mission. As they neared the town's borders, Naruto motioned for his comrades to stop.
"Ok, here's the plan. Because Gajeel and I are more attuned to sensing evil phenomena, we will head to the graveyard to search for the creature. Once there, we will split up to cover more ground. If you find anything use these to call me." He pulled out tiny lacrima spheres and handed one to each of them."If you need help do not hesitate to use these, but only if the situation demands it. Otherwise, keep it restricted only to information."
He then turned to Juvia, "Juvia, out of the three of us, you are the fastest. So your job will be to safeguard the town's perimeter. If that creature shows up, it will be your job to find and contain it. With all this rain, your abilities should increase dramatically. If ever, you find it use this to notify us." from out of his haori, he handed Juvia a flare gun.
"If we don't find anything, rendezvous at this spot before morning. Understood?"
Gajeel and Juvia nodded. "Great."
He then turned around and slammed is hand into his fist. "Allright, let's move out! "
Naruto held out his arm for Gajeel to take, much to his reluctance. He bent down as he gathered magical energy under the soles of his feet. With a burst of power, Naruto released his magic energy to create a stream of crimson energy. Lifting the both of them into the air, before travelling towards the direction of the graveyard. Juvia turned in the opposite direction, transforming her body into water, Juvia soared through the town jumping from one rooftop to another, to get a better vantage point.
Unbeknownst to the three of them, a shadowy figure watched them leave from the shadows. When he was sure that they were gone, the figure walked out of the shadows and began to head towards the direction where Gajeel and Naruto had flown off to. The figure raced off before vanished in a burst of shadows.
Don't forget to Read and Review!