Well, here it is. The final chapter. The conclusion of years of writing. I'll say more at the end but briefly I'll say this. If you are here reading this, and have been over all these years, thank you for continuing all the way to this point. Now enjoy, the final chapter of Protector Of The Fairies.
Disclaimer: I don't own Fairy Tail or Bleach. Shame, it would be great if I did.
Protector Of The Fairies
The World Continues On
Hail pummelled the ground as a storm grew around the mountain, most of the people present huddled inside the sole structure present to avoid the treacherous conditions just behind the stone walls and wooden barriers. Even then, a chill could still be felt as the cold seeped in through the cracks in the windows, men and women shivering in cold rooms with iron bars. The mages that wondered the corridors, cloaked in multiple layers to try and stay warm, would occasionally stop to huddle by one of many fire lacrima lining the walls, providing essential illumination and heat to those patrolling, before continuing on their path. Despite the conditions making life unsustainable for long beyond the walls, they could not afford to be unvigilant. When days became years and no end looked to be in site, people could get foolish ideas and suddenly like what would be impossible odds. It would not be the first time someone had escaped these walls and died hours later in the cold, their body being found half eaten by animals a few days later.
It was to this cold and isolated place, in the dead of night, that a spec of gold began to appear. Growing larger with each second, an orb of dazzling gold came into existence before breaking apart and allowing its cloaked occupants to step free, ignoring the snow as they trudged their way through it up to the large iron door. Slamming down on it a few times, they waited patiently, as if the cold was hardly felt, until finally a hatch on the door slammed open and suspicious eyes glared at them from within.
It only took a moment for those eyes to widen in recognition, the angry retort and demands that had been likely to have been uttered, demanding to know their business, replaced with a more professional tone as the guard asked for some identification. Already familiar with procedure, the taller of the two reached under his cloak and brought out a blade, holding it up and letting some of his magic be easily felt with it. The guard briefly examined the blade and then glanced to his left, eyeing what he knew to be a scanner reading the energy of those outside, before nodding once and slamming the hatch shut. A few moments later the sounds of locks being turned could be heard before the door was slowly opened, giving them enough room to squeeze in before it was slammed shut to keep the cold out.
"I assume you're here to see the prisoner?" the guard asked, the two arrivals carefully removing their hoods and brushing off some of the snow covering their coats. The taller of the two, easily recognised by his orange hair, nodded as the guard before glancing at his companion, who was currently trying to free her bright yellow hair from the confines of the coat and let it run down near to her feet.
"Has he still been behaving," Ichigo asked, the guard hesitating for a second before answering.
"Technically… Some of the newer guards still get unsettled by him. I think they aren't used to seeing such a well-known figure… in such a different light."
"I suppose his attitude doesn't always help," he muttered, letting the guard lead on while he and Mavis followed afterwards. "Still, I'm glad to see he hasn't been causing any trouble."
"Even if he could, he's probably the one most of us could handle the easiest. I understand all the precautions put in place to ensure he can't escape but… I still struggle to see how he is more dangerous than some of the prison's other occupants."
"You probably never saw him in the war then," he simply replied, the guard nodding his head and leaving it at that.
The prison itself was fairly new. Build less than a decade ago, it was designed with the best security measures available along with hiring dozens of mages and rune knights who wanted an easier job after the war, one still dangerous in its own right but also far more peaceful than the day to day duties they would have otherwise been forced to return to. In addition, the environment itself added an extra layer of security. Sunny days weren't common here, nor were there ones where the weather grew peaceful. The area alternated between constant blizzards and brief periods of freezing temperatures. Even if someone escaped, they would have miles to travel through without any form of shelter available to them.
Of course the issue of magic had to be taken into account. Which was why every prisoner was outfitted with magic suppression devices, leaving them unable to summon force any of their old strength, and a giant barrier extended one mile out from the prison, acting as an extra means of suppressing one's magical power. Without being keyed into the barrier, like the guards were, everyone else would find what little power they did emit to be constantly drained, reducing the effectiveness of any spells they intended to cast. Teleporting in was also typically impossible. The barrier would scramble any magic trying to pass through it for such means and redirect it to another point. That in itself had taken a lot of work, and he remembered the magical engineers that designed it consulting a lot with Mest and Nozomi in their attempts to ensure it could not be broken through by any with similar magic to the two of them.
Well, it wasn't entirely impenetrable. While he was sure Nozomi did a lot to help out, he knew she would have put a backdoor in just in case she ever needed to break in herself. It was always harder to trick magic that moved you through separate dimensions into doing what you wanted. Equally, it did nothing to stop Lumen Histoire. The barrier was designed to stop magic passing through from one side to the other. It didn't quite work with stopping magic passing into it from within the barrier at a different time point.
In addition to all the magical defences in place, there were still some physical ones. Dozens of doors were reinforced, so they could be closed one after the other and barricaded. They weren't too durable against strong magic but they tended to be more to try and delay any breakouts while non-combatants evacuated to safer areas of the prison. The bars of the cells though were some of the most crucial elements of the physical defences in place. A few of the prisoners were ridiculously strong even without magic, and if the bars were too weak they'd be able to tear their way through them and go on a rampage. The real defence though were the walls, made with trace amounts of sekkiseki within the bricks to strengthen them against any form of magical attack.
Luckily the man he was here to see wasn't nearly as much of a threat like so many of the others here were. Ignoring all the lower cells, he was brought further into the complex and up the floors, going to the highest level before following the path along towards a single isolated room, separate from any other cell in the prison. Dozens of doors had to be opened and shut behind them as they went, most unnecessary in his mind, but it was all intended to keep this prisoner completely isolated from everyone else. Most of the other prisoners here likely knew this one existence but that was it, not even knowing his appearance, voice, or even his name.
That had been the intention though. The magic council had not wanted anyone to know much about this man, especially with the knowledge he kept to himself. They would have preferred to have executed the man but he had requested imprisonment instead for him. And because of his reputation, they had allowed it.
"Alright, you know the drill. He's just through this door," said the guard, looking anxious to be anywhere but here. "I'll seal the door like normal behind you. When you want to leave, knock seven times, pause, then knock an additional three."
"A different code again?"
"The prisoner mocked us a few weeks ago with the pattern. We don't want to take the risk of him using it under the pretence that it's you."
"You really think he can defeat me?"
The guard paused, looking uncertain. "It's procedure. Obviously he can't but… Rules are rules you know."
"Fine. I'll let you know when I'm done."
The guard nodded before beginning to mess with the locks on the door. This one was always the one that took the longest, mostly because it wasn't made of the same material as any of the other doors. Instead it was pure sekkisek, or rather as close as you could get, and required a complex mechanism to unlock and move due to its sheer weight. It reminded him of the cell he had once been imprisoned in.
After a few moments of struggling through, the door finally began to move, scrapping along the ground a few metres before he just reached in and pushed it from the inside, forcing it along a bit much to the guard's displeasure. He ignored it though as he and Mavis shifted through the open doorway, waiting for a few moments for the guard to close it behind them and begin locking it.
"Stuff like that unsettles people you know Ichigo," Mavis said, glancing at the door. "How much do you think the door weights anyway?"
"It felt light to me," he muttered, not wanting to acknowledge that he had merely gotten a little impatient at the end. If he wanted to he could have arrived directly at the cell's entrance, but because it freaked everyone out when someone like him showed up without warning, making their sensors go crazy, he had taken to taking the long way in. "Come on, he should be just through here if nothing's changed."
"It never has," Mavis shot back, glancing around a bit as they walked. "I don't like this place. It's always so cold."
"Well are surrounded by a blizzard currently."
"You know what I mean," she shot back at him, making him chuckle for a moment as they walked the last few steps towards a set of cell bars. The cell was mostly barren. It had the necessities most had, including a bed and a toilet, plus a few extras like a shower and some exercise equipment. A luxury to some but this was just so they could avoid taking this prisoner out to the common areas and keep him constantly locked up here. They'd have him make his own meals if they didn't fear about what he could do with a kitchen knife.
"Yo, I'm back."
He called out to the man currently lying on the bed, looking as if he was currently asleep. His chest was left bare, exposing a set of wires extending out to a device embedded in it that connected against a lacrima in the wall. Long shaggy hair fell around the man's head, the parts that would have dangled down across his face looking like they had been cut roughly by something. Slowly, one of the man's eyes opened, the one eye that he knew the man had, and a scarred face stared over at him from the bed.
"Again? You need a hobby Ichigo."
"I have one. It's called checking in on old friends Laxus."
"I'm not your friend," the man said, pushing himself so that his back rested against the cold wall. "What do you want?"
"I need a reason to see you?"
"I'd prefer if you did. Easier that way." Laxus paused for a moment, sniffing the air. "Odd scent on you. Dragons? When was this?"
"Seven hundred years ago. Mavis wanted to see some early civilization that had been built and we ran into a pack of them. Barely managed to trick them into thinking we were just normal travellers. Wouldn't have gone so well if we hadn't met some of the more pro-human ones."
"I told you it would be fine," Mavis interjected. "We were in Ishgar lands. The more savage types came from Alvarez."
"Even so, I didn't exactly plan to have to bluff my way out of a fight with them. A human running around that can beat up dragons would spread wild, and I don't want that ending up written down in some history book. Levy would never let me hear the end of it."
"Hey, I know how to be careful. You just don't always watch your words and-"
"Is Levy alright?" They cut their conversation off as they turned their attention back to Laxus, the prisoner reluctantly glancing at the book he had beside his bed. "She doesn't come much. Not that I would expect her too if I'm being perfectly honest. I never see my past self, but I can't say I don't understand why. But last time she came she lent me this book. It's not bad, there isn't much to do here so I read it a few dozen times, but I wasn't sure if she needed it back or not."
"Or if you could get something else to read instead I reckon?" He smiled slightly, fiddling around in his cloak for a moment before pulling out a book. "Bought this while I was last in Magnolia. It looks interesting so you can have it if you want."
Laxus nodded, a hand slowly moving to the wires at his chest before carefully unplugging them. Unlike most prisoners in this prison, he was the one prisoner to lack any magic suppression cuffs. That was because he didn't need them in their eyes. What use was there suppressing magic that wasn't there? The only magic in this cell came from the lacrima that kept the man alive, one in his chest and one that recharged it on the wall from the main magic supply available. Getting to his feet, Laxus crossed the short distance between them and reached between the bars, taking the book carefully and examining the cover.
"Tales of distortion. The third in the twisted series of Darian and his knights as they attempt to stop the flood of chaos." Laxus scoffed at it. "As trashy as ever."
"Levy said you liked it though."
"I can't exactly be picky, though last time she was here she said the second book was just being released. The third should be a few years away."
"Ah… well… I didn't say when I went to Magnolia last."
"And I thought you'd be a bit more reluctant than to use the magic of time travel for such trivial purposes."
"You try living with Mavis. She gets very bored very quickly."
"Hey, I…No, it's true," Mavis admitted. "Things that are too quiet are boring. I can deal with them for a time but sometimes you just need to get that itch out of your system."
"Well I'm not one to talk about messing with time," Laxus muttered as he wondered back over to his bed, setting the book down on top of the other. "Thanks," he added awkwardly, the word one he rarely used when speaking to him.
"It's no problem. It never is."
"But it's certainly more than I deserve. Being alive is more than I deserve really." Running a hand across the book, Laxus hesitated for a moment before asking, "Why did you do it?"
"Because I didn't want you to die." The answer he gave was one he was used to saying here. It wasn't the first time Laxus had asked this. On many of his first visits though, he had rarely said anything. Most of the time Laxus had merely screamed at him, slamming his fist against the bars as if that would break them and let him try to tear out his throat.
Back then he hadn't known whether he was being cruel or not by letting Laxus live. Maybe it was pure selfishness on his part, that he didn't want his friend to die, so he had dealt with the abuse time after time and still came back. Even warped as Laxus was, he couldn't abandon his old friend. Even if that friend hated him, he had still wanted to try and help him if he could.
It had taken a long time to get back to cordial relations. No longer did Laxus despise him with every fibre of his being but neither did the man look at him as his best friend like the Laxus of this time did. But this was progress none the less. Even if it was a mere fraction of the relationship he and this Laxus must have had, he was glad to have been able to restore that much. He didn't want this Laxus to die like that Levy had, so full of hate and pain that it broke her.
They spent the rest of his time there simply chatting. Well, perhaps chatting was not the most appropriate name for it. He would say something, talk about some place out there, and Laxus would add some snarky joke or take a jab at him. But those words had long since lost their bite. He would have never have heard such jokes out of the Laxus of his time, but from this Laxus they had become a natural part of these conversations.
But like always, it soon grew near for him to leave.
"I'd stay longer but I don't want to take too much time away from your busy schedule."
"Ha ha, very funny. You want to tell a joke, at least make it a good one."
"I'll bear that in mind in the future," he said as he prepared to leave, right up until Mavis stopped him. "Mavis?"
She shook her head before gesturing at Laxus, reminding him of the very conversation he had with her early this day. The same conversation they had probably had a dozen times over. Normally he ignored it, but he knew why she was pushing it. It was not something he could run from forever.
"You forgot something?" Laxus asked, having noticed his continued presence. "What is it?"
"There are no more magical barrier particles left in the world, or at least none that aren't sealed in containers that are keeping them outside of magic's reach. But even those are a shell of what they once were. Equally, the nature of magic is… different than it was back then. Since that day during the war, not a single Ouken has ever appeared. There should not ever be one again, not with the will that chose them and granted them power out of commission."
"So why haven't you left already?"
Laxus froze, uncertain how to react for a moment before he settled for glaring at him in suspicion. "What are you talking about?"
"Like I already said, since Mimihagi no longer exists, there is no will left in the magical barrier particles. Equally, there is none of the old will left in magic to deny those who used it. You suffered immense damage to your core but you were saved, and it is still there. The only thing that stopped you regenerating your magic was magic itself." Glancing at the lacrima on the wall, he waited until Laxus' eyes followed his gaze to it. "That's not a charger is it? Or rather it hasn't been for many years now?"
A sigh slowly left Laxus' lips as he turned back to face him, holding his hand slightly up before a single spark flickered between his fingertips. "Is that what you wanted to see? Proud of yourself for figuring it out after so long?"
"We knew early on," Mavis stated, annoyed at the insinuation that they had missed it. "You think we entered a prison such as this without keeping an eye on the protections in place? We're not stupid, we've been trapped in cells before and tend to want to know our ways out if possible."
"That and Mavis starts investigating systems when she gets bored," he tagged on for her. "She noticed the increase in magical power that the barrier was taking in during different trips we took here and accounted for any new guards or additional sources of magical power that the barrier might be feeding off. There was a decent discrepancy after all that which clued us in. So when did you do it?"
"A year in," Laxus replied, tapping his hand against the device. "Thing about devices like this is that they run off energy. May be just pure magical but it functions similar to electricity in that regard. It's not magical barrier particles but you learn to get the hang of manipulating energy you aren't too familiar with. All I had to do was rework the system slightly to have it reverse the flow. Tricky part was getting it to only absorb the right amount. Too much and I'd be drained dry, too little and some cautious individual downstairs might start wondering why their life support prisoner is suddenly emitting high levels of magical power. I couldn't have that. Not if I ever planned to escape this place."
"Which you could have done probably two years in," he pointed out. "Yet here you are, still here."
"Well… it wasn't really the right time. Too close to the war. Too many people would remember me. Figured I'd lay low for a decade or so. Would give myself an easier time of it. If you've know all this time… you've known I'd eventually try something. Why haven't you stopped me?"
"I should," he admitted. It had plagued him for a while on what to. The right thing was to ensure the security was updated. Get Laxus in magic suppression cuffs. But… "Are you a danger to anyone else? After all these years, I know you're not. My future self drove you to such extremes and your will was twisted by Mimihagi. Without that, looking at you now, I see my friend before me. Perhaps not the same friend, but still one I know. And I know Laxus wouldn't hurt anyone. I want to believe you won't either. So I waited, prepared to see what you would do. Waited as you served time you did deserve and waited for the day I'd come here and find you missing. Though… I'll admit, I wasn't looking forward to that day."
Laxus scoffed. "Because you'd have to come after me right?"
"Because that would be the last time we'd ever see each other," he countered instead. "This cell is here to hold you but to me it's a place we could finally talk, in a way we never could during the war. But your sentence here is for life. If you don't break free, freedom will never come to you. Once you do break free, you will have to run as far as you can and hide. So to me, the day you leave this cell would be the end of all this. I doubt we'd see each other again. And I like to think you know that too. That's why you stayed for as long as you did. Am I wrong?"
"That crap's too sappy," Laxus muttered, though he did not deny it. Instead he just walked towards the cell's window, pulling open the hatch it slightly to peer into the snow covered land outside. "I miss it you know. The guild. Magnolia. Home… But it's never coming back. Perhaps I would have been happy if my old timeline had simply vanished with me in it. But now everything is so different…"
Letting go of the hatch, Laxus let his hand rest against the wall, his eyes locked it. "I want to see it you know. What's out there? What's it like? Are people smiling? Are they happy? Is this a worthwhile future? I spent so long in that hell… so long. What is this world like now? Was it worth sacrificing so much for? Was it worth losing Levy for?"
"Perhaps you simply need to see it for yourself," he simply said, slowly turning to leave. "Goodbye… my friend."
He almost missed it as he began to walk away, the words spoken so softly. But he smiled slightly, giving the code to the guard and being let out.
It was a week later when he heard the news. A cell had been busted open from within, and by the time the guards had arrived the prisoner was nowhere to be found. All that had been left behind was an old book with a single note for it to be returned to its owner.
He never saw that man again.
Protector Of The Fairies
Laxus sighed, slowly placing down the list of complains he had received before trying to push some of his frustration away by rubbing his forehead. "Third in the space of a month huh?" While it wasn't as bad as he was sure Gramps had been forced to deal with, each one wasn't something minor that he could simply sweep under the carpet.
The first was about an assault on a client. It was understood now that that client had been involved in many illegal activities, and that most of the consequences would be easily mitigated as a result of this. It would not, however, be as cut and dry with the assault down to the rest of the client's men, all of which had been investigated and proven innocent of any wrongdoing. They had probably all been guards intended for the client's 'day' persona, and they weren't exactly pleased to have been beaten black and blue on what one of his guild's current problem children had called a hunch.
The second was not any better. A mere quest to stop a mage who had taken over a small named village had succeeded. Ever since the war ended, certain individuals had pushed to try and make sure there was stronger communication links with the outer edges of the kingdom. He knew Ichigo had played a role in there in trying to persuade some people to act, he had seen the guilt present in his old friend's eyes whenever Ichigo had been left alone too long in his thoughts, but as a result each outlying village now at least had the means to contact other areas of Fiore in times of need. This had been one such time, when some mage with a bit of strength thought it would be fun to take over an area that simply lacked the capabilities to fight back against any half decent mage. It made for an easy quest, admittedly one with a high priority, so the difficulty of it had never been an issue. The mage was now in the process of being incarcerated, provided no issues occurred along the way and any of the mage's so called allies didn't try and either free him or silence him.
No, the problem lay in the fact that there was no village to return. It might have been an easy quest but he knew how bad things could go when you underestimate them, and with it needing to be responded to quickly and the fact he had people available he had informed the council that his guild would handle it, sending off a small group. Perhaps a bit overkill but even if he trusted two of the individuals he sent out to clear the mission easily, if things went wrong they would struggle to get help. But instead that seemed to have back fired on him.
Like he had expected, the mage wasn't anything special. They just had a tricky bit of mage, one that allowed them to phase through objects. It was similar to a body of elemental magic really. But his ability to fight against a proper mage was… well, according to the second of his little problem children it was less than stellar. Obviously the mage had relied too much on his power to solve his problems, and in a village relying on physical defences it was obvious he would overwhelm them with ease. But throw a bit of magic at him, a substance capable of making contact with him in his intangible state, and suddenly he was on the ropes.
He wished so heavily that it could have ended there. He really did. But no, the mage had been smart. Not enough to find a way to win, which would have been a bit better in this situation, but he had understood a very crucial thing most forget to do when faced with someone stronger. He thought to run, and with his magic he was apparently god damn good at it.
Apparently he was a similar kind of fool as those who forgot that since he sent an idiot with gravity magic who thought the solution to the problem was to use his magic to give chase and blast his way through every obstacle in his path. The idiot didn't even stop to realise the damage he was doing until half the village was in pieces and the other half was ready to collapse with the next strong wind, which was a real possibility with a storm predicted to blow in from the north in a few days. Most of the residents had already been evacuated into makeshift camps provided by the magic council and soon there would be a tough decision on whether to rebuild the village or have the residents relocated, mostly dependent on what they themselves had to say about the matter. But even if they did move, it didn't negate the fact that it was his guild's fault for it. To say dealing with that was a nightmare was an understatement, he was pulling a lot of strings right now with that just to keep the heat on him more than the idiot, but the worst was the latest complaint. Not in cost, not by far, but rather the headache it was giving him right now.
"You got anything to say about this one Wendy?" he asked as he glanced up across at the room's other sole occupant. Many years had passed since she had been that small girl from the war. Now she was already twenty two, ten years since those days. She refused to meet his eyes, just staring off to one side, finding the stack of documents over there extremely interesting.
He sighed. Dealing with this was always troublesome when it involved her. Wendy had grown difficult to understand over the years. Some had attributed it to puberty. He hadn't been so sure, and considering she was still hard for him to understand now at times he figured he could at least say he was right on this front.
When faced with a difficult issue in recent years, Wendy had a tendency to ignore it. Or rather try and pretend it's not there until it goes away. She'd been doing that ever since she began having problems connecting with people in the guild. Since the war, connecting with people had become a challenge to her. She was apparently still close with Lamia Scale's Chelia, but in their guild? She had few friends as it was, with half the guild reluctant to go on missions with her.
It hadn't been a problem at first. But ten years changed a lot. The guild was very different from the state it was ten years ago. Many mages had retired. He saw plenty of them fairly often but they weren't active anymore, using the guild hall as a meeting place to chat before heading home. Others had moved, different callings driving them to diverge from the guild. In some cases it was permanent, in others it was merely for long durations. But it meant that while Wendy might have friends when she was in the hall, she was lacking many of those when she went out on missions.
"Wendy, I want you to listen to me. You aren't leaving this office until you do that."
Her eyes flickered over to him briefly, and for a moment he even felt himself freeze up. The way she looked at him, the way she looked at everything, was a bit unsettling. And he hated how he reacted when caught off guard by it because he knew, by the way she glanced down after having made eye contact with him, that she noticed his flinch. She always did.
"You understand why you're here right?"
"A exorcised the spirit," he heard her mutter. "Is this about Weisz?"
He frowned, crossing his arms. "Why do you think he's involved?"
"I…" She shut her mouth again, reluctant to even speak without further prodding.
"Wendy, don't make me-"
"His breathing was elevated to one point five times its normal rate. His gaze shifts within the range of thirty to forty two degrees away from my own since that act. Whenever he leaves he moves two point seven times faster than usual, never once looking back. His-"
"Enough," he muttered, wishing he hadn't asked. It didn't help that when she felt she was in trouble her explanations became like this if someone didn't stop her. "Shall I start then?" He saw a small nod and took it as his cue to say what he knew thus far. "Your mission was to investigate the rumours of a spirit possessing the living, correct?"
"Yes," she spoke nervously. "The spirit seemed to be a dragon slayer. Or maybe it was a dragon. It wasn't clear itself, and its form fluctuated. And since the composition of the magic of a dragon slayer and a dragon don't differ massively, and the fact its own signature was degraded in its current state, I couldn't identify which it was originally. Since it had a human appearance we mostly assume it to be a former dragon slayer, estimated to have died by Acnologia's hands."
As if she was feeling more confident now that she only had to focus on telling the story, she continued a bit more enthusiastically. "I think it was probably unaware of its own existence for most of the centuries between then and now. But when I briefly revived Rogue, I think it might have felt that. Most souls don't linger in the world. Even strong attachments can fade with time. Even rage might eventually… Well, I theorised that when I used my magic back then, it was almost gone. Spirits in that state are extremely sensitive to the balance of souls from what Nabura has observed in the past, and when I did what I did, it's likely that the spirit felt the passing of Acnologia. The spirit confirmed as much that it had strong lingering feelings from Acnologia, mostly anger at its own death, and so it was awfully sensitive to Acnologia's passing. It acted as essentially giving the spirit another shot at life, right when it would have been about to give it and leave this world."
Wendy paused for a moment, pulling nervously at the edge of the large cloak she had wrapped around her. "Unfortunately… the spirit was like Rogue. It didn't have much left. All those centuries eroded away much of its old sense of self. It had only a few tiny memories, and the rest was the feeling of anger at its death. I'm not even sure if it fully understood why it was so angry, that's how much time had passed. The emotion was there though, and it was trying to act out with it."
"That's fine so far," he said patiently, having allowed her to take her time thus far with the story. "After this is when I assume it began causing trouble. After the first few attempts from the church to exorcise it failed, this was made an S Class request. What went unsaid in that request, but that I stressed to you at the time, was that they did this to try and ensure they would catch your attention as our guild's current most active S Class mage."
"I know that," she muttered. "They didn't need someone with exorcism abilities, they needed someone with the power to fight and do something close enough to one."
"Yes. The intention, which I told you at the time, was to capture the spirit so it could be exorcised by the church in a controlled environment."
"I know that."
"I know you do," he said calmly. "Except that's not what happened. According to all official reports, you exorcised it yourself. But the team I asked you to take with you saw something very different."
"I didn't need a team, it was insulting that you thought I did."
She was deflecting. He could hear that in her voice. "You were fine with it at the time. I wanted to give some mages nearing S Class a chance to experience what that kind of mission is like. With you on this mission, I knew I could trust you to keep a strong hand on the situation. That is how much faith I had in your abilities Wendy, do not doubt that."
She stayed quiet, not daring to even glance at him in shame for her outburst, causing him to sigh once again.
"According to what Weisz said, he admitted to acting recklessly. He's normally quite collected but he's still young, and I guess the excitement of this quest made him lose himself a bit. I know many who have been the same in the past. And he admitted to ignoring your warnings at the time and attempting to prove himself in his own way by sealing the spirit. Is that correct?"
"I… yes," Wendy quietly admitted. "I tried to stop him but he had already acted when I had noticed. He thought his magic could contain the spirit but… well, the spirit was still a dragon slayer. What little magic it had tore apart Weisz's attempts to contain it. I stepped in to protect him but the spirit had a nasty trick."
Wendy nodded shamefully. "I know, I should have been more careful. I should have watched Weisz more and dealt with the situation more calmly and-"
"My problem is not what happened then Wendy. It's what happened after." He wasn't sure how but Wendy seemed to shrink even further in on herself. "He said-"
"Stop. Please…?" she asked weakly, forcing herself to look up to meet his eyes. "I don't… I know what he's said."
"Did he say something to you?" he asked in concern, both at her words and her expression. "If he has-"
"He didn't. But I saw it. The way he looked at me. The way all of them looked at me."
He sighed. He could push her for a proper explanation but he had enough to understand the situation now. Pushing any further would just be cruel. "Go on. Go. I'll try and deal with this."
"Thank you," she muttered, heading to the door with haste. She was almost out when he stopped her, calling out a few words he hoped would at least cheer her up a bit.
"I got a message from Ichigo that he's going to be in town-"
"He's coming back!" He had to ignore old instincts to lash out as Wendy literally appeared in the space in front of him, half leaning over his desk with pure excitement in her eyes. "When?"
"He'll be around next month, so I'd recommend avoiding taking any missions until then if you want to see him. Well, not that I expected you to be taking any missions with what's going on, but I'm just giving you a heads up so you don't miss it by taking some far away S Class quest that takes three times as long."
The smile she had was both a joy to see and also depressing. She leaped back off his desk, a spring in her step as she left his office in the second one. Running a hand across his scaled face, he groaned as he simply let himself lean back into his chair. The fact Wendy looked forward to those trips when Ichigo returned were always sad for him to watch because it emphasised how difficult it was for her in the guild when he wasn't there. Hopefully at least Ichigo would be able to help her out with this latest fiasco. God knows he couldn't do it.
As much as he wanted to side with her, he simply couldn't dismiss the reasons for why Weisz felt the way he did. The boy was scared of Wendy, because with the ease of wiping her mouth she had ripped a spirit possessing her out of her own body, and with the clench of her hand had torn apart its existence until it was nothing more than scraps of magic. The boy didn't want to ever be on a team with her ever again, that was how deeply rooted his fear was, and expressed concerns about her mental state for being able to commit such an act with such ease, without even looking bothered by the deed.
It was hard in some ways to relate. He had never seen such a vast gap in power between someone until he was an adult, and even then he had been able to understand it. But Wendy's power wasn't something easily understood. Even to those who understood what she did on a vague level, it was still unsettling. But understanding what she could do with her power and understanding what her power was, only she truly had a grasp on the latter.
"Where have the days gone where a guild master's biggest fear was of a boy with too much power and a troublesome mentor?" he joked to himself, wondering what Gramps would have done in a situation like this. Would his Grandfather have handled it like he was, trying to keep a carefully balanced peace while also ensuring Wendy wasn't getting isolated by her own peers?
It was times like these that he truly understood just how hard Gramps must have sometimes had it. And why he kept the position for so long. It took a special person to handle this job. If they weren't in it for the long run, the seat wasn't something that should be handled over to them.
"You only call me that when you're worried," he muttered, tilting his head forward and meeting the nervous eyes of Mira. While some had moved away from the guild, Mira still loved her job behind the bar. Or perhaps it was because she wanted to ensure the guild was always a home for any of their scattered members who decided to come back for a while. He wouldn't deny thought she was a reassuring presence to have. She had supported Gramps with his job in minor ways long before he got this seat, and she helped him even more. "Who did what and how much trouble are we in?"
"It's… Well, it's Shiki," Mira muttered quietly. "Apparently he's gotten into a fight with Twilight Ogre in the middle of the square. Rebecca apparently got dragged into it too."
"Why is it always them," he muttered, pushing himself up to feet and grabbing his cloak, pulling it tightly around himself before heading to the door. "Can you watch the guild for me while I'm out?"
"Good. And prepare the medical ward for when I get back."
"You think they'll be hurt badly."
"The better hope they are," he muttered. "Maybe that'll teach them a lesson for once to stay out of trouble, but then it didn't stop Natsu for some time so I can't really count on it."
Protector Of The Fairies
A sword was swiftly raised before immediately swung back down.
Once again, the motion repeated.
Without protest, the black haired girl continued to follow her instructor's teachings, trying to keep her arms steady with each swing, even as they threatened to buckle and let the sword in her hands drop. With sheer willpower she managed through another few repetitions of this until finally she heard the words she had been desperately waiting for.
Bringing her sword to a halt, she let it rest pointing downwards. She didn't dare let it drop from her hands though. The last time she had done that she had been forced into lecture for an hour about proper discipline with her blade.
"Good work. I'm pleased with your progress Homura."
Those words brought a smile to the young girl's face, one she directed at her proud mentor's face. The red haired woman before her gave her another nod before listing off a dozen flaws she would have to fix but even her mentor could tell she wasn't listening, so with a brief note to prepare for some sparing tomorrow she was sent off to get some lunch in the guild hall, leaving her mentor to stand by herself in the outside training ring of Mermaid Heel.
"She's doing well," called out a familiar voice to the woman, turning to find Kaguya walking towards her, her sword hanging loosely by her side. "Don't you think Erza?"
She nodded, the proud smile still present on her face. "Indeed. She didn't have much talent at first but her dedication is nothing to scoff at. Though if she wanted a teacher for pure swordsmanship, she really should have gone to you. They are one of the weapons I am most skilled at but I will never reach the same mastery of a single weapon as you have."
"Trust me, she's doesn't want you as her mentor simply because you can teach her to wield a sword. She simply idolised you," Homura reassured her. Glancing around suspiciously, the woman made sure the coast was clear before leaning in and whispering, "You know I saw her magic recently. She thinks she's keep it quite the little secret but a few of us have seen her practicing behind the guild when she thinks everyone has gone home."
"Really? What has she decided on? I hope not Requip. As much as I love my magic, it is not suited for her in the same way it is for me."
"Oh no, nothing like that. But I saw her making a blade recently out of pure magic. Quite the nice design to it. It was just a few metres in front of herself, floating in the air, and her eyes seemed to be simply sparkling. Give it a few more weeks and I'm sure she'll show it off to you, all proud like but waiting to hear your praise, before she begs you to find a way to fire them off like you do with your swords."
"Energy based blades huh?" She paused for moment, her mind already beginning to consider the strengths and weaknesses of such weapons. It was an interesting choice. While she could guide Homura as much as she could, some choices were left to the girl and the girl alone. If this was the magic she wanted to use, she would simply have to adjust some of her future training plans to support it appropriately. Depending on the strength of a magic blade for example, it may not be as durable, particularly in those early days when mastery of the magic was a long way off, so she would have to ensure she trained Homura to anticipate such weaknesses and both deal with them and utilise them.
But such thoughts could be left for a little bit later. She had left Kaguya waiting long enough, and she could tell with how the woman anxiously moved from foot to foot that she was waiting to begin. So, without any warning, she opened up a portion of space beside herself and swung forth with the sword she had pulled from within. It was easily blocked as Kaguya let the restraints holding her sword at her waist snap free and immediately the blade made the sheath of Kaguya's own blade.
Then they were off, lashing back and forth as each tried to find a gap within the other's defences. They wouldn't be getting serious here, such fights were rare since Kaguya didn't like to draw her blade for fun spars, but it helped keep their reflexes sharp and focused. Occasionally they might hear a cheer or two from inside, bets placed on who would win their current fight. She tended to have the advantage more often than not, since while she might not win in swordsmanship she certainly would in combat ability. Bringing in armours would be overkill but Kaguya never minded if she swapped out swords on random or brought in a club suddenly.
Times like this though, they helped her to relax. She didn't have to focus on much, just a friendly match between herself and one she had sworn to herself to look after.
It had been an odd ten years for her. When the war ended, things had initially remained the same for her. Go on missions with her friends in the guild, try and have some fun while on them, and return home and see everyone. And for a while, it worked. But not for everyone.
After the war, Kaguya had been hospital bound for a while. A lot of people had been, as with the ending of the war there had been a push to restore normality as quickly as possible. Ordinary people apparently didn't want an army a few miles south of them, so once the injured were stable they were returned home to local hospitals to finish the rest of their treatments, provided there were no further complications.
During that time, she had made it a point to visit Kaguya a lot. She owed it to Simon to make sure his little sister was alright. But as the day drew to her discharge from the hospital, she had seen the dread in the woman's eyes. And it only took a bit of walking around the town to realise why.
Mermaid Heel was a shell of its former self.
The war had been kind to Fairy Tail. Much kinder than it had been to any other mage guild. In part she supposed it was due to the monsters that they had. Dozens of their mages were outright devastating, so it took a lot to come close to killing any of them. But most mages weren't like that. Many of their own weren't like that either, they just were better shielded thanks to their strongest. But few had been hit as hard as Mermaid Heel.
Back before the war, it had been one of the biggest names out there. Afterwards, it had almost no members left. So many died around Kaguya as she tried to fend off the hollows from breaching the barrier through the tunnel they had dug. Those still alive had been saved but some still died anyway in attempts to heal them. Others managed to hang on but had already expressed no interest in going back to the guild. There wasn't even ten people left in the guild, and that building once held a lot more than that.
Kaguya wanted to go home to that guild. But at the same time she didn't. It was broken. Like her blade was. Like she was. And yet despite the options before her, Kaguya still wished to return to that guild. Not any other. Not even Fairy Tail when she had extended the offer.
It was then when she had made one of the toughest choices of her life. When Kaguya had left the hospital, she had found her waiting out there for her. And when she took her back to Mermaid Heel, she didn't leave.
From that day forth, she had been a mage of Mermaid Heel.
It had been tough. It honestly still was. Many times she had to go back to her old home, to sit around a table and just chat with them. Fairy Tail had been her home for so long. In many ways it still was. But over time, Mermaid Heel became one too.
Her presence had been a massive boost for the guild if she was being honest. After having lost so many members, it would have been hard to find new recruits for the guild. But that changed slowly after she joined. Whether she liked it or not, she was a big name from Fairy Tail. She had even lead many of their forces in the battle, being instrumental in many battles, and even before the war many people knew her. And stuff like that drew people in.
That was how she met Homura three years back. The girl had been a nervous wreck, peaking in through the doorway for hours apparently, simply trying to see her. She didn't even hear about this until she got back, having been away on a quest, only to find this little girl staring up at her with such pure eyes, asking to be her student.
She'd said no naturally. She hadn't been interested in teaching anyone, but before she had been able to get that explanation out she'd been forced to try and do damage control when Homura had begun to tear up. Most of what happened next was a blur, a few promises here and there to recognise the girl if she showed promise. Well one thing led to another, and before she knew it the girl was in the guild, a fully-fledged junior member, following her around and calling her teacher.
It was nice though. Homura was a good student, the girl listened well to instructions, and she was finding it quite enjoyable to teach. It was a very different challenge from that of slaying monsters, with its own rewards she found.
She forced herself to focus back on the fight as she narrowly avoided the sheath of the sword before it slammed into her head. Her thoughts really were getting away from her if an attack like that came close to making contact. Stepping it up a notch, she swung and immediately released her grip on the blade, pivoting and grabbing a new one from her Requip space before lashing up. After ten years of these spars though, Kaguya knew many of her tricks. This one had been seen far too often, and was easily dodged with a pre-emptive step back before the blade had even swung.
"Shall we stop for today?" Kaguya asked her, already beginning to bring her blade back to rest at her side. "I wouldn't want to tire you out too much for your meeting tonight."
"It's only a local quest," she responded calmly, carefully stowing her own blades away though. Neither seemed to be in the mood to continue anyway. "I should be fine with it provided nothing goes wrong."
"Doesn't it usually?"
She didn't bother dignifying that with an answer, simply smiling as she moved to enter the guild, ignoring a few of the disappointed mages who had been betting on the outcome of their spar, and giving a brief wave towards Karin as she left.
"Remember to call this time if you get into trouble Erza."
"If I feel like I'm in trouble, sure," she shot back to Mermaid Heel's current guild master. Like Kaguya, Karin had stayed at the guild and ended up taking over from the old guild master when she had retired. Being the daughter of a former general of the magic council gave her a lot of connections and she had been using them a lot over the years when it had come to keeping the guild on its feet. She didn't see Yuzu around today but she supposed it was one of those days for the poor girl. It was a shame since she really did help brighten up the guild's atmosphere at times. She reminded her a bit of how Mira was when she was working behind the bar at Fairy Tail, both the good and bad.
She'd have to bring her something to cheer up for when she got back.
And after that, perhaps she'd head back to Fairy Tail for a bit. She still had that wedding invitation sitting on her desk, reminding her of the upcoming event. She should probably reply to it already before they thought she wasn't coming.
It would be nice to see everyone again. Maybe she could even bring Homura and introduce her to everyone. She was sure the girl would love it.
Protector Of The Fairies
"Coat, check. Hat, check. Gloves… come on, where's the second one… Ah! Check!"
Pulling the second glove on tightly, Gray carefully ensured that no bit of skin was easily showing. His control had grown over the years, so long as he was careful and didn't lose focus he could avoid freezing everything he touched, but he didn't want to risk it. Not today.
With careful ease he nudged open the gate in front of him and retrieved the items he had brought with him, stacked carefully on top of one another. Manoeuvring with them all was tricky, he had to use a foot to get the gate shut again, but he managed it, carefully walking across the stone patio until he reached the door.
As he reached it though, he realised the problem he was going to have if he didn't put down the items he was holding. He eyed somewhere to set them all down for a moment before deciding to not bother, simply shifting his foot a bit instead and forming some ice beneath it. Carefully molding the magic as it extended up, he let it grow large enough to form a little hammer before having it lightly fall on the doorbell, familiar chimes going off as the ice melted away. Listening closely, he thought he could hear the sound of someone running.
"Who said that?" he asked jokingly, knowing she was peering up at him through the mail slot. "Is there a ghost? An invisible mage of some kind?" Laughter accompanied his attempts of humour, telling him she still enjoyed his humour, as bad as it was sometimes, and he heard the sounds of a lock being turned and another familiar voice.
"Back away a bit Ur, we don't want to leave Uncle Gray out in the cold now do we?"
"You said my namesake did that all the time to you and him though."
"Yes but that's not really nice to do when it's not for training purposes. Come on, move a bit." The door began to open inwards and he immediately heard the sound of joy from one and the sound of exasperation from the other.
"I know, I know, I went a bit overboard again," Gray said as he shifted his way into the house, keeping the presents stacked on top of one another carefully balanced as he navigated his way through the rooms. "But I found some good stuff, and-Oh, living room is alright for this stuff right?"
"Anywhere is fine."
"Cool. I'll put them down here. Anyway, there was a nice souvenir over in Alvarez, plus I picked up some nice stuff over in-"
"Uncle Gray! No spoiling!"
He quickly held up his gloved hands in surrender, giving the excited girl a wide smile. "Alright, alright. Happy birthday Ur. Has your father been spoiling you rotten today?"
"Maybe," Ur said. "He made a really big breakfast, and he got me this toy, ah! Where did I put it? Dad?"
"Over in the kitchen Ur. By the way, don't forget to get ready. Your friends are coming round in an hour aren't they?"
"But I want to open my presents from Uncle Gray." He had to avoid chuckling as he saw Ur send a look he knew all too well at Lyon. He was just glad he wasn't the one facing its full force. He always gave in, and Ur knew that. Lyon though, well he had a much stronger tolerance.
"You can do that later. Uncle Gray is going to be here all today so there's no rush."
"What about one?"
"Please?" Realising her attempts weren't working as well as she wanted, she turned to him quickly, looking at him for help. He sighed, considering not saying anything but knowing he would lose this battle.
"How about if she takes this one now," he suggested, carefully passing one of the presents forward. "Might be nice if she's meeting friends today." He glanced towards Lyon, seeing the man sigh for a moment before nodding.
"Fine. Just that one though. Take it upstairs and finish getting ready Ur."
"Kay!" Ur said, running forward towards the present before pausing before reaching it and leaping at him instead, forcing him to catch her in a hug to stop her from falling. "Thank you Uncle Gray!"
"That's alright kid. No go along and do what your father said alright? That's a good girl." He continuing smiling at her excitement as she nodded, ran over to the present, and was out of the room with it a few moments later. Lyon sighed after a few moments, joining him in the room and carefully shutting the door so they couldn't be easily overheard.
"You're mad," he said before Lyon even said anything. "I know, I over did it again. But I saw this and that and-"
"-I figured it would be nice, I mean Ur talked about her trip up north with you, and you said her previous coat was getting too small-"
"And I just knew that when I saw this gem in Alvarez that-"
"Gray!" Lyon words finally forced him to fall silent, staring at his friend as the man rubbing his forehead in frustration. "This needs to stop."
"I know. I'm spoiling her too much and-"
"I don't care about that," Lyon said as he cut in, pausing briefly for a moment as he considered his words. "Scratch that, I care a bit but I can manage her being a bit spoilt when it's limited to days like these. But you always go overboard on occasions like this. Juvia… she wouldn't blame you."
"I know," he muttered softly, falling back into a chair and trying to relax into it as Lyon did the same on the sofa near it. "You've said this before. Probably last time I did this. And the time before. And the time before that."
"It's not right. This is Ur's birthday. You should be celebrating it, not-"
"Feeling guilty that I'm the reason her mother can't spend it with her," he whispered coldly before wincing to himself a moment later. "I know I wasn't in control. I've accepted that. I understand I did everything I could, and that she chose to risk her life hoping she could help me. But on days like this… it's not right that I'm here and she isn't."
"I know. But trying to hide away that pain and making up for the guilt you feel with a pile of presents won't help."
"I… I know," he muttered. "But even if for just a brief while, it does. Ur… she's just so happy opening them, playing around with them, and if this day can be filled with even the tiniest bit more joy from something like that-"
"She'd be more than happy just getting a single present from you," Lyon said as he cut in. "You're her favourite uncle."
"I'm her only uncle."
"Still counts. And she adores you," Lyon joked. "You get to be the awesome uncle bearing gifts, I get to be the uncool dad who embarrasses her when he's picking her up from school."
"Be that as it may, you wouldn't trade that for anything would you."
"Not a thing."
They sat their quietly for the moment, giving Gray enough time to think. On these days he never liked that too much. Especially not in a house that had dozens of triggers for memories of Juvia. On days like today he never felt comfortable here.
It wasn't the first time he had been to this house. Over the years now he had been a frequent guest. He was pretty sure in those first few years he had been around at the house every two weeks for a day or two. Lyon had never turned him away, it had been him who made the offer to visit in the first place, and at first it was painful. The fact he could spend time around Juvia's daughter and she couldn't was enough to drudge back up old memories he wanted to keep buried. But for Ur's sake he had tried his best to move past that. Was still trying.
This home after a while had sort of become a home to him too. He never stayed long, he worried that might dishonour Juvia's memory too much, but on occasions it was a nice retreat from the rest of the world. Simple stuff like eating a meal all together in the evening, not caring about what crazy plot some mage is up to or what nation is flexing their strength a bit too much.
"You know Ur started learning magic recently," Lyon said, breaking the silence. "I wasn't sure if she'd show an affinity to ice or water magic to be honest but apparently she is going for earth magic."
"Earth magic? Like Jura's?"
"That's the one," replied Lyon with a chuckle. "She's been hanging around Lamia Scale recently, asking for all kinds of stories about him ever since he came back for a week. Ever since he took that job with the council he's been hard to reach, but he does try and spend some time at the guild. Speaking of which, you mind pestering him to pop back again next time you're over there? Ur would love to talk to him some more, and I need someone who can give me some proper pointers on where to find a reliable earth mage teacher for her. There isn't one in Fairy Tail is there?"
"Not currently," he admitted. It wouldn't be too hard for him to check with Jura soon. For a few years now he'd be splitting work between quests for Fairy Tail and jobs for the Magic Council. The title of Wizard Saint wasn't one he had ever pictured himself getting, and sometimes he wasn't sure it was worth the hassle. If he was only a bit less level headed he was sure they would have never offered it to him. But he had taken it, wanting to do more with his power to try and do some good with it. It had him travelling a lot though, either by himself or in a small team, so he was constantly on the road on those days when he wasn't in Magnolia. "I'll check with Jura when I meet him next week. You might have better luck catching him though in Magnolia soon though if work keeps him busy. I know he's trying hard to attend the ceremony there."
"Ah, the wedding right? How many of this invites were sent out?"
"I don't know. Idiot probably sent them out to everyone he could think of."
He nodded, his eyes anxiously glancing to the ceiling where above he knew Ur was moving about. "Yeah. I'm sure it'll be fine… Or rather I don't think he'll pull anything, and this is assuming he does come even if he's found. I can't say I approve of the choice but… well, the bride doesn't mind and it's their wedding so they have the final say. If you're worried about Ur, I can make sure she's far away from him if you want. Or alternatively if you'd rather not going knowing that…" He trailed off, waiting for a response from Lyon as his old friend looked down in thought.
"I don't approve," Lyon muttered, "But… I'll deal with it. I'll just do my best to ignore him so long as he doesn't cause any trouble. But this is going to cause some issues, they know this right? Does Jura know?"
"Not yet. And ideally most people won't know, but I wanted to warn a few who know his face. Those who might be effected the most by such news. Or have the largest reasons to not want to be anywhere near him."
"I would have thought that could have included him."
He shrugged. "So would I. But then I guess at times like this you want family by your side. Even a family as warped as that one."
Protector Of The Fairies
"Haha! Is that all your fairies have? Why don't you-Gah!" A large man was cut off from his words as a fist slammed into his face, his club slipping from his hands as he was thrown back through the air. Of his allies immediately jumped to his aid, bringing a similarly large hammer down right until his target shifted directions in mid-air, being flung towards a nearby wall and landing on its surface. It only took a moment for the hammer to smash harmlessly against the ground before he too was sent flying, the boy he had tried to hit having rushed back through the air and sending him flying with another punch.
"Oh, why does this always happen Shiki!" Rebecca cried out, firing her twin guns around her at the Twilight Ogre mages trying to close the distance. The shots didn't have the greatest of kick to them, but the barrage she kept up, combined with the magic she used to carefully leap away whenever one of her targets got too close, meant she was wearing them down. Which made it so much easier for Shiki to then fly in from the side and take them out.
Even despite all that however, there were only two of them. And they had chosen the bad fortune of getting caught in this fight way too close to Twilight Ogre's side of Magnolia. The city was meant to be far bigger than what it had been in the past according to some of the older guys in the guild, and with the way it had expanded over the years it seemed that Fairy Tail had ended up more on the outskirts of one side of it. Apparently one day Twilight Ogre had decided that it gave them an opportunity to move in, getting permission from the mayor and building their guild hall on the other edge of the city. It wasn't uncommon in the larger cities he had heard for there to be a few mage guilds, though it was rarer when the more well-known ones settled somewhere.
The problem he always found though was that Twilight Ogre wanted to be Fairy Tail. They wanted that prestige, the right to be the big name in Magnolia. Because whether they liked it or not, the name most people still thought of when you asked about the mage guilds in Magnolia was Fairy Tail first, Twilight Ogre second. They could bribe their way into getting a place in the city, they could flex their influence on the areas of Magnolia nearer them, but everyone knew that the big quests went straight to Fairy Tail.
Never mind the fact that all of that was because they were better and stronger, Twilight Ogre seemed to think that if they got the requests they could do them just as easily if not better than they could. And if that wasn't a load of crap then he didn't know what was. So they had settled for trying to force them out of the city that was their home first, hoping that all that prestige and renown would flow to them afterwards.
They were used to some of this stuff by now. Every year that the grand magic games took place, Twilight Ogre made it their mission to show them up, a feat they had been getting better at doing from time to time over the years as some of older members of Fairy Tail retired or toned down their work. Day to day venturing into Ogre territory meant you were likely to get heckled at until you crossed that invisible line that representing their borders. Missions were even a pain sometimes if they encountered one another, since Twilight Ogre wasn't against pulling a dirty move and ruining their mission or making it that bit harder. And sometimes, if one side felt slighted, a fight broke out. Like now.
Of course this time was a bit worse than normal. He'd seen them heckling a red haired girl, only a few years younger than he was, clutching the strap of the bag slung over her shoulder tightly and trying to hold her ground. What was worse was that those around were simply ignoring it, with some kids her own age seeming to be egging on the mages instead of trying to help her. He hadn't liked their attitude from the start, and had already been ready to draw their ire by simply bumping into them as he passed. They'd ignore the girl in a heartbeat if it meant picking a fight with him. And for once Rebecca hadn't seemed against the idea either, or at least he assumed that was the case as she hadn't tried to stop him."
Then he had heard the girl mention Fairy Tail in some fashion, saw an ugly snarl appear on one of the mages' faces, and before he even had a chance to move one of them had swung a fist at her, hitting the arm she barely brought up in time to defend herself and knocking her to the ground.
After that he saw red, and by the time he managed to snap out of that hazy he was flying through the air, his fist pressed against one of their faces.
He'd lost sight of what had happened to the girl since. He couldn't see her nearby so he assumed she had taken the chance to escape. The same kids who had been bullying her also seemed to have fled too so he hoped they hadn't just moved to continue where they couldn't been seen. But he hardly had time to spare to worry, flipping in the air and readjusting the gravity that surrounded him so that he rotated around the sword stabbed at him. The moment his foot brushed against the ground, he used it as a springboard and redirected the gravity rotating him so it send him flying forward, a strong punch sending the guy flying and putting him out of commission.
It wasn't helping their overall odds though. He could see more Twilight Ogre mages streaming in from nearby streets, even their guild master making an appearance with that smug look of his. He quickly shifted his position so that he was back to back with Rebecca, trying not to show any worry as he felt her shaking a bit as she leaned against him. "You doing alright?"
"I'm fine. Just getting a bit tired. They're too many of them."
"I know. Want to run for it?"
"You're suggesting that now?"
"Well… do ya?"
"Great. Hold on." Magic gathered beneath his feet, gravitational forces swirling beneath them as they built, ready to send him flying the moment he gave them a single direction. "One." The mages around them were beginning to approach them on all sides, but it wouldn't matter in a moment. "Two." Weapons were drawn, magic lit, but if they wanted to catch him, they should have done that a minute ago. "Three!"
A shock slammed into the ground, the force so loud it caused all the mages around to freeze in place, all attention drawn towards it. He and Rebecca were no exceptions, the gravity magic he had been building up dropping back to nothing. Even if he was to refocus and gather it once more, there was no point running now. Not when the newcomer had landed with a flash of lightning, his figure as he stood up from his position causing him to tower over all of them.
The man stood there, lightning sparking lightly from beneath his cloak, while a scaled head stared defiantly at those around him. He could see how every member of Twilight Ogre hesitated to act, even their arrogant guild master looking unsure of himself in that moment. As they should be.
Because this was Laxus Dreyar, the guild master of the greatest guild out there.
Then that same gaze landed on him and Rebecca, and he realised a good chunk of the ire being sent out by the man was being directed at them.
"I wonder Shiki, did you listen to my last lecture? Or did it go through one ear and out the other? The same goes for you too Rebecca."
Ah, so they were in trouble. Still, at least they were in this mess together.
"In fairness, Shiki started it."
And like that he was thrown under the bus. "Rebecca!" he hissed, looking at her in betrayal. She merely shrugged though, her gaze shifting away from both his and Laxus'.
"We'll be having words after this you two," he heard Laxus mutter, and then that gaze was shifted away from him and he felt he could breathe a little bit easier. "You obviously started something here so let me just finish this so we can go."
It was brilliant just watching all the thugs around them turn white in fear, some even taking steps away as Laxus began to approach their guild master. If he had been able to easily deal with a few by himself, there was no way these numbers would do anything against Laxus. Maybe this would be enough to finally push Twilight Ogre out of Magnolia entirely.
Except then his guild master did the unthinkable. Rather than raising his fist, to teach Twilight Ogre a lesson, he instead bowed his head to their guild master. "I apologise for the actions the members of my guild have taken here. I trust we can put this to one side amiably?"
He hardly heard what the master of Twilight Ogre said. The man seemed to regain some of his confidence, even if he was looking fairly disappointed, but most of his focus was locked on the impossible sight of their guild master actual apologising to these bastards. He could feel his nails digging into his clenched fists, his teeth grinding against each other in frustration as he waited. Waited for Laxus to do something. Anything but this.
One by one, the mages of Twilight Ogre slowly began to leave, leaving the three of them in an empty street. Some civilians peered in from the side, obviously seeing if it was safe to return yet, but none made a move. Normally he wouldn't be able to blame them. Laxus made for an imposing figure, especially in a situation like this.
Unfortunately he couldn't bring himself to think that way right now.
"Don't think I'll be letting you two of easy this time. What were you two even thinking, starting a brawl in the middle of Magnolia? Well?" Rebecca anxiously reached for him, but he shrugged her off, taking a step closer to Laxus instead as he directed a furious gaze at him.
"Why the hell did you apologise to those bastards?"
Laxus stared at him for a moment before the man let out a large sigh, pinching his forehead with one hand. "Like dealing with another Natsu," he heard the man mutter before his gaze turned serious again. "Mira told me you two got involved in a fight. Near their guild no less. Do you realise how this even looks?"
"They were bullying a girl for liking our guild! What was I meant to do, walk away?"
"I'm sure the right answer was to start a street fight that drew in the entirely of Twilight Ogre in your mind."
"I was helping!" he snarled out. If he hadn't stepped in, that girl could have gotten hurt worse. Did Laxus not see that?
"And after that? What were you doing then huh? Having fun? How many times have I told you, stop trying to solve your problems by being a wrecking ball? Or is that all you're good at? It seems like that's all your magic is good for right now!"
"And what about you huh? You're letting them walk all over us! When was this a city where liking Fairy Tail could get your attacked by a rival guild? When was this a city that even needed another guild? Haven't you heard how they view us?"
"I've told you enough to ignore such comments."
"They think we're weak! Washed up! Because what? We don't have as many members as we did years back? Because some of our stronger mages have stepped back? That's a load of crap. And yet because you don't shut them up they think they can get away with doing whatever they want."
"Shiki," he heard Rebecca hiss in warning but he was too pissed right now to care.
"You're Fairy Tail's Lightning Dragon! A hero of the great war! So why are you letting them push you around like some nobody? If you taught them a lesson for once, they'd never dream of touching anyone again. But instead you're bowing your head like a coward, giving them apologises and accepting their empty thanks as if it means anything, when you know god damn well that they'll pull this same crap again and again and-"
"Are you quite done yet?" Laxus' voice cut through his rant, the coldness chilling him as he found the gaze of that same dragon looking down at him.
"It seems you're not going to learn until you understand. Follow. Now." Without waiting for an answer, Laxus had already turned away from him, walking in the direction of the edge of the city. He simply watched in stupor for a moment, unsure of what to do until he felt Rebecca elbow him in the side.
"You idiot," she hissed at him, taking steps to hurry after Laxus and causing him to give chase too. "Why'd you have to mouth off to him like that? He was already mad enough as it is. Now we're going to be in even more trouble."
He merely shrugged, letting her get a few more grievances out and blamed on him while he kept his eyes locked on Laxus' back.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that he used to idolise the man. Many kids growing up heard tales of the war. Some he heard that he wasn't really meant to be privy too, and those ones had given him a few nightmares just imagining. Others though surrounded the mages that could make or break a battle, and so many came from Fairy Tail. The scarlet haired woman who wielded a thousand blades, cutting her way through an army in order to buy time. The salamander that took to the skies, using flames as his wings and burning away any magic sent his way. The orange haired swordsman who moved so fast that all you could keep track of was the destruction left in his wake.
Then there was his favourite. Of the man turned dragon, wielding the heavens themselves as lightning rained down without end.
How much was exaggerated was hard to say. Tales always made out people to be greater than they were. But from the moment he had been on that first train to Magnolia, nearing the station, he had felt that sensation of magical power. One that had, by the time he had reached the guild, become all-encompassing and squashing everything else beneath itself.
The tales could be exaggerated all they wanted. But there was always an element to truth to them, and seeing the dragon like body of the imposing man, and sensing that overwhelming powerful magical power, he had known that this man was strong.
He never felt that from anyone else. No one else was on the same level as Laxus. And yet with all that power, he let himself get pushed around. How often had he let himself get pushed around by the antics of Twilight Ogre? And because what, they claimed that it was them who started the fight? You'd have to be an idiot to not see they were manipulating the situation. But instead Laxus just nodded his head and agreed to deal with the issue, like they were the ones in the wrong. And each time he did so, the smug looks of those bastards would simply lead them to taking things further again and again and-
He paused, his angry thoughts scattering as he realised how long he must have zoned out for. At some point Rebecca had taken to gripping his arm, maybe to guide him or something as Laxus had led them out the city and away from its outskirts.
"Um… master? What are we doing out here?" Rebecca asked, voicing the question he also wanted answered. Laxus merely ignored her for a moment, his gaze shifting around as if looking for something.
"If I remember correctly," he heard Laxus mutter briefly, "You said something about how I'm letting them push me around? That was correct right?"
He saw Rebecca glance at him, making him know he was going to have to be the one to answer. He created this mess after all. "Yeah. I'm not wrong."
"And so you wish I would settle things with force. To teach them a lesson."
"Well… yeah. I mean you're Laxus Dreyar. Do you think they could do anything to stop you?"
He expected Laxus to argue back. He wasn't prepared for the sad look that briefly crossed the man's face, nor his words. "No. No I don't." Nor was he prepared for Laxus' actions, one hand merely flung back as if swatting a fly. And with that one action, he was blinded. Lightning had blasted out of Laxus' sky in such intense amounts that he had barely been able to make out anything, blinking rapidly as the light from the magic began to fade. He was half ready to ask what on the earth the purpose of that act even was. Right up until he saw the trail of destruction left, the ground behind Laxus where he had gestured back at torn apart and not stopping close by. He could barely make out where it ended, and even then he wasn't sure if that was it or not.
"With a mere flick, I just used up more magic than you have ever outputted in your life," Laxus stated, not a single ounce of arrogance in his voice. No, his words were spoken with such confidence that he knew Laxus was convinced he was right. And he was. "I did that as easily as breathing. And if you asked me to do it again all day I still wouldn't be close to running out of magical power. All that, done by a mere flick of my hand. So what if I actual threw a punch? Or thrust my arm out at an enemy? Or merely told the heavens to open up and reign thunder down from the sky?"
"You're beat them. Twilight Ogre. They'd be down for the count in an instant."
"No," Laxus said though, correcting him. "They'd be dead."
He felt himself freeze for a moment, having to repeat the words a few times in his head to make them clip. "What…?"
"You heard me. You think I'm pathetic or something for not fighting back? That people might think I'm weak?" Laxus merely shook his head, crossing his arms. "Tell me, did it look like they were happy when I showed up? Or did they look terrified? As if this time, the sleeping dragon they fear had been pushed too far? They are very much afraid of me, more than anything else in Magnolia."
"Then why? Why don't you merely shut them up?"
"And how will I do that? Should I rain magic down on them until they leave? Should I electrocute them until they listen to us? Perhaps I should hunt them down whenever they leave the confines of their guild, or better yet walk in there and tear it all done? Is that what you would have me do?"
"… why not? I don't understand what's wrong with that."
"Because you're treating me like you," Laxus snarled. "A kid like you can wonder where he wishes, cause whatever trouble he wants, and the blame gets laid on their guardian. Your strongest hits might break bones if you get enough speed but you have to great serious to even try that, because the difference in strength between you and them is hardly that wide. Now consider all of that but when you reach my age, where you cannot be shielded behind a guild master all the time and where your actions have consequences that yourself must deal with. And if you resist that, as many dark mages have, those strong enough to ensure justice is followed will make you listen."
"Now then, Laxus added calmly. "What happens when I act out?"
"You…" He paused, unsure of the answer he was meant to give. "You get punished too."
"The magic council." He knew this at least. "And the mayor."
"Exactly. Now then, what would happen if I decided I didn't want to accept their verdicts? What if I told them no."
"You'd be…" He paused, unsure of what to actual say. Rebecca however took a slight step forward, his eyes shifting to her as she hesitantly answers.
"Nothing. Nothing would happen. None of them have the strength to oppose you. At least not without horrible consequences."
"It seems one of you gets it at least," Laxus muttered. "If I so wished, I could go ahead and crush Twilight Ogre and get nothing more than a slap on the wrist. And even that would be merely for show. All because our guild's pride was hurt. Fairy Tail would no longer have anyone saying how weak they are nowadays. But we'd probably have more terrified of even approaching us. And I will not taint this guild by making it one that people are afraid to say its name."
"But it's not just about our pride anymore," he argued back. "They're attacking any who pick our side. If we don't fight back and stop them-"
"I have already made clear my displeasure on these matters to them. Might does not make right, not for them and not for me. Stepping in to help was never the wrong move, but you should have interfered and helped. Not turned it into an excuse to have a brawl. By doing so you gave them exactly what they love to have, an excuse to attack our guild more through whatever political channels they are currently leveraging."
"Your heart is in the right place Shiki. As is yours Rebecca stepping in to help him. But not all your problems can be solved with a solid right hook or with the barrel of a gun. They attack our name because they know that is all they can do, and by retaliating in such a massive manner, in a space where they control the information, all you allow them to do is paint you as they wish others to see you. So next time you catch them doing something you can't ignore, make sure to get out after you're done."
"Wait, you're encouraging us to act?" he asked in confusion. "But I thought-"
"That I was going to tell you to simply stop doing that? That you shouldn't help someone in need? If I did that, I might as well tear up the guild's name myself. Save them the job."
"But then what about all that?" he asked, gesturing at the destruction Laxus had caused. "With your power and all that."
"You asked me why I refused to act. Why I would simply accept their slander. But why I choose not to act when they provoke the guild is not the same as requiring us to let them do as they please to those not even involved in such matters. It never will be. But with how you were at the time, I doubted you'd really understand my words unless I showed you a taste of what pure power looks like." For a moment Laxus looked sheepish as he stared at the destruction he had caused. "Perhaps I went overboard for my point. But regardless, their words are merely that. They can throw them at us all they want but why should it matter what they think? We're Fairy Tail. Our guild hall could be a shack in the middle of the woods, the floorboards rotting, and that fact would still never change."
"I… see. I think I understand."
"If you do, that's good. If not, that's fine too. You're still a kid. As annoyed as I might be, I'm fully prepared for half you lot to make messes I need to clean up. It's basically a requirement of this job."
"So that mean we're off the hook?"
"For this, sure. For the reports I've had to read recently because of you two? Not a chance."
Protector Of The Fairies
"Come on… bit more… almost got it…" Struggling atop a ladder that simply wouldn't stop shaking, Levy stretched her fingers to their limit and managed to get them to wrap across the top of the book she was reaching for. With a triumphant smile she pulled it free… right before realising she put a bit too much force into it and her balance, precarious enough already thanks to the small stack of books she was struggling to keep trapped against her side with her other hand, shifted back slightly. It wasn't much but it was enough that a bit too much weight was placed on her bad leg, causing it to crumble beneath her and catch the top of the ladder as she fell back, dragging it with her and setting off a chain of dominos with the other books piled up a bit too high around it, and for what was not the first time she almost found herself crashing to the ground below and being buried in books.
Then, with a single word, everything around her froze. The books remained fixed in place, suspended in the air as if they were held there on strings. The ladder that had fallen with her now almost horizontal, one of its legs still pressed against the ground, froze in place. As for herself, she was held there, a few inches away from the floor.
She wasn't hurt. That was a good thing. But now she had to be extremely careful if she didn't want everything to fall on top of her. Forcing her fingers to move, she immediately felt gravity begin to return to her, her back slamming against a hazily constructed word that turned an impact against a hard wooden floor into one against a soft mattress. With another few movements from her fingers, words sprung to life, binding themselves to books and taking control of them with an ease that she should be embarrassed to brag about considering how often she found herself needing to do this. One by one the books returned to their resting places, the ladder being carefully lifted back up, and the books she had been after were left to hang in the air beside her, waiting for her to claim them or give them additional orders.
For the books she had made return, she wished she could say they were being neatly arranged on the bookcases surrounding her. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. Instead they simply remade stacks once more, the space they required unavailable on most of the bookcases here.
"I need more space," she muttered to herself, carefully pushing herself to her feet before reaching out to the side. Her staff leapt to her hands with ease, and with a few flicks of her fingers she had the books she wanted following her as she made her way back to the centre of the library she was in, leaning a bit more on the staff for support as she willed her leg to recover a bit. She tried to avoid dulling the pain where possible, in part because she was too used to blocking it out but also because she knew she'd easily forget about it if she couldn't even feel it and would end up trying to use it before it recovered to full strength again.
It had never really been the same since the war. For a year or two she had managed, barely. It had hurt. Whenever she pushed herself a bit too much, whenever she strained herself a bit more than she should to take that extra step, she had always found herself in agony the next few days. She had tried talking with Kisuke, seeing if he could do anything, but the conclusion was always the same. It was never going to get better.
She had known of course. People had told her this plenty of times. But she hadn't wanted to accept it. Had wanted to deny it even. She hadn't wanted to believe this was as far as she could go, all because her leg was failing her. But eventually she had been forced to face reality. She could strengthen her body, fly on Kikouou, fight from a distance, but the moment she tried to rely on her own two feet, she would always be betrayed by one of them. And when that happened, she became nothing more than a liability.
Retiring had not been easy. Admitting she had to stop was hard. But at least she had known that she wasn't missing out on something. Laxus was kept busy by his duties as Guild Master so he had rarely been on a quest with her in years, and even then only ones that were of the highest urgency or ones that could be completed extremely quickly. Those were always few and far in between. Ichigo meanwhile had begun pulling back from the quests around the same time she had. Sometimes she wondered if he had kept up with them for her sake, because he didn't seem to miss them when he stepped back. But then he still did have those trips he took away from the guild to keep him occupied so she guessed that had made it easier for him to deal with it.
They had managed to all fit in one last quest though. A farewell quest of sorts for Team Fairy. And as those quests always had done, it had gone a bit crazier than they had planned for. But it was never something they could have failed. Power wise, Ichigo and Laxus being present simply meant that anyone they might have to fight was severely outclassed. But it had never been about the fight. It was the fun they had wanted, simply travelling down roads, not bothering to hurry with any fancy speed techniques, and simply enjoying the adventure.
God she missed that sometimes. Sometimes she even debating trying to go out there one last time. But every time her leg would remind her how bad of an idea that would probably be and she would let herself get engrossed in a book instead. It usually worked. Books could keep her mind off other topics like nothing else. Escapism at its finest.
Though with so much free time, she had struggled in how to fill it. Money had stopped being an issue some time ago, it had taken a few years for her to finally get a proper hang on finances but with the end of her career in sight, she had been forced to consider how she would live going forward. And she might have made sure to have done a few extremely high paying quests near the end to help secure this place.
After the war, when Magnolia had begun to be rebuilt, many areas had been completely redone. The city had seen it as an opportunity of sorts. Some areas remained the same, like Kardia Cathedrial, but they were more for historical reasons more than anything. But houses, shops, canals, all of it got redone. She would be hard pressed to remember how the old city looked nowadays. But during all the construction, the mayor had come to their guild a few times to see if they had any requests of their own. In more partially, they wanted to know if they had to know if they had to make some adjustments to account for the guild like with Gildarts.
In the end, they hadn't asked for much. Rather they had ensured that the guild be near the lake once more and asked if they could consolidate the dorms to the guild itself and expand the premise. They'd agreed, but that had left a large open spot of land as a result. And she might have gotten a bit of an idea while a bit too much money was hanging around.
A few months later, after a long period of negotiation, and she had gotten this place built. A library all for herself.
Well, not exactly herself. Part of the agreement was that the public was free to visit. She kept the upper levels locked off for her own collections, knowing many of those tomes she had were old and she didn't trust others to not damage them by accident. Not that she had many people visiting though. She had been told to allow access to a general level. She had not been told to be friendly and welcoming. Nowadays her guests were either scholars searching for information, since her collections were beginning to rival the magic council's, rune knights wanting and paying her to decode books they think might be dangerous or hold some clue that they need, or the occasional brave kid who was dared to go to the home of the 'scary witch'.
The thought was enough to make her chuckle sometimes. She was the Porlyusica of their generation, but even if the reasons differed she could understand the advantage the woman had enjoyed through her reputation.
Still, every once and a while she got someone outside of the guild whose attention was actual enjoyable. As she stepped past one of the towering bookcases beside her, she found her young red haired guest for the day waiting where she had left her, shuffling anxiously in her chair and looking from side to side. The book before her had been stood up straight, giving the illusion that she was reading it intently if she was to appear suddenly from the front. Which was exactly the way she had left, knowing this stunt would happen. And why she had made sure to purposefully return from a different direction.
She paused for a moment, gesturing with a finger for the books to continue silently forward. Leaning slightly to one side on her staff, she strained her neck a bit to try and see what the girl was hiding but failed. The familiar sound of rustling gave it away though, sounding too much like a magazine to be anything else.
Shaking her head, she lifted her staff up before slamming the base of it back against the ground. The girl in front of her almost jumped out of her seat, letting out a small shriek as she knocked the book forward and the magazine she was reading slipped from her hands. Before either could hit the desk or floor respectively, she froze them in place with words before having the magazine shoot towards her open hand.
"Sorcerer weekly huh? Meet the hottest new wizards of-"
"No-no-no-no-no!" The magazine was quickly ripped from her grasp and held closely to the girl's chest. Eyes refused to meet her own, glued to the floor as she tried to hide her beat red face.
"I wondered why you seemed so distracted today. And here I thought you were interested in learning about runic equations. But then I suppose you are at that age now."
"This isn't happening," the girl before her muttered, looking like she now wanted the ground to swallow her whole. "I… I…"
Having had her fun, she moved past the embarrassed girl without another word, simply gesturing for her to follow as she took a seat back at the table, the books she had brought with her being guided to neatly arrange themselves in small piles, their spines facing towards them. She didn't say anything as the girl hastily shoved the magazine away into the bag at her feet, instead waiting for the girl to carefully grab the book she had previously been pretending to read and bring it closer to herself.
"Now, I assume you at least studied how to translate location coordinates into rune form from last time?" She got a small nod in turn, the girl's embarrassment beginning to wear off. "Good. We'll continue on that with how you can link two separate points with the same formulas next. You'll find this will greatly increase the speed that such arrays can be set up at, and most standard barriers will utilise the same core logic. Do you know why?"
The girl slowly nodded again, the topic managing to draw herself back out of the shell she had crawled into. "It's to improve reliability right? If the rules governing it originate from the same place, you can change them for all linked areas."
"Correct. And why is this important?"
"Um… because… um…" The girl's eyes glanced towards her book, as if hoping the answer would appear, before slowly looking down in defeat. "I don't know."
"That's alright. It's a few chapters later but I would have placed the knowledge earlier on if I was writing this book. It's to allow for the source of the rules being built to exist further away from the applications of them. Holes always exist but putting the logic of them at the same point of application is like telling any decent mage who can understand and write them to go wild and edit them as they wish. The most dangerous enemy for someone using runic languages is always someone who is also using them. Leave an opening and your own traps become theirs, and if they are smart you won't realise until it's too late. Got it?"
"Yeah. I think so."
"Good. Now why don't you finish reading that chapter and I'll let you read what's obviously caught your interest more today. Just don't think you can skip over anything and that I'll not notice. I'll be quizzing you next time on it."
That brought a smile to the girl's face, and without further prompting the girl had her face in the book, all her focus, for the moment at least, directed straight at the text. It was still amusing sometimes how focused the girl could be to her studies when she wasn't getting distracted.
It had been a bit of a shock with their first meeting. She had been minding her own business on the top floor when she had sensed the perimeter runes she had written around the library alert her to a new presence. She hadn't recognised it but the runes hadn't acknowledged her as a potential threat of any kind, and the secondary runes quickly identified her as a kid, so she had assumed that it had meant it was likely a dare of some kind. So she had put on the usual act, complete with a large oversized hat like the one she used to wear long ago, and sat on her staff as she hovered over the open space in the centre. That was usually where most of the kids went in these dares. They had to go to the centre and find a book to take to prove their courage.
Some never made it that far. Some chickened out and ran for the door barely a few steps in, though the fact she was just around the corner and had looked out curiously at the time had probably been the real reason for that. Other times they pushed in a bit and just grabbed a book, hoping to pretend. But even if the books they could easily find weren't as valuable as some of her others, every book in here was protected. The second they'd tried to take it out of the library, it would get caught at the door, unable to pass, and that would usually freak the kids out more and send them scattering. And the mayor couldn't exactly say much about that since all she was doing there was installing an anti-thief mechanism after having had numerous attempts from these so called thieves.
But this girl had been braver than most. She'd pushed past the purposefully darkened corridors, the light of lacrimas currently being absorbed by words she had scattered around, and she could hear the girl muttering to herself, likely idle thoughts to help keep her mind from being scared. She had waited carefully until the girl moved into the open space, watching from above where she knew the ceiling of the lower levels would hide her presence easily, until the girl reached one of the desks. The girl though hadn't reached for any of the books at first though, instead looking around carefully. Looking for her she had assumed. But the girl hadn't made any moves to take a book at first. She only began to reach for one after a minute, and even then from observing it had looked like the girl was more reaching for it out of curiosity than fear.
That was when she had acted. Dropping quietly so to not make a sound, she had landed a few feet away from the girl while her back was still to her. Then, with a practiced ease, she had cleared her through and watched the girl freeze in place.
Usually that was the point they ran away screaming. She had not been prepared for this small little girl, barely older than seven, with short red hair to spin towards her and look up at her with stars in her eyes, like she was meeting royalty of some kind.
That was close to four years ago. And this girl by the name of Shirayuki had been showing up at this library about four to five times a week, almost every week, ever since.
The girl had been a fan of hers. Her idol even. It had never been a test of courage for her. She had braved the library known to hold a scary witch all to find the woman she wanted to meet more than anything, and then barely managed to get even a few words out in their first conversation. Her next few visits had been filled with similar silences, where occasionally the beginnings of a question might get asked on Shirayuki's side, so usually she had to begin the conversation somehow.
But over time, the girl had gotten braver. She had asked about Fairy Tail, and later expressed her dream to join. She had spoken of her friends, and normally skirted around the topic of why she wasn't hanging out with them and spending so much time here. And sometimes the girl would simply just sit at a table with her and read, sometimes with a book she had eyed and asked to read nervously and other times a book that she herself had recommended to the girl.
Then, a year ago, Shirayuki had raised the question about magic. About how to learn. Or more importantly, how to learn what she wanted. She hadn't wanted something super flashy like Natsu, or something that looked impressive like Gray. She had wanted a magic far more subtle. Something she could use well. And she'd known what magic the girl had been asking to learn. She had wanted to learn solid script, just like her.
It had been flattening. Solid script wasn't exactly a magic most people made their own. At most people picked it up for a bit of fun or for an extra trick up their sleeve. And before her, no one had ever taken it as far as she had. Since then she had heard many more people had tried to pick it up, but few carried it very far. Because results were slow. Incredibly slow. She should know, she spend years working out how to prevent being disadvantaged by a lower level of magical power than those around her, as well as learning how to make a word act as she desired and how to even create them with the tiniest of controlled gestures. Reaching her level required great patience, dedication, drive, and imagination.
And that was why it wasn't the magic for Shirayuki. The girl was smart for her age, had a decent drive for her goal for a kid, had dedication considering how often she came to see her, but the girl was not the most imaginative with ideas. With the right prompting and teaching that could change, but Shirayuki thrived more on logic and imagining the applications of it whereas she was someone who stretched the boundaries of imagining an object to its limits. And one would never reach her level with solid script magic without being able to do that.
But she couldn't exactly crush the girl's dreams entirely. So she had compromised. She had taught her solid script at first, knowing that the basics were fairly easy to learn, and then linked it towards runes. It wasn't magic that was needed for runes but the foundations of any letter magic were typically the same, and it had made the girl happy. And while learning runes was trickier, due to all the letters needed to be learnt and how their meanings and properties changed in combination with others, it had been worth it. Shirayuki had taken to it quite quickly, had enjoyed it greatly and even requested herself to learn more of it over solid script, and more than once she had wondered why she was the girl's idea over Freed consider his proficiency in it. But the one time she had mentioned it Shirayuki had stormed off, stayed away for a week, then came back saying she wanted her as her teacher, not Freed. She hadn't bothered mentioning such an idea again, though thinking on Freed did remind her of his old usage of his magic.
"I was thinking. Would you like to hear some more on how rune magic can be used on a large scale? My stories of it aren't exactly anything to shout about, I understand how to use it and set it up, but I don't tend to use it in battle. I tend to have to break others' instead. So what if I invited someone down to talk to you about it? I know you don't like Freed too much but he is the foremost expert that I know, and would certainly make some time if I asked."
Shirayuki glanced up from her book, a suspicious look on her face. "You'll still teach me right?"
"Of course. But you really should hear about practical usages soon if you plan to join Fairy Tail next year. Laxus won't let you go on quests if he thinks you can't defend yourself."
"He wouldn't really know," the girl grumbled, making her distaste at hearing from Freed known.
"He would if I told him. So?"
"… fine. But you'll teach me anything I don't understand afterwards right?"
"Of course. Though to get the most out of this, I recommend reading these before next month," she said, gesturing towards the smaller pile of two books that she had brought. "They are a bit more advance than your current work but I think they will be a suitable challenge, and will give you a bit more of an idea of how separate rune fields can have individual rules applied while still being linked to a central source. I trust you won't practice anything you learn from these without my presence but if I don't see you every two days then I'll assume you were messing around and accidentally sealed yourself in a barrier and got stuck."
"It was one time," the girl muttered in embarrassment. "I was just trying to see if it could block water."
"And instead it blocked you instead. These ones are more likely to cause problems for a lot more people if you play around with them. I'm trusting you to behave. Make sure not to waste that, alright?"
"Yes Miss Levy."
"Good. I'll make arrangements for someone to visit shortly." It would be Freed. She'd already cleared it with him. The other options were merely to soften the blow but she wouldn't tell Shirayuki that. "Now go ahead and read that magazine if you want now. I noticed your eyes rereading the same sentence three times now."
"How did you… Never mind." Closing the book, taking care to place a bookmark in so she could find her place easily later, Shirayuki quickly brought back out the magazine and placed the three books she was allowed to take into her bag in its place. With an excited smile she was skimming through the pages, finding where she had left off before getting engrossed in the articles. Looking over the girl's shoulder slightly, she could see mention of a quest to an old temple up north in the country of Seven. Thinking about it, didn't she get a request to translate a journal around a month ago that seemed to have that country's style of runes? Guess the magic council had then outsourced this job once they got the information from her if the two were indeed linked.
Soon enough though, the girl was pushing the magazine hastily away into her bag, time having flown away from the both of them once again. Usually she would simply let her leave at this point, only escorting her back when it got too dark out or if there was a bit of unrest in the city, but something had been bothering her for a bit. The same thing that she was always hesitant to poke at too much with this girl, least she intrude too much.
"Any reason you're didn't read this earlier after school or with your friends? I've told you that I don't expect you here immediately after your lessons finish you know?"
Shirayuki paused as she slung her back over her shoulder, one hand tightly grasping it, and she prepared to simply let the matter go once again. At least she was going to until she noticed how the girl's other hand was tugging at that same sleeve, as if trying to pull it further down.
She let out a long sigh, having a good idea what this was about. She had left this matter alone too much. "Was it because of one of the boys or one of the girls?"
"What? It's nothing."
She shook her head, not falling for Shirayuki's attempts at deflection. Especially when her words had come out like a squeak. "Let me see."
"What are you talking about? I told you it's nothing."
Looking like she wanted to be anywhere but here, Shirayuki glanced around a few times, almost on reflex, before carefully loosening her grip on her bag's strap and letting her reach out to roll up the sleeve of her arm. She didn't have to pull it up far to see the ugly bruise there."
"Like I said, was it because of one of the boys or one of the girls?"
"… wasn't so much them… but some people they knew. They said some stuff… and I said some stuff back. They don't like hearing the name Fairy Tail much."
They hurt Shirayuki for merely this? That kind of overreaction was… Oh. She had to actually focus for a moment on just her breathing, allowing herself to count to ten slowly so she could keep her anger in check. Because of course the only ones who took the name Fairy Tail as a means to lash out in Magnolia began with Twilight and ended with Ogre.
"If they bother you again, you'll let me know immediately. No pretending like it's nothing and trying to hide it. I don't care what you tell your parents but if they touch you again, I'll be making sure they don't do it a third time."
"You don't have to. I know it'll cause trouble."
She scoffed. She knew the girl was worried about potential repercussions but at this point Magnolia was used to the unofficial underground spats going on between the two guilds. Fines had been levied on both of them but it had hardly been enough to stop the issue when one side kept egging their members on to cause as much harm for them as possible. And Laxus couldn't exactly solve the problem with brute force, no matter how much he might want to, because that was an easy way to make it look like they were the ones in the wrong.
"Even so, it's hardly going to be the last of them trying to throw their weight around. It's bad enough if they are harming members of Fairy Tail, but I won't stand for them harming children who merely want to join. They do anything again, and I'll make sure they know to leave you alone. So promise me alright?"
"I will. Goodnight Miss Levy."
She let the girl rush off, hoping that she would actual keep that promise. Shirayuki was normally good for her word. Unless she thought keeping her word would cause trouble, in which case she kept her mouth shut. Still, she was sure she could make sure Twilight Ogre listen to reason. And if reason failed, there was always the Fairy Tail way.
She was retired, not weak. A few mages with more arrogance filling their brains than ideas were hardly a challenge after everything she'd fought in her life.
Protector Of The Fairies
"I'm telling you, if I go back to my people with this kind of deal they will be out for blood."
"We've been lenient enough as it is, and we did this out of good faith August."
"After you cut our mages down to a mere fraction of their total size."
"Your armed mages. And don't pretend like you don't know damn well what the reason was for."
"It has been years since that. I would have thought you would have more trust in my word if nothing else Jura."
Jura pinched his forehead with one hand, his other hand tightly gripping the table in an attempt to keep his frustrations out of his voice when he next spoke. "I didn't trust you much then, and I was happy to be proven wrong. You have kept Alvarez in check, and that has gone a long wait to helping to reassure the general public of your own good intentions. In turn we have worked hard to press the right image of you as ruler. The wise advisor turned emperor, who tried once to keep the power hungry tyrant in check. People are starting to like you in Ishgar, but let's not pretend like they have forgotten the single largest war of the last few hundred years. People are still wary of Alvarez. And if your numbers of employed mages increases-"
"They will think we're rearming. I'm no fool. But with such a large reduction of our forces, it has become difficult to hold together Alvarez. My kingdom is one that was united through blood and conquest, where the strongest reigned supreme. And that history is also too recent for many to forget. With Zeref, or Spriggan as they know him, gone there have been countless groups who saw this as an opportunity. I've picked up talent where I can but the ones most capable of keeping things in check were the other Spriggan 12. And we lost too many of them."
"We've offered to send aid in the past-"
"Aid?" August scoffed before slamming his fist against the table in anger. "Your aid is one of your wizard saints! That only amplifies the problem, as all those groups see is that Alvarez has weakened so much as to require foreign help to crush dissenters. What is needed is for Alvarez to solve Alvarez's problems, with its own strong, but we can't do that if you will oppose any increases to our allowed forces. This is not a problem that will go away if left alone. You lot will get away from it fine but across if Alvarez breaks, there will be war across the entire continent. I thought you'd be opposed to that at least."
"I am!" snapped Jura, letting out a sigh as he did his best to pull his temper back in. "But you run the risk of damaging the international trust you need oh so well. The position on the Magic Council is to support you where possible but we are not a dictatorship here. If the public was to call for our removal due to desired differences in policy, we would have to step aside least we corrupt the very organization we lead. And trust me when I say that there are plenty of wannabe mages looking to advantage their career with the right words and right promises. There isn't as much fearmongering as there was in the first two years but there are still fringe groups out there trying to push for more extreme actions."
"We aren't asking for much. Our forces would be allowed to grow by twenty percent next year. Let us move that to now and we'll adjust how it's displayed. The adoption of the guild systems is still undergoing and is gaining traction but we need another two to three years before it fully takes off since too many see the route of mages to be equivalent as joining our armed forces. Until that time we can't rely on our own freelancers like you lot can, but once it gets going our forces will not need to grow. And if that is not enough to convince the people of Ishgar, lean on your own mages. I may be a powerful but I am old and far past my physical prime. I'm sure you can name a few people who could not only kill me if I was to pull something but also tear through whatever forces I can muster."
"We're… trying to not lean on that much," Jura admitted. "It'd be easy to go ahead and say that if Alvarez was to act up then it wouldn't matter because we could just send someone like Ichigo or Laxus down your way. But that very fact scares a lot of people. People prefer to be able to think of them as exceptional war heroes, mages of unparalleled calibre, and not of weapons of mass destruction that make a mockery of the most well equipped forces known in the world."
"I'd say that's wasted potential, but then I do understand there is a difference in how your mages are seen. In Alvarez that kind of power might have made them gods to some of the religions out there." Sighing, August let himself relax into his chair and closed his eyes. "Let us put aside these matters for the moment. I sense we may not get anywhere today, as it is already getting late. We will have more time to discuss this tomorrow. Shall we proceed to the more urgent reason we gathered?"
"I'd prefer to wait a bit longer if you don't mind," requested Jura calmly, glad to finally move away from the previous topic. It was not an aspect he very much enjoyed, but unfortunately it had been one he had to undertake far too often. The price he had to pay as the current Chairman of the Magic Council.
It was not a job he had initially intended to gain, nor one he had ever been able to imagine himself owning in his youth. Back then even the title of wizard saint had been ambitious. But with the restructuring of the magic council by her Majesty, Hisui E Fiore, there had been a need to reinstate trust and strength to the council. The people had wanted strong leadership in its new form, and eyes had been on those that made lasting impressions in the war whose tales were spread back to the cities their frontlines guarded. And out of all of them, he was the one seen as the most fitting to head up the new council. He had not been lacking in strength, the public had liked him, and when given the offer he had found his attachment to his guild had not been so strong that he would dismiss the claim outright.
Perhaps that was why Hisui had chosen him. There were stronger mages for sure, but they were unsuitable for various reasons. Some retreated away and weren't interested in the affairs of Ishgar beyond their own homes. Some simply couldn't bear to leave the responsibilities they had. Some were legally allowed to hold high positions but would never hold the trust needed. And some were simply too new when it came to their reputation compared to his own.
Still, his first choice would have been Warrod. He had even suggested as much, as he was the one god of Ishgar that been generally reliable and decently known. But he, along with Ouetsu and that monk Ichibei, had all vanished since the end of the war. Sure, he heard rumours of Warrod once in a while, and in a pinch he was sure he could find Ouetsu as the man had likely set up shop somewhere permanent, but the fact they had left when they did showed they were not interested in leading any further than they already had. And he hadn't even heard anything of Ichibei, the man had vanished like a ghost just as quickly as he had arrived, and if he knew little about him then the public knew even less.
He'd finally turned his hopes to some of the generals of the Rune Knights but they had not been willing to take the job. But for various reasons none wanted the job, and so with no other valid candidate he had found himself agreeing to take the role, just as the Queen had wanted. After that, filling out the wizard saints was a trivial matter. They merely had to be able to act for him on occasion, and held far fewer responsibilities outside of showing a good image of the magic council's available strength.
"You seem tired. Has the matter been keeping you from resting?"
He gave a small node at hearing August's words, not bothering to hide how stressed all of this was making him currently. "It's hard enough running things day to day. Then Ichigo turns up out of the blue three years back saying he's found something odd and wants some help looking into it. I'd hoped the days of trouble that makes him worried would be behind us, but I guess the world never likes meeting our expectations."
"We're still in the process of entering a new era, one where we have yet to understand the full ramifications of," August pointed out. "The age of Ouken and a conscious will of magic is past us, along with a world that was shattered and remade. I've found things that once behaved as expected have begun to change, even in what one might consider minuscule."
"And one of those is what you wanted to bring here today?"
"It is," August replied seriously. "There's been some unusual activity in the old city of Mildian."
Jura frowned, laying his hands against the table. "I'm not familiar with that city I'm afraid. You said this relates somehow?"
"The city is old, and the religion in it even older," August provided. "It's where one of the former Spriggan 12, Dimaria Yesta, originated from. Her power originates from an entity she housed from within that city, a god called Chronos. And that god's power has always had a strong effect on that city. One could say you could enter it at different points in your life and still feel like it is the same city. Rather fitting for the home of a god of time."
Jura blinked a few times before his eyes narrowed in realisation. "And there's unusual behaviour happening in the city?"
"To the city more than anything," elaborated August. "Not easily noticeable at times, and many that passed through didn't realise. But I've had experience with time magic. I can use a bit myself, though nothing fancy these days, but when you've used even a bit of it then it makes you more sensitive to changes. And the time of that city is… not entire wrong, but wrong in areas. As if half the city in in the present, another third of it is in the past by a month, and the rest scattered around ranges from anywhere from five months to one hundred years out of sync."
"And that has never happened to the city before? You said it has an odd nature."
"For all Chronos' power, he's not capable of this. Parts of the city are too far back, too out of sync with the rest of the area his power should be covering, and the kind of power to send anything that far back is… well, astronomical. We fought a war for that same source. Speaking of which, I'd recommend having her inspect the site. She will undoubtedly be able to find anything I may have missed."
"She'll be here with Ichigo later to drop off the latest report they gathered so feel free to ask. I can't guarantee when they will have a chance, but if you think its urgent then they will probably be able to make some time quickly. I should warn you though that there may be more pressing issues that they may need to deal with first. When I last spoke to them, they seemed worried. I'm almost afraid to see what they found, but we might be gaining a lead." Jura paused for a moment as he glanced at August. "It's in bad taste to ask this after our previous topic, but you'll help if you can once we find the source right?"
"This and that are separate matters. Alvarez may not be able to aid but I certainly will. This threatens both our homes equally with how random this entity strikes. Though I won't be opposed to you selling this as good publicity for Alvarez if given the option."
"Unfortunately this is an off the record kind of operation," Jura said with a sigh. "Probably for the better though. Don't want people worrying too much about something we barely even understand yet."
Protector Of The Fairies
Taking a small sip from the cup he had before him, Shunsui let himself savour the liquid for a moment as he sat in front of the grave. "Been a while hasn't it Juushirou. Brought something good today. Got it from Crocus on my way back. That same old place you liked to visit from time to time, work permitting as you would always say." Taking the bottle he had brought with him, he set another glass in front of the grave and poured a bit into it. "I know you'd say doing this is a waste, but then you never did drink much of this stuff anyway. Your health never gave you much chance, yet you tried to pass it off as you liking this stuff. Even though we both knew that this was my favourite wine."
Sighing, he shook his head fondly. "I seem to always be reminiscing whenever I come to see you. Suppose I'm getting a bit too old. Can't really think about retiring anytime soon though. Still can squeeze out another decade I'd say. Might give me some time to think about what I might do in the future once all is said and done. Perhaps my days will be spend like this, simply relaxing on a porch or something. Could be worse retirements really."
He sighed, his eyes glancing down at the glasses for a moment. "Been years now and it's still not the same really. We both knew you didn't have long left at all. It was a miracle really that you lasted a few months longer after the toll Mimihagi took on you. But I thought I was prepared for you to disappear from my life again. You did it once, I'd hoped the second time would be easier. It isn't."
Downing the rest of his glass, he poured more into his cup and took another few sips, beginning to feel something from it. He normally liked that fine line between being tipsy, or on more serious days merely feeling a slight buzz, and losing control but sometimes he was willing to deal with the headache it would cause later to help for moments like these. "Probably shouldn't drink so much," he muttered. "I know you'd be worried, but it's only really bad on days like these. Things are moving in the magic council but my responsibilities are limited nowadays. I like it that way. Peaceful times are always more preferred. But it's also easier for memories to catch up on you. Sometimes I wonder how Isshin does this, but then I remember his girls and Ichigo are to him what Nanao is to me. You know she was getting on my case recently about the paperwork I let build up. It's an old complaint at this point but she's still as strict on me as ever. Yet she lets me lazy around half the time because she knows I can afford to. It's an odd feeling, but enjoyable.
"Perhaps she should replace me in the future," he mused for moment, taking another swig from his glass. "She'd do well I think. Bit by the book at times, but people like that are needed sometimes. Though she'll need a joker hanging around that is too skilled to afford to chuck away, else I fear she'll become too rigid with rules and regulations. Perhaps I can find some new talent in the recent recruits. Occasionally we get some gems in there, but if there isn't I'm sure I can find someone with a decent bit of potential at any rate. Might give me something good to focus on really."
He paused, picking up a familiar magical power arriving in the vicinity even through his mind's haze. "Ah. Wonder if that's trouble or not," he muttered, reaching into requip space and pulling out two more glasses. Setting them down beside him, he poured a small amount into one glass and filled the other closer to the brim, careful to not spill any before he poured the last bit into his own. Was that all of it already? Disappointing but this was why he made sure to only bring one. He knew it never took him long to go through it.
"You here to pay your respects?" he asked as he heard footsteps reach him, gesturing out with one hand towards the glasses beside him. "Sit, join me. It's been a while hasn't it Ichigo?"
"I saw you last week."
"Did you now? That's interesting. I saw you four and a half months ago."
"Told you," he heard Mavis mutter, the girl appearing in his line of sight for a moment as she carefully grabbed the full glass, bringing it to her lips slowly so to not spill a single drop. It still made him pause a few times that she was the heavier drinker of the two, but he had yet to ever see her get any ill effects from it so for her perhaps it was the same as juice. He could certainly even that particular ability. "I thought things seemed off when we arrived. Jura seemed a bit too relieved to hear from us a few days ago, especially considering how he was expecting bad news."
You missed five check-ins if that helps. We weren't too concerned about the first two, after the fourth we had solid reason to be concerned."
"Shit," Ichigo muttered, taking his own glass and quickly downing the small amount in one go "Explains a bit. Knew I spotted something when we were travelling. It must have thrown us off a bit from our intended destination."
"Well there is some time before Jura will be summoning you I reckon. Hopefully your trip was productive?"
"We'll find out soon enough." Ichigo joined him for a moment, taking a seat beside him and staring at the grave. "Yo Juushirou. Been a bit."
"That's the best greeting you've got?"
"I was here not that long ago, I don't even have much to report to him. Not that he would want me to much anyway. I'm a large chunk of guilt in his later years."
"I know," he muttered softly. "You know he mentioned you a lot in those old days. Never was good at forgiving himself, and I think when he knew his time was ending those hit harder than before."
"I was there for some of it, I do know," he shot back, though there wasn't much bite to his tone. "I haven't ever held it against him. I hope he did accept that at the end."
"I'm sure he did." Smiling softly, he pushed himself up, storing the now empty glasses away after quickly drinking what he had left for Juushirou. "Well we should get back to today's business. Nanao will only allow me so much leniency here before she drags me away, and Jura will only be so patient before he has half of us attempting to drag you to him for an update." Pausing as he turned to leave, his steps a bit shaky but not something he was at all unused to, he gave the two a brief smile. "Congrats for coming back safely at any rate. Let us hope these peaceful days stay as such, eh?"
Protector Of The Fairies
"I'm telling you, the beaches at Caracole are great. Half the girls are the guild say so, and really I have not gotten away in a long time. Let's go on a vacation for a week or two Toushirou. It'll be fun."
"You realise I'm not much of a fan of hot weather Karin?"
"You're not a big fan of cold weather either so don't try that excuse," she shot back at him, arms crossed. "Plus it's not like you can't cool yourself down. Just make a bit of ice if you need to. There could be worse uses for your magic, I'll tell you that."
"And if I said I don't like beaches?"
"Try again. Come on, you know it'll be fun. Besides, I know you're free. Any wizard saint stuff Jura wanted you doing is clear for the next two months unless something urgent comes up, and if it does there are others who can handle it. Besides, if we don't do this soon we'll miss out chance again. The guild's pretty quiet at the moment, and I'd be nice to get a bit of a tan so I'll look nice at the wedding."
"You'll look nice as you are."
"That's nice of you to say," she shot back with a smile. "But I also know you're saying that to get out of this too. Come on, please? We can go somewhere you want next time."
Toushirou sighed, but she knew just from the sound of it that it was one of defeat. She tried not to let her smile grow wider though the look he gave her indicated that it hadn't exactly gone unnoticed. "One week max. That includes travel time."
"Eh, that's hardly an issue. No point paying for a boat when we can get there faster air walking instead. I'll call later on tonight and book us in at one of the nice hotels Kaguya mentioned."
"You haven't already booked it?"
She heard that sass, and a quick elbow to the side was enough to get her own back. "I know well enough to ask first."
"Only because of that weekend trip you booked once that I was away for."
"Yeah… kind of sucked they kept my deposit on that."
"You could have gone."
"And looked like a loner? That place would have been full of couples Toushirou. I would look like I had been stood up, and the pitying looks I would have received from the staff would have been torture." She sighed, shaking her head a bit. "Remind me never to try and organise surprise stuff for you. You're terrible at attending them."
"It would help if you warned others ahead of time to not invite me out if you want to keep it secret."
She merely nodded a bit in response, seeing his point but still finding it a pain to have to double check everyone who might potentially invite Toushirou out somewhere when she had a surprise planned. They should realise by now that stuff like birthdays and anniversaries should be off limits for them unless they checked with her first. She was his freaking girlfriend for crying out loud. It should be obvious she got dips on the dates of those events.
Well, things were better than they were. At least she didn't have to fight for her boyfriend's time with her brother. Toushirou was still fast to meet up with Ichigo whenever he was around but those times weren't as common as they once were.
"So your father," Toushirou said to her, drawing her attention back in, "What kind of mood can we expect tonight? I'm never quite sure whether he is going to hug me or strangle me at these dinners."
She scoffed. "You think I'm much of an expert? I'm his daughter and I still struggle sometimes. But… he mentioned Yuzu… so I think he'll be more playful than usual."
She saw Toushirou wince a bit, knowing that it meant Isshin would likely be over attached and playing up his antics more than usual. At times like those, it would be fairly common for him to say stuff to Toushirou like, 'How dare you steal my precious little girl from me' and 'I won't accept you as my son in law', jumping around the room like he's a hyperactive toddler.
But while the antics were annoying, they were also familiar. She grew up with his craziness. It always made her think back to those younger years. And if Yuzu had taken a bad turn today, that familiar craziness was good at grounding her.
It hurt sometimes, knowing how hard Yuzu found things. Physically, she could manage day to day. Any strenuous activity put a burden on heart and normally required her to rest for long periods afterwards, but so long as she was careful she was able to move about easily. She was a frequent presence in the guild, helping her out with the more difficult admin side of being a guild master, and while her ability to hold magic was all but gone, she was still able to draw out energy from around her for emergencies if she felt she was in danger or merely wanted a little help with a task. Mentally though, that was another matter entirely.
Most days Yuzu got out of bed fine, went to work, chatted with other guild members, and went home and cooked dinner for whoever was around that day. But others, she woke up screaming. She would cling to her blankets, trying to stay silent so her sobs didn't wake anyone, while burying her head into her pillows in a hope to forget. She wouldn't turn up at Mermaid Heel those days, would be lucky if she left her bed, let alone her room, and would hardly respond to anyone.
The doctors they'd had come see hadn't been sure of the cause, figuring she had suffered something traumatic during the war. A lot of help that had been, they had put those dots together from the start. But it was her father, always so serious when they talked about stuff like this, that realised what it probably was.
Yuzu's power, as uncontrollable as it was now, was to take in the souls of the deceased and borrow their strength. But with it came memories and experiences, and she had expired a takeover of the worst kind at the hands of her own mother, one she had utterly adored and had that image shattered into a thousand pieces. That itself would have taken its own tool, but it was the final blow of her injuries that made things worse. Her magic was weak, but the power of the scrift still resided in her. And with her control over it not as strong as it once was, it was easy for her to subconsciously reach out in her dreams, when her control slipped away from her grasp, and to experience a living nightmare where she became incapable of separating herself from the experiences she was viewing.
Days like those, they were lucky if they managed to get Yuzu talking properly with them, and that was if her father could even draw Yuzu out of her room in the first place. The kind of souls that slipped in through those cracks were always tormented ones, people who had experienced some kind of suffering in their life that had let them to linger more strongly than others, and the worst were the quincy souls who she had a more natural tendency to draw in. When a particularly gruesome set of memories hit, it could take Yuzu hours to be able to ground herself back in her own life. And there was no shortage of those from the war.
During times like these, it was honestly a relief that their father could be around so much. With the changeup in the magic council and the war over, he had officially retired, finally free to leave after being dragged back in all those years ago when they were too young to even remember, and had moved to live near Mermaid Heel so he could stay close with them. Yuzu had been all for it, pushing for them all to live together even for a short while, and their dad had gone ahead and bought a massive place with space for all of them, even for Ichigo on the occasions where he visited. All of that had meant they had both been there when the first of the nightmares hit, and seen the first of those early days with Yuzu.
If it wasn't for her father being able to keep an eye on Yuzu in times like these, she was sure she would have never ended up moving in with Toushirou. Yuzu probably knew that too, she hadn't exactly been subtle with her hints of how much she approved of the offer when she had been considering it, and she knew that if their father hadn't been around, she would have said no. She would have felt too concerned about Yuzu to risk finding out about her attacks too late. But as long as their father was around, she knew he'd Yuzu would be safe.
She still felt guilty though. It felt like she was running away sometimes. She hated how she couldn't even help her own twin, and worst was how Yuzu would not even try to blame her. No, her sister was too good at putting on a brave face, right until everything became too much, the pain was too much, and she tried to escape it permanently.
"Toushirou, you haven't had any luck right? In finding out anything?"
It'd been a while since she had made this request. Yuzu wasn't as bad as she had been at her lowest but the longer she had her power as it was, the more risk there was of her returning to such a dark place. She'd pulled as many strings as she could with her connections as guild master but had yet to have any real luck finding anything substantial that might help Yuzu. So she'd asked Toushirou to find out what he could in the magic council, whether in their libraries or on his missions. Nothing had turned up so far but there was always a chance the last mission had found some kind of lead.
Unfortunately it was the same answer as always. A shake of the head. "I'm sorry," Toushirou said to her, and she knew from his tone what kind of expression she had on her face right now. "Most information usually relates to the sealing of one's internal magical power. There's simply not enough on stopping someone accessing external power, and her condition in the first place doesn't help."
"I know… just wish there was something we could do."
Toushirou frowned for a moment, trying to hide whatever he was thinking, but she caught the look he had before he could. "What is it?"
"… probably nothing."
"But it's something right?"
"Maybe? I spoke to Ichigo about this last time I saw him. He mentioned something about Wendy."
"Chelia's friend? Haven't seen her visiting the guild much recently."
"Yeah. He said he wanted to check on something with her. An idea he was considering now rather than before."
A brief speck of hope blossomed in her mind, one she didn't want to let die just yet but felt completed to ask least her hope be for nothing. "She could do something? With that strange magic of hers?"
"I don't know. Ichigo seemed to think it might be possible, but he'd have to check with her first. He'd not sure how the magic is perceived, so I didn't want to mention anything if I could help it. Plus with him being gone for a while now I'm not sure whether he's had a chance to ask yet."
"Why don't we go and ask ourselves then?"
"I would have but Wendy's… difficult. The way she looks at you, the way she talks sometimes, it's easy to feel unsettled. That hurts her when she noticed. And she always notices. Ichigo's one of the few people she's still able to easily interact with, so I figured he'd be the best person to handle it. Course then he went off the grid so I didn't know whether to wait a bit longer or not, and then time slipped away."
"He would just when we need him. Typical," Karin muttered before changing gears. "Alright, it's decided then. If he's not back by the wedding, we'll ask Wendy there instead."
Toushirou nodded at her and she let the idea of the plan working fill with joy for the moment, dragging her boyfriend along with a smile on her face. She hoped nothing would tear it away later, that Yuzu would be alright this night and that she'd get to see her.
If not, she might just get impatient and rush over to Magnolia there and then. She could deal with a creepy girl if it meant her sister would be able to keep smiling.
Protector Of The Fairies
"Yuzu, dinner will be ready soon."
She should answer properly. The words to acknowledge her father should be easy to say. They normally were. But as she opened her throat, the words she wanted to utter didn't emerge. Instead came out nothing, barely a chance from this morning, and so she knocked on the door she was standing before instead, a familiar pattern ringing out that told her father she'd heard him. She heard a small sigh from behind the door, one she wasn't meant to hear really, and she felt even guiltier as she heard his footsteps retreating down the hall.
She didn't like disappointing him. She knew he'd never ask her to push herself too hard on these days either. But she hated her own weakness that caused this regardless of what he might say. She wanted to just rip open the door, march down the stairs, take over the cooking herself, because despite improvements her dad was still hardly at her own level, and put on the smile she usually had.
But she couldn't. Not when her dreams last night had been of a blood soaked battlefield, on white walls in a city she didn't know, where she slaughtered thousands of black cloaked figures in attire like that her brother and Karin used to favour.
She had a faint idea what the place was. It wasn't the first time she had seen the place. Quincy souls were easily drawn to her, and just as many Quincy died in that place as Shinigami did. The Seireitei, the fortress city of the Shinigami of old, and nowadays nothing more than a ruin. And last night, she was one of the individuals making it as such.
Coming back from such… nightmares was never easy. She woke up screaming at first, thinking she was still there. She would jump at the shadows her room cast, still thinking someone was going to stab her the moment she let her guard down. Sometimes she'd spent an hour in the shadow under the water wishing for the feeling of blood on her body to go away, and that was if she could even leave her bed to try and force herself to response to things.
Over the years she'd learned a bit how to make it easier. Her room had always felt like hers, but nowadays she had filled it to the brim with stuff. It was messy. There were hundreds of photos covering her walls, the original colour of them barely peeking through the gaps between them, that featured her in various stages of her life, from baby photos to those of her training when she was young to those taken after the war. Toys she had liked, stuffed animals she had collected, all of them were scattered around the place to the point she had to be careful not to trip on anything. Clothes hung off various furniture, still kept neatly so she could wear them easily but left in such a way she could visibly recognise each of them, and her wardrobe was always left wide open to showcase the rest.
That was the sight which greeted her every morning. A room whose presence was so utterly jam packed with nothing but her. And on those days where she struggled to pull herself back together, she was in a room where any stimulus that it provided was of herself and no one else.
It didn't always work. Sometimes the memory was too overpowering. Sometimes there was a link from the memory to something still in her room. But in most cases it did.
Leaving the room however… she struggled to do so afterwards. Her room was the safest space for her in these times. The rest of the house… well, it was basic really. She could see the touches of her father in places, the preferences of Karin in others, and even some aspects in a few places that she knew Ichigo had occasionally had a hand in such as the room he used or the odd gift or two from him. But… there was also their mother's presence.
It wasn't noticeable. Her father tended to keep anything relating to her mother in his own room, keeping it out of sight from her. He knew how hard those memories of her were from the war, and in times where she was trying to ground herself the last thing he knew she needed was a reason to try and escape from being herself. Because it always did hurt when she saw something of her mother's after knowing what she had become.
It wasn't fair on her father that he had to do this. To have to pretend like her mother had never been present in his life. And she hated how she was to blame for his reason for doing so. But a part of her was still grateful. But not everything could be hidden. She had been possessed by her mother's spirit for a time, and while she had seen the terrible warped state she had become through Yhwach's actions she had also seen her more basic traits. How she acted, how she talked, stuff like that. Little things that lead her to recognise that the way her father had the table positioned or the sofas angled had the touches she could have only taught him or that he had taught her. Regardless of which, the connection remained, invisible to only her in her hyper aware states, and she usually had to excuse herself when it became too much.
People helped distract her a bit though. She thought she remembered her father saying earlier that Karin was bringing over Toushirou tonight. That would be nice. There would be arguments between Karin and their father, ones that would always seem heated but never in bad taste, and Toushirou would likely be caught between a rock and a hard place as he tries to bat off her father's attempts of overprotectiveness while also not wishing to be a source of entertainment for Karin for more than necessary. Those nights quickly turned into chaos, to the point she'd be able to think of nothing but that. And she loved those nights on days like these.
Listening closely, she was sure she could even hear Karin and Toushirou arriving. Her father's loud and rambunctious voice echoed up through the house, causing her to smile briefly at the inevitable trouble he was about to face from Karin, and with that in mind she tried to reach for the door. It took a few tries. Her hands shook a bit and she had to force herself to take a few deep breathes to try and calm herself down. But finally she was able to reach for it, gripping it tightly as she tried out a few smiles until she found the one she knew would set her sister a bit more at ease. Karin would never truly feel assured on these days, always watching her with one quite closely.
It was fair to do though. Her room was filled with memories but others had also gone through it to make sure there was an absence of anything sharp or dangerous. She didn't like the memories she had of some of the early days where things were especially bad, before she had gotten her coping mechanisms in place. And some of those days had been… well, it was the reason she had to at least response in some way to her father when he was checking up on her. Otherwise he'd barge in out of concern, afraid of what he might find again.
She hoped none of those days would come again. If she could cut off her power from her she would. But it was her scrift doing the heavy lifting, not her, and she could hardly control it anymore. She didn't even know how to begin cutting something like that loose.
She'd heard her brother telling their father once that he wished he still had the ability to help. How the fragment of power that he'd gotten from Yhwach could have done something potentially, especially with Uryuu's assistance. But those days were long gone, and they'd yet to work out a way to seal away the power of a Quincy that didn't result in the user's death.
It didn't mean all hope was gone though. The last time Ichigo had been here, she had heard from up the stairs, spoken at a time she was sure they thought she was asleep, how that girl in Fairy Tail might be able to do something. The one Chelia was friends with.
Perhaps it'd work. Perhaps it'd be another failure. But those could be thoughts for another time. For now she'd do her best to try and forget everything but those downstairs. So with all the will she could muster, she opened the door and took a step out into the landing for the first time that day.
The smiles she got when she finally made it downstairs ten minutes later made all the effort worth it.
Protector Of The Fairies
"Will she be alright doctor?"
The doctor in question merely gave a brief smile, not able to turn away from his patient much as he worked but trying to reassure the father of the girl he was trying to save. Truthfully, the girl's condition was not dangerous. Well, not dangerous in his view. This disease in the past might have wiped out dozens of children in these rural villages, the few spared only due to isolation from any possible carriers, but in the past few decades it was rare to find a case of this. It was his bad luck that it would begin resurfacing near the closest village to his home but by the time he had arrived, at the insistence of a few desperate parents willing to pay him anything to save their children, he had been able to determine his course of action.
Left untreated, death was inevitable. A skilled healer could hit the infection early enough, and even some specialised medicine could do wonders. This village had none of that but it had him. Healing was still something he found odd, but it wasn't difficult. Not compared to revival or even the creation of new life. The child before him might have died left untreated but the moment he stepped into this room, she was saved in his eyes.
Letting the bright glow dim, he watched for a moment as the light was drawn back to a black ring on one of the fingers of his sole remaining hand. He knew the people of this village stared sometimes. Some bold kids would even run up to him and ask what happened to his right arm, whether he lost it in some kind of adventurer. The parents simply came to their own conclusions, believing he had suffered during the war on Ishgar. To the people of this land, an entire continent away, it must have felt like such an odd thing to see what they believed to be a casualty of such affairs. And it was in his best interests to let them think as such too.
"She'll be fine now," he said after a moment, briefly confirming he was right before making to stand. "If that is all, I have some affairs I need to put in order here before returning home."
"Of course. Thank you so much. If there is anything I can do to repay you-"
"It's no problem. Just give me a good deal when I'm next in town and we'll say we're even, alright?" Barely waiting to hear a response, he made his way through the interior of the house and out through the front door, still left slightly ajar from the father's haste to drag him in. Outside he saw a woman waiting with two kids, and knowing her request easily he leaned down and checked the two boys over. A quick smile and a shake of his head put her worries at ease, the boys being lucky to have avoided infection, and with that his job finally came to an end.
"You've got my orders ready?" he asked to the sole other person left, a stranger he was not too familiar with in the village so far. Apparently he was the village's new chief but he hadn't know him long, maybe about six months, and he frequently alternated where he went fairly often so this was only the third meeting he had with the man since the previous chief died. The man did a decent job at living up to his predecessor, but he was always so nervous about his own thoughts. He'd hardly call the man a leader but maybe that would change over time.
As it stands, it was too easy to push the man around if he felt busy and needed someone to take over a few duties for him. Whether that was a good thing or not was left to be seen. "You got everything I needed right?"
"I… I believe so?"
"If you're answering me with a question, I'll take that as a no," he muttered, annoyed at the extra hassle he'd have to deal with. A quick check confirmed that he only had half of what he had been after, but if he leveraged his actions here today next time he was done he was sure to get some of this stuff more easily in the future. "It'll do though. Alright, I'm heading back while there is still light. I might be busy the next few days so if it can wait, leave it until I'm next back a week from now to check on things. If anyone takes a turn for the worst though, come get me immediately. Understand?"
"Perfectly eh… sir?" The chief muttered, caught between trying to sound respectful or not to what could only be seen as orders. "Oh, I should mention that someone was asking about you today Dragneel."
He paused a few steps from leaving, not bothering to turn back but his continued presence was enough of an indicator for the chief to continue. When the chief didn't though, he prompted the man himself. "Did he have a message?"
"Yeah. Said he'd see you on the way back. I told him he could wait but he seemed a bit hesitant. Helps really though. I'm not sure the others would be happy with an outsider nearby right now. Too easy to blame the disease on him you see."
"This messenger. Did they give a name?"
"Just said they were family. Didn't look like it though. Hair was too different."
"I see. Thank you. I'll be on my way then."
"Ah, sure. Take care Dragneel!"
With a brief wave behind him, mostly for the eyes he could see peering out of windows, he left the town behind and began the long trek back home. With just a bit of magic, he could easily traverse the shadows and be there in no time. But he liked the exercise. It was peaceful. Quiet.
And it kept him from going anywhere where he might be tempted to do anything he was trying to distance himself from.
He had to walk further than he expected before he finally found the man waiting for him, finally coming into sight not too far from his home. But that wasn't much of a surprise. He was sure his stench was all over the place so a dragon's nose would have no problem picking it up when they were this close. And for his brother, that smell would be something he'd be able to identify with ease once he caught the trail.
Somehow he'd expected Natsu to look different after so long. His younger brother certainly did look older, no longer than of a young adult but now of a man entering the prime of his years. He certainly looked stronger than before, but not much had changed beyond that. His attire might be different but his arms were still left bare from a lack of sleeves, and any attempt at a buttoned up shirt must have long since been lost since he still seemed to wear them opened up, the buttons on this one appearing more like decoration. The only real difference was the hair, grown longer and a bit wilder, but he wasn't sure whether that was a natural choice or from having been away from a barbers for too long.
There wasn't that familiar scarf he had grown used to seeing Natsu wear though. That was enough of an oddity in itself, as unless he had remembered incorrectly then that scarf was the last memento Natsu had of Igneel. Had it become too badly damaged finally after all these years? No, it was crafted from using a dragon's scales as materials. It wouldn't be destroyed that easily.
"Yo." His attention shifted away from such thoughts at the sound of his brother's voice. It was uncertain in its greeting, and he could tell from that alone that this was awkward territory for Natsu. But it was a soothing voice to hear all the same after all these years.
"All these years and that's what you start with? Yo."
"Eh? How else was I meant to start this off?" muttered Natsu, pushing himself off the ground from where he had been resting. "How about thanks for making it such a pain in the ass to find you? You understand how difficult it was to track you down? I wasted so much time looking across Ishgar and Alvarez before pestering that old magic king or whatever about where you might have run to."
"And he suggested Guiltina I assume. I'm surprised August remembered."
"Eh, he took a while to get back to me really," Natsu muttered awkwardly. "I spent two months chasing down any possible lead in Alvarez before he remembered something you had offhandedly said to him all those years ago. Something about dragons residing in Guiltina. Figured if you had knowledge of the place and wanted to hide somewhere that you might have gone to a place no one would know your name or face. Speaking of which, what's this about dragons here?"
"Interested? It's not a very fun tail for you if you assume a happy fate awaiting them. Five dragons survived the great genocide Acnologia brought about, fleeing to the continent of Guiltina and hiding their presence. Over time, they began to recover from their injuries and their strength grew, large enough that eventually they became known as the five dragon gods, nicknamed as such by a man who self-taught himself the very type of magic you and the others learned easily from your foster parents. Apparently he had tried to defeat them himself by found his strength lacking."
"What happened to him?"
"He died. Not by their hands mind, but by Acnologia's. The fool was talented but he let his smell reach a bit too far, and Acnologia caught it like a bloodhound. The man might have gained great strength but it was too unfamiliar, and you know very well how easy it is for Acnologia to tear someone apart. That would have been the end of it, had the fools in hiding not forgotten their fear."
Natsu frowned at him, giving him a look that seemed to struggle to settle on disapproval or curiosity. "You were there I assume?"
He shrugged. "I guess you could say that I got curious. Acnologia's magical power is easy to detect, especially when he begins to use it. Surely you notice how you can pick up your fellow guild members easily from far away if they exert enough magical power. Acnologia was the same. And it was a treat to see. The wood dragon, Aldoron, who towered over everything even by dragons' standards. The water dragon, Mercphobia, who could warp an ocean around himself and wield it as a weapon. The gold dragon, Viernes, whose scales shone brightly as if nothing could ever scratch or dull their sheen. The moon dragon, Serene, whose ability to entrap others within her control was as powerful as she was beautiful. And finally the fire dragon and son of Igneel, your foster brother I guess really, Ignia, who inherited all the best aspects a dragon could want from the former fire dragon king."
"Wait, hold on! I had a brother? Igneel never said anything like that!"
"In the past, the war was being lost and your brother and father weren't exactly on speaking terms. He hardly seemed to like the way that Igneel was giving up on winning the war outright. And I suppose he never had a time to mention it in the brief encounter you had later, but then I'm sure he assumed Ignia was dead. And by that point he was. All five were."
"What?" he added, smirking at Natsu's expression. His brother was too easy to read sometimes. "You thought they managed to survive? No, they were foolish. Over four hundred years they built up their strength, becoming monsters even by dragons' standards. Their power rivalled some of the greats of old. But with that new power, and with the passing of centuries, they forgot the fear that drove them into hiding in the first place. Acnologia's arrival on the continent they viewed as theirs called them forth, the five prepared to clash with the so called dragon of the apocalypse and slay him with their combined power, believing it would outclass their own." He paused, letting Natsu piece together how the fight must have gone. "As someone with experience on this, how do you think it went?"
"They lost, that much is obvious."
"Exactly. What good is a towering body and strength when you get ripped apart all the same, the healing factor present unable to keep up? What good is an ocean of water when it is blasted apart by raw magical power, scattered to the four corners of the wind? What good are scales that shine with no marks when they are broken and crushed under raw strength or ripped from the flesh as if paper being plucked from a pile? What good is the power to control one's mind when that rage within shatters through every illusion and rips you to shreds? And finally what good is fire that can melt through anything when the one you fight against can devour such flames and already did so against an opponent of the same calibre. All five mighty dragons fought with all their strength, and died like dogs as Acnologia reminded them just why they had feared him so long ago."
"You look surprised," he added, noticing Natsu's expression. "Does that scare you a bit? It shouldn't need to, not when the monster of those events is no longer in this world. You and the others succeeded where those mighty dragons, arrogant enough to call themselves gods, failed."
"We got lucky."
"Indeed. Or rather you had the right team for the job."
"And we still lost. We weren't the one to kill Acnologia. Did you know that would be the case back then?"
He paused for a moment, letting his smirk drop a bit at the serious look Natsu was giving him. It was only fair he answer a bit more seriously in turn. "I figured things would go badly no matter how it was spun. Acnologia was the most powerful dragon to ever live. No… perhaps it is even more accurate to say that he was one of the most powerful entities to ever live. No god stopped him. No ouken stopped him. He rampaged wherever he went without any true challenge for hundreds of years. His power might not have been very elaborate or have many tricks to it but that was because he didn't need it. He was the pure embodiment of destruction itself. So when it came to fight him… I wasn't sure."
"You still seemed confident enough to try."
He scoffed. "Acnologia was on a leash by choice, not by force. He was one step away from breaking it and I was prepared in the worst case to acquire Mavis and leap back in time to before I even created Acnologia. But I had hope that day we'd win regardless. You had strong allies with you, one who could solve the problem of Acnologia wounding you all so severely that you would be rendered incapable of continuing, which is the fate the dragon gods found themselves in. An ouken with a power close in nature to Acnologia's own stood beside you too. And then there was you, the perfect product of my effects of creating and modifying life as demons. And if you were all still not enough, you would be sure to bring Acnologia down to such a weakened state, as well as in what would be your final moments create an opening that he would never see coming. Ideally."
"I had to trust Gin to know the right moment to shoot. If he messed up, he'd never get a second chance. But a snake the man might have been, he was good at being patient. I couldn't trust him on much but I could rely on him at that moment absolutely."
"I see. It probably wouldn't have been nice then to not try and kill him once the job was done like you did to Serena."
He sighed for a moment, hearing the bite in Natsu's words. "Let's not do this here Natsu. You know I won't apologise for any of that, not even to fake it, and you hardly came down here for us to fight. At least I assume not. It's been many years now so I don't know if you still recklessly challenge people."
"Eh, only every so often if they seem tough," Natsu shot back, willing to let the conversation shift away from the heavier topic they had ended up on. "But yeah… I spoke with the people down there in the village."
"You said nothing incriminating I hope."
"Yeah, don't worry," Natsu reassured him quickly. "When I spoke to the first person, asking about you, they only had praise. Said you were the best thing to happen to that village. Mind you that might be because you're saving some of their kids' lives right now but they didn't seem to have any fear of you. Rather they only knew you as the doctor who lives on a hill, Dragneel." Then his brother smiled, a bit more freely and happily. "You're going by our surname now then?"
"It…" He paused, letting his emotions settle for a moment. The name had many meanings for him. Some of pain, of people he despised with all his being. Others of love, of the one person who shared that name who he had treasured over everything else. And finally of peaceful times, when being Zeref Dragneel had meant searching for a cure to save a life. "… was useful I guess," he ended up saying though. "I needed a name, and I can hardly go by Zeref here. They may know little of me in this continent but news, even when travelling slowly, can spread. I wished to avoid any rumours, however small they might be."
"… Alright then," Natsu said after a few moments of silence. He could tell his brother didn't quite believe his reasons but wasn't going to push them either. "Well it's suitable anyway. I…" Natsu paused for a moment, scratching the back of his head as he struggled to find the right words. "I need… a favour. Of sorts."
A favour? From him? "Surely the healers of Ishgar can do something. I'd be surprised if that girl in your guild can't fix whatever is wrong. Unless it's too late, in which case you want outright revival? Such a feat you should understand is not easy at all, the circumstances required for perfect preservation of the individual are-"
"No no no, stop!" Natsu said, quickly waving his arms to cut that train of thought off before it could get any further. "None of that, I don't need anything like that."
"I see. Then is there someone you can't beat? It's unlike you to go looking for help, and not this far afield. There must be more than enough people in your guild for such a matter."
"Hopefully not money then. Most of my old wealth is in Alvarez under August's control, though if you pressed him you could probably claim-"
"Just shut up and listen a second!" Natsu shouted out, causing him to fall silent. "Damn, this is making it even harder. Stop jumping to all these different conclusions."
"Then tell me outright what you need me for. What on earth could you need so badly that you come to ask a favour of the dark wizard Zeref?"
"This isn't a favour for him," Natsu replied back. "It's… for my brother, Zeref Dragneel. For my only living family left."
Natsu appeared to be forcing up a large amount of confidence for whatever he was trying to say. That was unusual from what he knew, but for the life of him he could not picture what was requiring that much effort. What on earth did Natsu even need from him? It didn't help that his brother was still skirting around the issue, delaying his answer too much and trying to find roundabout ways to say things and-
"Will you come to my wedding?"
Every thought he had ground to a halt. It took a moment for anything to start back up, his thoughts scattered as he tried to focus on what Natsu had just said. A wedding? Natsu's? Wait, scratch that. Was he sure he had even heard his brother right?
"Zeref? You there?"
This was Natsu after all. The man loved fighting and pursued danger like a drug, calling it adventure. And that man had found someone that not only loved him but who he loved enough to marry?
And weren't weddings generally fancy? Granted he had not been to one in… wait, had he ever been to one? He was sure he had been to one in Alvarez at some point. It had probably been really fancy. Natsu was committing to one of those? The same Natsu who was probably incapable of wearing a suit going by his usual choice of attire?
His brain finally clicked back into place enough for him to register Natsu's presence again, his younger brother looking at him closely in concern.
He nodded, not trusting his voice immediately to answer while he tried to put some thoughts into order. "You're… getting married then?" he asked hesitantly, aware how stupid the question was but using it to buy himself a bit more time. When Natsu nodded though, not explaining more than that, he was forced to utter another question, far simpler in words. "How?"
"Hey! I'm not completely hopeless. I might have been a bit dense… But even an idiot like me can pick up signs. Honestly, you're more shocked at this than Mira was when she heard I'd proposed."
"Mira… the demon takeover mage wasn't it. And of those you were close to… the white haired girl right? The sister?"
"I'm honestly impressed you know that," his brother said without a hint of shame at the accusation. "I thought maybe she might have fallen outside of your radar when it came to me."
"I knew she hung around you, just as others such as Gray did. You can hardly expect me to have a full knowledge of all your relationships though. Her name?"
"Lisanna," Natsu replied, a wide smile across his face now. "More patient than you'd believe possible. She waited so long for me to finally realise my own feelings, and then even longer for this day until I finally felt the same way. Thinking back I was probably ready ages ago… but something was missing still. And she didn't mind waiting. No wait, she did a bit. But she understood why I wanted to wait. Why I was being so stubborn with this. I want you there on that day Zeref. Because despite everything you've done, you're my brother."
For a moment he let himself forget about everything that had happened over the years. He let himself simply imagine this as a time from long ago. Of a future that could never be, where his brother would have lived normally and been happy. This right now, it was not the same. It was not how he had once wanted it. But…
"I might cause problems."
"People will recognise me there. My face is not well known to the general masses but anyone at that venue I assume will know me on sight."
"I've warned people ahead of time that you might be there. While they won't like it, they've agreed to not raise any issues if you don't."
"There isn't much I can do."
"That's fine," he heard Natsu say softly. "I'm not asking for anything else. We're not close enough for you to be best man or anything like that. Perhaps if things had been different… But things are what they are. But I want you to be there, whether you're sitting in a front row seat or if you're hiding behind a pillar in the back of the audience."
Then Natsu smiled at him again, the same smile that had given his life meaning in those early years. "Because I want you to see that even if things didn't turn out how you wanted, the brother you saved is living happily. That the one truly good desire you had at saving my life and giving it back to me did have worth. I can't approve of anything else you've done. But I know despite it all you did love me and wish for me to live."
"Then… alright. You win."
"You sound surprised."
"Well yeah," Natsu muttered. "I expected I'd be at this for another hour really. Guess I owe Lisanna now. She bet I'd convince you much faster than I thought I could."
"Obviously she knows you better than you know yourself then," he muttered, letting his senses extend a bit as he noticed other magical powers close by, around the proximity of his home. "I assume that is her snooping around my house? With that pet cat of yours?"
"Hey, Happy is not my pet! He's my friend. And yeah, that's her! When I finally picked up your scent, we tracked it to your home and then I followed it from there. Lisanna said she'd stay behind, let us talk it all out first. I told her it was fine if she wanted to come too, she was willing to put up with my stubbornness and tagged along to find you in the first place, but she said she knew how things were with siblings. Didn't want to be a third wheel or something like that."
"Like you have been a few times unknowingly around her?"
"Eh? You think I might have been? Suppose that's why Mira occasionally shoos me away when she and Lisanna are talking. Speaking of which, you want to meet her? Lisanna knows your face and all but I think it'll set her a bit more at ease if she actual talks to you. I mean she knows you'll be fine if I can convince you and all, but I can tell she's still a bit nervous at it all."
"I better had. It would be bad manners of me to at least introduce myself officially," he said, beginning to walk back towards his house as Natsu followed. "Out of curiosity, what would have happened if you had not found me? Has a date been booked for the wedding?"
"Well… end of next week…"
He almost paused midstep, catching himself and continuing like nothing was wrong. "Cutting it close. What if you had failed to find me in time?"
"Well I had a backup of sorts. I just knew you wouldn't like it."
"It can't be that bad. Unless…" He couldn't help but scowl at the mere thought that crossed his mind. "The abomination?"
"Ah, Ichigo did say you'd probably call him that. I figured he might have an idea where you were, I was just reluctant to ask. I know you and him don't exactly get along. At all."
"I'll behave for the wedding, but don't expect me to be coordinal with him. Our debts are square, so I have no reason to play nice with him. It would have worked for the record though. Asking him I mean. He knows where I am. Doubt he was trying to be sneaky with it too, since I felt his magical power easily from the distance he was at. He stayed just long enough to confirm I wasn't secretly making a new demon army or turning villages into bombs and left."
"Yeah… In fairness, your track record leaves much to be desired. Regardless, we booked a date ahead of time before this last trip. I couldn't make Lisanna wait forever. It wasn't fair. And Mira made that clear a month ago before we set off. We got everything sorted beforehand, such as suits and dresses and invites and venues and such, and Mira said she'd coordinate the day to day things for us while we were away."
"And I suppose you had a reason to rush it along too."
"You said Lisanna is at the house, correct?"
"How far along is she? I assume with the date she won't be showing yet."
This time he really did pause, glancing at Natsu in the hope of seeing any signs of lying. There weren't any, which really did fit with how Natsu was unfortunately. Sighing to himself, he had a feeling he understood why this Mira had been strict with Natsu in ensuring this date was set.
He probably shouldn't say anything. It seemed his brother had found an idiot perfect for him if the girl in question had avoided this topic for what had been about a month, though Natsu was an idiot to not notice any of the signs earlier.
So he'd keep this to himself for the moment, continuing back walking even as Natsu began pestering him about what his look had been about.
It was hardly his place to say about the additional life he had been able to detect at his home after all. He'd leave that to this Lisanna girl. His brother would be her problem from now on.
Protector Of The Fairies
"Welcome, oh foolish traveller. What foolish desire do you hold in your heart that you would arrive to this tower of-"
"I'm not in the mood for your melodramatics Jellal."
Jellal merely let out an over exaggerated sigh, one hand clutched over his heart. "You wound me so. I get so few guests and this is how my first one in over six months treats me? I'm hurt Nozomi."
"And I don't care," the green haired woman stated, marching straight past him and falling straight onto the sofa he had lying in the corner of his study, knocking loose a few stakes of papers that had rested a bit too close by. "Sorry," came a muffled groan from one of the cushions, but Jellal simply waved her apologised away.
"I can clean them up later. Half of that is trash anyway. Thought I had a breakthrough on replicating some fire magic I saw that froze instead of burned. Instead I merely ended up producing a flame that gave off too much smoke."
"Is there a point to this?"
"Huh? No, not really. Thought the magic looked fun and wanted to see how long it would take to replicate it using normal fire and ice magic. Then got bored half way through and went back to examining how the arrangement of constellations in the sky can affect the usage of heavenly body magic when the right magic arrays are drawn."
"I thought you mastered that magic years ago."
"I did. Now I'm seeing if I truly did learn everything there was to know about it or whether I merely learned everything that was available to be taught and practiced."
"So any progress so far?"
"Maybe a two percent strength difference under the right circumstances? Can't really say one way or another yet on whether a difference is being made or whether I'm mistaking it for my own ability and manipulation of the magic. Maybe if I can hit a noticeable ten percent I'll be able to say I'm confidently getting somewhere with it."
"You're having fun like always then I see."
He smiled brief, unable to deny those words.
Being free had many perks. The ability to walk around without an obvious guard, the spies trying to keep track of him he could deal with but it was the constant over the shoulder presence that really could grate on him, had merely been the start. Being able to then freely choose what he could do, not being forced to fight a war as a means to achieve his freedom, and being held by Mystogan's stubborn last will didn't help with that, and finally being able to choose how he would live his life from here on out. Naturally people had gotten worried the moment that had begun to happen.
Still, it hadn't bothered him much. Their fear was understandable. They knew they could not lock him up without due cause, not when he had the right people on his side to at least get him a fair trial, and neither could they simply let him run wild and become another problem down the line. Not that he had any plans to be one. A mental prison had been bad enough, he didn't need to deal with a physical one too.
So eventually he had simply left. It had been easy to outpace his watchers, even easier to lose them permanently after suppressing his magical power so low that they failed to find him. After that he had the freedom to go anyway. It would have been easier to live quietly on another continent, or even another country. But he had no intention of doing that, just like he had told Mystogan so long ago. Ishgar was his home. Fiore was his home.
Though of all places to go back to, he hadn't expected to build a pseudo tower of heaven.
It had been a stroke of luck finding the place. There had been many attempts at building a tower of heaven but all failed, including his own even if it had been one step away from success, and his current home was to the outside world what appeared to be the broken remains of it. In reality that was the illusion cast by the runes he had carefully inscribed around the perimeter, acting as a first line of defend to keep curious eyes away. The rubble that would have been in his way had long since been removed and reused, forming a small tower roughly seven floors in height. It was hardly the grand tower people might have feared but it served his purposes plenty. It was quiet, isolated, and he could break whatever he wanted nearby without worry about people wondering what on earth that noise was or why a giant chunk of land was suddenly missing.
At least that was how he had wanted it to go. Then one day Hades showed up in passing, merely wishing to compare notes on some issues he was currently investing in regards to an old magic theory, and then left not a day later once their work was complete. A few months later, when he arrived back from a food run, he found Hibiki sitting at his favourite desk, reading through his current research topic while Mest stood guard, and the man had the audacity to greet him like nothing was wrong before asking for assistance on balancing the output power of a magic generator so that it could output power equally through its subsystems. That had admittedly been an interesting day, followed by a more interesting month when he actual got to work on the premise of the construction yard for the new airship. It had meant working with the magic council annoyingly but they weren't as troublesome as the last one he had worked with.
He had thought though that it might be the end of it though. But then Ichigo showed up one day, not even to talk research but to merely hang out for a few hours, like he had nothing better to do. And if it wasn't him then it was Nozomi, who would either pillage his notes for something interesting to read or would just collapse onto his sofa like she was now if she wasn't in the mood for her usual distractions.
For an isolated home, he had far too many visitors. And it annoyed him how much that it didn't bother him.
"So, what's the matter this time?" he asked, leaning his arms against the top of the sofa as he looked down at her.
"What makes you think something is the matter?" Nozomi asked, lifting her head slightly from the cushion she had buried it in.
"Well one of the last times you were here you stole my notes on dimensional shifting and made me start from scratch-"
"I did you a favour. Your calculations were way too off."
"And the time before that you spent half the day reading my experiments on warping raw energy in the same way light can be refracted to see how the control and effectiveness applied through it might vary. But this time you're not even reaching for anything. Just moping."
"I'm not moping."
"Funny. You've said that before. What happened? Did your precious prince miss an anniversary or something?"
"I'll shove a blade up your arse if you don't shut up," she snarled at him, that all he needed to know he was right, before she buried her head back in the cushion, causing him to struggle to hear her next words. "He finally turned up."
"Did he now? He's awfully late. Wondered why he hadn't been bothering me recently. Though I wouldn't mind if he stayed away longer."
"I'm being serious here."
"Oh I know you are. But it's more fun to wind you up than to play along with your moping."
She shot him a look as he pushed himself away from the sofa, still able to feel the daggers she was shooting into his back as he carried a few pieces of paper discarded in such a way that must appear random to her before taking them over to one of his desks. "So? Has he apologised yet?"
"And is that because you've not given him a chance to?" He smirked when he heard no response. "Your silence speaks wonders. The silent treatment is it?"
"… I shouldn't be as mad," he heard her mutter. "I know it was a mistake. He's not the type to go dark like that-"
"He most certainly is."
"Without confiding in someone then," she shot back.
"Are you upset it wasn't you?"
"I would be if this was one of those times. It wasn't."
He raised an eyebrow at that, turning back for a moment to see her expression. "So you're aware of what he's doing?"
"You mean you aren't?"
"He doesn't trust me outright with that knowledge. Though I can piece it together easily enough. It's not like I have the luxury of being told everything like his wife- Oh, sorry. I mean ex-wife." The glare he got for that was enough to put a wide smirk on his face. "What? It's true."
"I don't need your reminder."
"Hey, you two are the one that can't seem to stay together for more than a year or two. Though I'll give you props for continued effort."
"… you know it's not like that," he heard her mutter. "If we could, we would. But something always gets in the way."
"Is it a blonde girl who acts as a third wheel? Must be annoying."
"And this is why we don't bring these problems to you."
"You say that, yet it's my place you're hiding out at. If you're unsure whether you're going to slap him or kiss him, there are better places to get advice. Try Levi, I'm sure she'll give good advice. Or what about one of your sisters in law?"
"You can shut up now or I'll start stabbing."
"Only offering the advice necessary to get you to leave. Not that I reckon it will do much. You'll get bored hiding out here eventually, and when you do I'll get my peace and quiet back."
He saw Nozomi raise an eyebrow at that. "You're not going to Natsu's wedding."
"You think I of all people got an invitation?" He shrugged, shoving a nearby envelop further under a pile of papers. "Perhaps I should gate crash? Might be fun, though such an event in general would be hardly entertaining. Do I minge with people who either tolerate me for my abilities or with people who hate my guts? The choices are endless."
"Some people actual do like you."
"Apparently considering the number of guests I get," he muttered. "But no, I won't be bothering. I'm not interesting in attending such a happy and festive day. It'll make me sick just watching. No, I have far more interesting things I can be doing that day instead."
He got another long stare for a moment before Nozomi seemed to just give up. "Fine, do as you wish. It's your choice in the end. Natsu wasn't expecting you to come really but he figured he at least had to fill on out for you as a courtesy. If you're this busy though, I hope you got the job I asked you to do sorted beforehand."
Which job had that been again? She'd turned up in a foul mood a month back with a request for him to try and find a way of tracking when shifts might occur in reality from overlapping dimensions. Usually that would be more her field of expertise but without any active, she wasn't able to detect the minuscule fluctuations they might give off in the area around them. Obviously her attempts at staking out a new fluctuation of whatever this was hadn't been working so she had wanted him to put his knowledge to good use and predict when the next might occur and to narrow down the area she would have to search.
"There will be another opening in reality in the nearby area in about five days roughly. I've got the calculations here somewhere… hold on…" He quickly rummaged through the nearby stacks before leaping over to another desk with a burst of magic, checking the middle papers of a few piles before finally spotting the one he was after. Before he even turned it was being pulled from his hands, pulled lazily into a green portal by the woman still lying on his sofa and out another so it rested in front of her face.
"I expected local analysis, not worldwide," she muttered in disapproval. "Does Hibiki know you piggybacked your way into his super archive?"
"Probably, but since he can see anything I do he's not too worried with what I use it for unless he suspects it might be abused. Besides, a local archive would only give me so much processing power for markers scanning across Ishgar. For the problem you posed however, a global scan would reveal far more."
"There's been three fluctuations since," Nozomi said, too engrossed in his notes to spare my attention to him. "So they were happening in a set pattern."
"Indeed. Once every three days, just far more distributed than you might expect. I would not recommend the earlier opening due to its location, far too deep below the sea, but the one I mentioned previously is both within Ishgar itself and in a fairly safe location. Though I should warn you, the fluctuations of magical energy I'm getting with each cycle is increasing."
"Like whatever is knocking on the door is getting closer," Nozomi muttered to herself. "This helps. Thanks. If I time it right I should be able to get a peak in, see what's causing this."
"Is this council work by any chance?"
"Nope, they're too occupied with the stuff Ichigo's brought to their attention. This might be connected but I want to confirm it first before wasting any more resources on it. On the off chance something does happen-"
"I'll send a note of death to Ichigo personally if I don't hear from you in a week, have no fear."
"Your sense of humour never chances much does it?"
"Well if this is all, you can clear off if you wish. I have work to do, and you obviously have something to distract you from your moping. Remember to make up with your ex before he shows up here next will you? He's even worse since I can't distract him with work."
"Ha ha," he heard dryly before a familiar green portal opened up beside the sofa, Nozomi carefully letting herself fall into it. "Thanks for the help Mystogan."
"That's not my-" He cut himself off as the portal shut, knowing his words were pointless now. He hated being called that name and she knew that, but then he couldn't say he wasn't due retaliation after egging her on for so long.
Sighing to himself, he pushed such thoughts away before returning to his work, letting himself be engrossed in another of the many experiments he wished to perform. A few darker ideas crossed his mind briefly but were quickly crushed, the part of him he knew that had been affected by Mystogan not wishing to have him cross a line that might make his acquaintances, no perhaps friends was the better word here, upset with him.
As much as he hated their constant interruptions, he always did find the silence a bit too much right after they left. Glancing back at the desk he had been previously at, he eyed the envelope still sticking out a tiny bit before letting out a long sigh.
It might be boring and a waste of time but it might be a bit of fun. He should at least go to the effort of bringing a gift at least for being invited. What was the worst thing that could happen from an hour or two spared with pleasantries? Compared to the way he had to act as Siegrain, it would be easy enough to fake for a bit.
Who knows? He might even enjoy some of it.
Protector Of The Fairies
"Pretty standard place for a wedding," Gildarts muttered to himself, resting on one of the cathedral's pews, "But it's nice. Hey Mira, did Lisanna choose this place or did Natsu?"
"What was that?" Mira called over, walking back from her brief chat with the local priest. With Natsu and Lisanna gone right now, taking a page out of his book more than anyone else's, Mira had taken up finalising the details pre-arranged before they had left. He would say it would be a tough job but Mira had been having a blast with it all, and if he hadn't seen the plans beforehand that Lisanna had given to him to make sure Mira was keeping to them then he would have thought she was going overboard.
Though he wished the 'packet' had been smaller. And a bit easier to follow. When he had his own wedding, he could have sworn that Cornelia hadn't made him read this much. Or maybe she had known he'd have no patience for it and just pick things randomly so had narrowed down anything to stuff she had already approved of. If she had, he couldn't blame her for doing so. He would have done as she would have thought, and he was sure Natsu here was in the same boat. Maybe even more so since the idiot would likely nod at whatever Lisanna was after for this day, knowing that his own version would have been more akin to a shotgun wedding and that Mira would beat him up for even suggesting that to her little sister.
Still, he was sure Natsu had offered input on some things. Stuff that even he might find nice or sentimental. "Which one picked the cathedral?"
"Believe it or not, Natsu. I helped Lisanna find a few ideas across Fiore. A wedding in Crocus is meant to be absolutely beautiful for one, but there's been a ton of popular destinations opening up recently. Some of them you'd have to really book far in advance but with the right connections you can speed things up a bit. But Natsu seemed really keen on having it here in Magnolia. Said it was their home and that there would be no better place to celebrate their marriage."
"You sure he just didn't want to bother with the extra hassle?" he asked with a laugh. "Wouldn't be the first time."
"Maybe a bit," she admitted with a laugh of her own. "But he did seem really keen on it more than any of the others. His passion for the idea too sort of convinced Lisanna, and by that point I couldn't budge her away from the idea. Still, this place is nice. Very traditional, which is going to make for a fun sight with Natsu. He does realise what he'll be wearing right? He doesn't think he'll be wearing his usual clothes?"
"I'd love to say you're over thinking this but then this is Natsu. But don't worry, he knows. Hell, you should have seen him dressed up before he left. He looked so smart and proper that I had to do my best to hold in my laughter."
"Wait, he's actual given his suit a wear?" Mira asked in disbelief. "I thought we'd have to force him into it five minutes before the wedding starts."
He nodded, a fond smile across his face. "I was surprised too. He did say something about rolling up the sleeves, which might look a bit odd if you compare him to a normal groom. But considering he's going to all the effort to try and look the part for Lisanna, I don't think she'll mind him customising it a bit to his style. Still, it was a sight I didn't think I'd ever see. We all joked about them when they were kids but with how Natsu was, I didn't really think we'd see this day."
"Yeah, I thought the same," Mira muttered softly. "When she… died… Well, I knew we'd never see anything like this. And when she came back, it took a while before I could actual imagine her future. Spent too long trying to not think about it you know. But when we were younger, I'd tease her all the time at home. About how she and Natsu were a couple, how they were like newlyweds, how Happy was their kid, and so on. Sometimes she'd pout at that, sometimes she's try and give me the silent treatment… and then when she was older, she'd just look at me happily when I said that, and I could tell she was glad that was how they appeared to others, even if it was yet to come true."
"Of course then when they actual became a thing, she was almost unbearable for months," she added with a groan. "You think you've seen her happy, and then you saw her in those months. She looked like she was walking on cloud nine every single day, always smiling and daydreaming when by herself and then clinging to Natsu whenever he was around."
"Eh, she was just overjoyed that she finally had him returning her feelings."
"You weren't there, you were off gallivanting on a quest you were not supposed to be on as a retired mage, so you don't get to judge. You got back when they had settled into a more normal routine. I'm the one who had to deal with her at home talking about Natsu this, Natsu that. I love her but I could only take so much of that back then."
"Well at least you didn't have to deal with the awkwardness of Natsu hanging around your house for hours, not saying anything as he tries to figure out how to say that he wants help knowing how to propose. You know he thought she'd say no? It was nice seeing him so nervous, but the hours wasted waiting for him to say something were time I wish I could get back." He paused for a moment as he glanced down towards the altar, imaging the two up there soon. "I've been meaning to ask…"
He scratched his head a bit, not wanting to step on any toes here. "Lisanna asked me to give her away. To take the role of her father here."
Mira nodded. "I know. She mentioned it a while back."
"That's alright with you right? Lisanna doesn't have many memories of her parents, but you do. I know they can't be here, but I don't want to feel like I'm replacing someone here. I know it's Lisanna's choice but she won't like it if either you or Elfman are upset at all."
"If it was around, perhaps I'd find it difficult," Mira admitted. "But he died a long time ago, long enough that I've gone through periods of hating him and mom for dying as well as wishing they were alive. But joining Fairy Tail lead to that happening so rarely because we gained a new family. Master Makarov was the grandfather none of us knew. Natsu and Gray were the little cousins that I could never get rid of, and never would have wanted to either. You were like the absent uncle who acted cool… but to Lisanna you were more. Both her and Natsu adored you. I don't think there's anyone better suited here to fulfil this role." A teasing smirk briefly crossed her face though as she added, "I think Cana's the one you need to watch out for. Sure she isn't going to get jealous of having to share her father? Having a 'brother' was hard enough, now she has a 'sister' to compete with?"
"Yeah yeah, I deserve that," he muttered. He'd already checked with Cana in the first place and she'd been fine with it. Which had made the choice easier because he knew how jealous Cana had been when she was younger of him and Natsu's relationship. She'd admitted as such once, on how she'd been caught between envy, resentment, jealously, and guilt from blaming it on someone who didn't know anything. She had said how she hated her own inferiority that lead her being unable to confess to being his daughter for so long, and that she couldn't blame Natsu and Lisanna for being closer to him back then than she had. But she had envied them.
Things were fine nowadays. The years had let him get used to having a daughter he had never known. The pain of knowing he had missed so much time hadn't ever vanished but it wasn't as strong as it once was, having been softened by the years he had gotten to actual share with Cana. And as much as she occasionally criticised his overbearingness, she had never pushed him away.
She did have some strict words for him though whenever he went out of retirement for a mission. A few times she would even try and beat that lesson into him when he was being particularly stubborn. He was proud to say she actual won most of those fights, and she was right. His body simply was not what it was in his prime, weakened too much by his own magic and the loss of his limbs. The metal ones worked well but they were never going to be the same, a fact he had long come to terms with, and she worried he'd think himself capable of more than he now was. That he might try to relive some of the glory days by himself and end up dead, lost to her once again. It was that mixture of angry and tears that normally got him to back down, because the adventure of his youth wasn't worth what he'd lose.
Besides, the special days like these and the normal days he spent at the guild, they were all fun. It was different than before but sometimes that was for the better.
"Well then, what is next? If the venue is sorted, do we need to pick up anything for the two? I still need to work out the right kind of gift too."
"That's it for now. There's a few minor stuff we need to keep an eye on, but we're celebrating the reception back at the guild so most of the stuff is already set up there. The catering crews have the orders and know to prepare a lot, and I've been buying more alcohol as I'm sure the current stocks won't last long on that day. All that's left really is for the bride and groom to actual make it back in time."
"I'm sure it'll be fine," he said, noticing her nervous look. "They wouldn't miss their own wedding right?"
"God I hope not. If they do I'll beat up that dragon slayer myself."
Protector Of The Fairies
"This is the place?" Nozomi muttered to herself, pushing through cobwebs as she pushed further into the depths of the catacombs. She raised the light lacrima she had with her a bit, the light barely able to penetrate the darkness much, and roughly eyed the path ahead warily. She gripped her weapon with her other hand tightly, the blades still wet with the blood of the beasts she had already encountered.
Was there a quest of some kind here? She hadn't heard any rumours in the city of disturbances or disappearances. Normally an infestation of some kind would at least have warranted some local action, but not even a rumour had reached her ears during the day she had spent in the city above. The catacombs were normally sealed so she supposed it was possible the presence of beasts in here had gone unnoticed, but they had seemed too aggressive to have remained quiet and in hiding. They had lunged for her the moment they saw her, claws larger than her arm threatening to rip her in two.
She wanted to assume this was a coincidence. But she had encountered more the further she went. The closer she got to the reading she was now starting to pick up on. If for some chance these monsters had sensed the energy first, perhaps they had been drawn to it? Lured?
It was something to consider. She had noticed little in her previous ventures to locations with similar readings but with the strength of the energy increasing, perhaps it was only now beginning to be noticed? Had Jellal noticed something in his readings? He'd given her what she needed but he had a bad habit of keeping back additional information if he didn't think it was relevant outright, and would only later reveal it in a typical smug fashion. The thought of that smirk along was already infuriating to imagine, and she was half tempted to chase down every lead possible to be ready for him pulling such a stunt again.
The problem was time. She didn't have enough of it. Perhaps if she asked someone who did though…
She shook her head rapidly, pushing the thoughts of a certain orange haired idiot to the back of her mind as she pushed on. He had enough on his plate as it was. Plus she was sure a blonde nuisance might pestering him to take a side trip in their investigation because she would be absolutely sure that the answer lies seven hundred years before any of this took place.
Jellal's words from before flashed through her mind and she tried to distract herself once more with her task, knowing she could relax and think on such matters when she wasn't hunting down a mysterious source of magical power. Not that anything she had encountered here had yet to be a threat but there was always the chance for something to surprise her. Some well-hidden trap or some well disguised monster.
As she began to near the source of the disturbance she could sense, the light of her lacrima began to flicker, starting infrequently before finally cutting out on her the moment she entered a large open space. A brief feeling of panic flooded her body, the hand holding the lacrima instantly releasing it and summoning up the familiar sensation of her magic, bathing the room in faint green light. It gave her enough sight to see the eyes of a monster more hideous than the rest, its body deformed and towering over here, mouth open ready to devour her in one bite. The massive jaw widened just a bit further, then snapped shut, consuming the space where she had been just a moment ago.
"See," she muttered to herself, falling out of a portal from above the beast and slashing out with Sumitsukigasa and letting one of the two blades clever through the beast's overly large neck. It could only dig a few inches into the flesh, the beast roaring in pain as she quickly used the rest of her falling momentum to tear the blade free and sink into another portal, the swipe of the beast's claws narrowly avoiding her head. "This is what I get for getting distracted."
The beast was certainly more feral than the others, and she almost wanted to dismiss it as being part of the same species. But the colour of the fur, the shape of the claws, the way it moved, they too closely resembled the others she had fought so far. What even was this thing? And were there more?
Opening a peephole in space, she watched the beast from above, observing how it looked from side to side, slashing at the wars in anger at the loss of its prey and from the pain on its neck. Such a wound appeared to not have been fatal, as even the blood it was losing was steadily decreasing. So a killing blow would be necessary then?
Reading her weapon, she spun and let herself fly through a nearly made portal, severing the tendons in one of the beast's legs in one swift move. Before it even finished falling she was back in her space, but only for a moment. Another portal opened up as she swung her weapon, one of the blades tearing through space as the second tore through flesh, slicing its way through the front of the beast's face. With one final swing, briefly dodging under the wild swipe of the beast in pain, she used the blades of her weapon to tear further into the beast's neck, pushing the blades as far as they would go until they reached the brain.
Moving out of the way of the falling limb body, she avoided the last muscle spasms of the dying beast and kept her distance until she was sure it had been slain. For good measure she gave it another few stabs, knowing from past experience that some beasts liked to play dead to the point they'd even endure some short term pain if it meant devouring their meal, before she let herself let out a sigh of relief. It had been easy to dispatch such a beast but if it had gotten loose from this place, she was sure it would have slaughtered its way through the city above. What few mages that resided above would hardly have been able to slay it, let alone hold it at bay.
But why was it here? And if her theory that it was the same type of beast as the earlier ones was correct, then why was it different?
She almost froze for a moment as she felt a wrongness run through her body. Like something was watching her. For that matter, the room itself felt wrong. She hadn't noticed it when she had been preoccupied with the beast but now? It was… like it felt empty.
No. That was wrong. This sensation was somewhat familiar. Like Edolas, only not. It was the feeling of a drastic shift of magic, one that resembled an absence of it.
It didn't feel anything like the world Mimihagi had briefly subjected them all to. This wasn't a space without magic entirely. She could still feel it, and none of her magic within her body was disappearing. But if the lacrima had cut out when it had because of this room…
Carefully, wary to not release too much, she summoned forth a bit of her magic, not bothering to shape it and simply letting it escape her body into the room. And then, almost immediately, it shifted. Drawn towards the centre of the room, her senses barely able to keep track of it until it abruptly vanished.
"Like it was devoured," she muttered to herself, far too aware of that feeling of being watched from before.
She should have brought backup. This was probably nothing. But this sensation was sending a chill down her spine and even one other person could have helped settle her nerves. She would have taken even Mest as this point. Even had considered it. But she hadn't wanted to mention any of this to Ichigo and she knew Mest would have mentioned something. The war was over and yet the man still was as loyal to Ichigo as ever, perhaps because he knew Ichigo had been steps away from the same man of the future and was worried he still could end up that way. The man would have been infuriating to work with in any form of secrecy but right now she'd take that.
But no, she was here by herself without any backup. It had been a foolish choice but she had to see it through. She wouldn't get a better chance than now to identify the source of the disturbances, and if the pattern continued like before then she'd be worried on what the next one would be like and whether stronger beasts might be present.
Taking a feel breathes to calm herself, she took steps towards the centre of the room, focusing on what she knew.
One, beasts were potentially drawn to this. Why? Why was one so drastically different? The chances looked like rapid mutation so… some kind of food? Something that had drawn them in, and then changed this latest one in such a way?
Two, if she assumed there was energy, why couldn't she sense it? Why could the beasts? Was it a subtle type her senses couldn't pick up on? A difference in perception? Something else? There wasn't enough to make any sort of conclusion but she was sure the beasts had sensed something that she couldn't.
Three, the disturbance could still be felt. And standing before it now, it was hard to sense any kind of magic from it at all. The magic she sensed might very well be the original magic of the room's as her own that she had released was mixed up in it very faintly. So why could she sense nothing else? Was the gap one way? Then why could she sense a disturbance in the first place? Was her experience with dimensional magic helping her perceive the shifting of the dimension even with the absence of magic from it?
Four… why could she see nothing from it? The glow of her magic wasn't giving her much light to work with at all but even then she was standing here right at the disturbance and saw nothing. No rip in space like there had been in Edolas. No slight hole in reality like she had perhaps expected. Nothing. There was nothing there.
Except… perhaps there was. Just… not in this space.
Turn back. Turn back now. Her mind was practically screaming at her to get out but she was so close to the truth. Just a bit further. Reaching out, her hand briefly brushed against where the disturbance would be but felt nothing. But she could sense something. Keeping the feeling in her mind, she shifted quickly into her dimension, keeping it in line with the space she was trying to observe.
She could reach it. She knew she could. When it came to her magic, there was no magic better than it for slipping in and out of the realms of others. It's just that usually any dimensions she might interact with are all so closely linked together. Her own dimension shifted in and out of focus with the realm of Earth Land but still stuck close, and the dimension of Yukio had been centred on himself, but all of those still were very close to one another. There was a reason she had never tried to see if she could reach Edolas. She'd done the calculations a few times in her life. Most dimensions that didn't reside with some link to Earth Land were far enough that she'd been one hundred times her own level of magical power, or would need some bridge between them to piggyback on like there had once been.
But for whatever was knocking on the door of the dimension of Earth Land, it was obviously very close. Or at least had already done the work in bridging them. So with that sensation she had felt in the centre of her mind, she reached out from within her dimension and grasped for it once again, opening up a small eyehole to glance through.
Nothing. She saw nothing. Just darkness.
Had she messed up? She was sure she had gotten the position right. Had she missed and was looking into void space instead? Perhaps if she retried…
She froze. Every cell in her body was screaming out in terror, as she saw the darkness before her shift. Then it lifted up, revealing an eye beneath as she realised what she had been looking at. And at what was now looking at her, an eye with hundreds of pupils all staring at her even as a good half a dozen of them swirled around randomly within.
She couldn't breathe. Could barely think. And she didn't dare move. It could see her. This thing could see her. And if it could see her, it meant it was aware of her. It knew she was there. The thought was enough to finally jar her into action, slamming the peephole shut instantly.
Then the walls of her dimension shattered, and she was freefalling in an ocean of water. She clutched her throat, unable to breathe as the pressure forced her down. Yet no death came. The water around her didn't stick to her body, rather it felt like she was merely being submerged in the appearance of one.
Something moved, out of the corner of her eye, and she tried to turn her head to face it but it avoided her attempts. Instead she felt something grab her leg, pulling her through the water that wasn't water, as she continued to struggle to breathe and yet was unable to pass out. And then she saw it, the thing that had been within. The thing she knew had been watching her in that room. The thing that had seen her in her dimension, the place she had been sure was safe. And she screamed. She could feel her mind trying to tear itself in two, as the reality around her warped at this thing's mere presence. It smiled, or did it growl? Eyes looked at her in hunger and fascination and desire and joy and cruelty and she could hardly tell which was the being's true feelings right now. A hundred different thoughts crashed together in her mind, looping back and forth as she tried to hold onto whatever sanity she had. Knowledge entered her mind, an understanding she did not and should not have as everything became clear and then shattered, her mind unable to comprehend the knowledge trying to be imparted on it, and she… could think clearly?
The space she had been in was gone, the monster before her no longer in sight, and she could feel the sensation of someone shaking her.
Nozomi… yes, her name. Someone was… calling her? Why? She'd been in the tomb, and looked at something, and then-
"NOZOMI!" The giant face of a man appeared before her, making her leap back in terror and trip over her feet in the process. Her heart had yet to stop racing, and she could feel blood on her face. A hand hesitantly reached up to wipe some of it away, noticing how it traced down from her eyes. She was honestly afraid to even see what she looked like if that was the case but she was sure it was not a nice sight.
Her focus returned more as she eyed her surroundings, recognising them from one of the times she had been here on her request. The planets in the sky around them, the constellations providing all the light of the world, there was only one place like this. The Celestial Spirit World, and the realm of the giant before her. The Celestial Spirit King.
"She looks better now."
Oh, and the girl from long ago. Zera? She was sure Mavis had named her a few times in the past but it had been years since they had seen her or the Celestial Spirit King. The giant had left a year after the war, retreating to places unknown. Well, unknown till now. They'd always speculated this is where he'd gone, but for a man who had sealed himself away to avoid his own great strength causing conflict it was a likely possibility. Especially when that strength was only diminished magically since the Ouken system was destroyed. His mastery of the spatial magic he had and the presence of Zera still made him a monster compared to even some of the strongest mages in the world.
"Why am I… I was… how…?" Her mind was fuzzy. She'd just been investigating something right? Then her dimension had… shattered? She could still feel her connection to it, so it wasn't gone. What kind of state was it even in? It was formless in general so was it repairing itself? And for that matter, what about-
She glanced up at the firm voice of the Celestial Spirit King, the man hovering in space before her with a serious expression on his face.
"Did I do something wrong?"
The giant was quiet for a moment, seeming to contemplate the right words to say for a moment as he glanced back and forth between her and Zera. "Your… investigation was it? You've been observing the shifting of dimensions for a while now."
"Yes," she said with a nod. "But how do you know about that?" Had he been spying on her? No, that would be getting ahead of herself. If anything, it was likely he had been following the same trails as she had been. "No, you were checking them too."
"On a larger scale," the Celestial Spirit King admitted. "And quite a taxing one too. My dimension is spread pretty far to shield most of Earth Land but some entities are… tricky. They slip through the net I'm casting, and have been increasingly lately. They've been homing in on something, and unfortunately that meant people like you have begun to notice. When I realised something slipped through my net on Earth Land's side though, and recognised it as your own energy, I rightly got worried. Breaking into the realm of one of these entities was not an experience I'd like to repeat anytime soon, I'm sure it will be prepared next time, so I'd ask you to show restraint in the future where possible."
"Entities…" Memories began to flood back but before they could click back into focus she felt her face being slapped, the pain bringing her back to the present. She felt her body shiver for a moment, and realised quickly it wasn't from pain. It was from terror.
"Don't think about what you saw," Zera stated, her hand still held to one side. "Or do and let me slap you a few more times, I don't mind which.
"We can say things more politely than this Zera, even if you mean well," chided the Celestial Spirit King, causing the girl to cross her arms in defiance.
"So? Doesn't mean I have to. Plus what do I care if she accidently croaks. You're the one who decided to save her, not me."
"It's not nice letting someone die if you can save them Zera."
"If she was to die, Ichigo would be upset."
The Celestial Spirit King sighed, saying his next words slowly like he was lecturing a child. "That would make Mavis upset."
"Ah, that would do it," Zera muttered, seeming to both understand and miss the point that the Celestial Spirit King was trying to teach her. She ignored his looks though in favour of pushing on with the topic at hand. "Anyway, the thing you saw? Weird, creepy, unable to comprehend? Yeah, think on it too long and it'll fry your brain. At least till you get used to the knowledge. Let it settle a bit and warp your perception and you'll be fine, but try not to think on it much till that happens. Honestly, investigating this is just asking to die. You're lucky we were there to help."
"What? I'm just being honest."
Nozomi shook her head a few times, trying to dislodge some of the memories before she realised what the giant had said. "Wait, entities? Plural?"
"Ah… yes. Unfortunately."
More than one… if one had been that bad, to the point she figured her sanity was in question a bit right now, what would more be like? Better yet, how was the giant even sane if he had seen the same thing? And how long had this even been going on for?
"Ah, that part is fairly easy," the giant answered as she asked the last question, scratching his chin slightly. "It was a few years ago, whenever you all last saw me. I'd been… sensing something. Likely similar to what's been driving you the past few months. Ripples at first, nothing major. But enough to know that something was knocking on the door of our own dimension. That's what those entities are. Beings of other dimensions, ones that are so warped from own perceptions that they… well, have the effect that you experienced. I knew I had to stop them from getting any closer so I used Zera's power to shield Earth Land. Not enough apparently, if they are still getting through."
"And if you've seen them too, you're still sane why?"
"Because we're as alien to them as they are to use," Zera stated for him. "Normal human minds are so… simple? Easy? You'd never be able to comprehend the miniscule calculations needed to operate and maintain an artificial world or to warp its rules as you see fit. They can't comprehend me, and the big guy is as warped as I am with his perception of the rules of the world thanks to sticking with me that he's safe. I'm sure if you dragged Mavis or Nabura out with their partners they'd keep their sanity too. Honestly, I've glanced into Earth Land occasionally and that blue haired girl is already pretty far distorted from normal human perception that she'd get alone with these things."
"Zera, that's not nice."
"It's true though. There's something broken in that girl."
"Alright, alright," Nozomi quickly cut in, not wanting to hear them talk about Wendy in such a way, even if a part of her could admit that she found it hard to understand the girl much these days. "But… why? Why are they doing this? What are they after? I found some beasts… were they affected by it somehow?"
"Beasts?" The Celestial Spirit King leaned in at her words, a deep frown across his brow. "Explain."
She did the best she could, trying not to remember the wrong things, and could only watch as the concern grew on the Celestial Spirit King's face. "Do you know something?"
"Maybe… I'm not sure," the giant admitted. "Perhaps… I miss things you know. It takes all my effort to keep the entities away from entering Earth Land, and even when they reach as close as they have today I'm able to push them back. But if something is leaking through the cracks here… is there something they've managed to connect to? Whatever bridges they create couldn't stabilise in such time without one. Perhaps something they managed before I realised?"
Leaning back to his original position, the Celestial Spirit King crossed his arms in consideration. "There have been some locations that have bothered me for a while. Areas where I felt like something might have breached through but couldn't confirm. I cannot leave my post here… but you could. Could I leave the matters on Earth Land to you?"
She nodded. She would have continued this investigating anyway, even if he had said nothing. Even if her mind felt like jelly a bit from the experience. She accepted the small key he handed to her as her thoughts got away from her, just about catching the giant's words on how it would allow her to easily contact him and reach his dimension for them to share any news they might have, as a single more pressing thought hit her.
"Why are they here?" she muttered, half expecting an answer but also prepared for a lack of one. If they were alien to both of the people before her, how would they even have any idea of their motivations. "Do they want something?"
"… this is… speculation on my part," the Celestial Spirit King offered hesitantly. "I can't say this is true one way or the other. But with the way they are acting, the efforts to look into the world and exert influence but not actual break through… I'd say it's curiosity."
"They're… curious? Those things are just curious? Why?"
"I don't know. But they were never interested until sometime after one event in particular happened. They might care little if something happens in a world… but if that world was to be remade… then that might be worth a look don't you think?"
She felt her breath catch in her throat. The battle against Mimihagi? Ichigo's actions there to restore the world? She wanted to refute the claim. But the scale of such an event was massive. And if something out there had noticed in some way, why wouldn't it want to look at what happened or to find the source? Curiosity had led her here. Why would it not lead something else to them too?
"Rest for now," the Celestial Spirit King said to her softly, space warping around her as she felt herself repairing in Earth Land in Magnolia and far away from the site she had just been at. "And once you've recovered," she heard the words whispering in her ears, "We can begin."
She wanted to relax, she really did. But she just wished she could understand why those words had been said by another at the same time, by a voice she did not recognise. And whose words had felt wrong just from being uttered. And why how despite the peaceful atmosphere around her she was unable to feel anything but terror.
Protector Of The Fairies
"Three cheers for the bride and groom!"
The roar from the guild seemed louder than ever, the excitement of the day haven't not dulled even a little since the festivities began. Drinks were downed as fast as they were served, food was devoured as quickly as appeared, and even the brawls of the guild were present in scattered areas. Currently he could see Elfman trying to pummel Natsu into the ground, saying how he wouldn't hand over his sister to someone weaker than him. He only had to watch for another second for Natsu to take that challenge head on, letting himself be slammed against the ground before using the hole he made in it as leverage to grip on as he swung himself over and threw Elfman against one of the walls.
Some might hope that Lisanna would stop the fight, to keep Natsu under control. But she was practically egging them on, calling out to Elfman how it was too late now to complain while Mirajane laughed her ass off, finally free of the stress of keeping everything in order for the day and simply happy to cut loose and enjoy watching her sister's happiness.
In order areas he could see Erza trying to knock some sense into some of the other rowdy guild members, and teaching her student how to do so in the process. Unfortunately those lessons included her patented 'punch them so hard they fall unconscious' so he wasn't sure how appropriate such lessons were. Luckily it least it seemed her student was a bit distracted, talking to some of the younger members of Fairy Tail. He really should get around to remembering their names but he wasn't around as much as he used to be and he was pretty sure he wasn't the most approachable figure to some of the newer members anyway.
Scanning the room a bit more he could see Jura standing near the edge of the guild hall, the man giving him a brief nod when their eyes met before going back to talking to the girl in front of him, who appeared star struck currently. She was Lyon's daughter if he remembered correctly. Gray's pseudo niece. He didn't have to look far to find those two, hovering nearby with their gaze shifting to a particular corner every once and a while.
He knew who was there. The dark haired man hiding in the shadows had a large berth around him. No one dared go near him. Well, no one but the groom who would occasionally wonder over and chat, far more subdued than he usually would be. Lisanna even joined him at times, though whenever she did so he was sure Mira was ready to pounce at the slightest inkling of trouble.
Everyone was the same. Few people here trusted that Zeref would behave. He understood the man better than most did and even he doubted that he would, which was why he hadn't dared approach him. He knew just how much of a trigger he was to the man so the further away they were from each other the better. Mavis would sometimes try and wander over, to keep Zeref from feeling too isolated here, but besides her and Natsu he doubted anyone else would try and make the effort. But everyone else was at least respecting Natsu's wishes here.
"Bit strange seeing him there and having to not expect that there's some suspicious motivation behind it huh?" muttered Laxus from his left, the man leaning on the banister of the second floor with him. To his right he heard Levy make a sound of acknowledgement, swinging her legs through the gaps from her sitting position. "Be blunt with me. How sure are we that he won't cause any trouble here?"
"About… seventy percent sure?" he muttered back. "He knows causing a scene will likely rid him of any protection he had, which really amounted to us ignoring him so long as he didn't cause any more trouble. I really don't like the consequences on fighting him so that's a fair enough trade. Plus Natsu invited him here. If there's anything he'll try to stick to, it'll be not making his brother disappointed in him."
"I think the bigger risk is someone else picking a fight with him," Levy pointed out, her eyes scanning the room a bit to make sure there was currently no chance of that. Her eyes briefly lingered on the girl she had pointed out to be her student, making sure she was far enough away from the death mage, before continuing to watch the room. "Right now most that would have a reason to though also know they can't win. And I'd hope Zeref doesn't take offensive if an idiot tries their luck."
"If they do so we'll stop them first. This is meant to be a happy day. I don't want to see it end in any deaths."
"We got this far," Laxus pointed out. "With the rate things are going, I expect half the guild to be passed out drunk in a bit over an hour. I heard Lisanna mention her and Natsu were heading off in the morning so I suspect she'll drag him out soon anyway to get some sleep back at their home, and once Natsu leaves I doubt Zeref will stick around. You know where he was hiding out anyway?"
"Guiltina. Ever been there?"
"Once," the blue haired woman admitted. "Didn't get far into the continent though but since then I've taken a look at some text from there. The history is interesting but it's had some dark spots. Especially when Acnologia visited the land. How long has he been there for?"
"I'd assume since the end of the war," he replied hesitantly. Truthfully he wasn't sure on the answer. It had taken a while to track Zeref down, and the man could have moved about a bit first. But he'd stayed put since, which had been enough for him. "Not sure whether he'll go back afterwards. Depends if he wants Natsu to be able to track him down or not. I'm not going to pretend to know what kind of relationship they have currently. I only know how he saw his dead brother, not how he views the revived version of him."
"Does the magic council know?"
"They… do not."
"Is that wise?"
"Maybe not." He shrugged. "But too much observation might make him run or act out. And so long as he actual doesn't do anything, he knows they'll never find him. Both sides have a vested interest in behaving with the other. At least I hope they do."
"On the topic of information being kept quiet, you going to tell us what the council has had you doing?" Laxus asked suspiciously. "Jura wasn't exactly subtle when he tried interrogating me on your whereabouts. I wasn't too worried because I knew you'd turn back up eventually but whenever you go dark it's usually because you've gotten too deep in something."
"Would you drop it if I said it was classified?" he joked, getting an elbow to the side from both of them in response. "I was kidding."
"You track record is not great," Levy pointed out. "So what's it about? I know you're using Lumen Histoire with this, Mavis is looking too normal at the moment."
"How is that a tell?"
"Because I've seen her in the guild sometimes. She gets way too restless whenever she gets stuck in one place for too long when she has the option to be anywhere but. Plus you can't pretend like the two of you haven't being using that magic when you get back months late but are out of date of everything in those months. I bet the two of you thought you'd be back far earlier than you were. And for her to make a mistake-" Levy cut herself off as her head snapped towards him, her eyes filled with worry. "She doesn't make mistakes does she?"
"That's… a difficult question Levy."
"But I'm right aren't I?"
"… yeah," he reluctantly admitted. "For the past few months, we've been noticing stuff. Small at first but dates seemed wrong sometimes with events. A battle twenty years ago actual took place twenty years and one month ago. A signing of a treaty occurred a year later than it was meant to, yet the results still seem the same. It's like pieces of history were being shifted for a better word. Nothing is lost, nothing is changed, it's just being offset into the past."
"That's odd. I hadn't noticed anything wrong in my books."
"You wouldn't. No one was at first. I only noticed by chance, and when I visited the time period in question, I saw the effect. But if I wasn't bound to Mavis, I don't think any of us would have realised for a long time."
"Because she's more susceptible to the flow of time right?" asked Laxus. "What about other time magic users? Are they noticing anything?"
"Some are, some aren't. Depends on the level, but we've at least managed to confirm that time displaced objects remain intact. I've shifted the entirety of the magic council's library forward a second, not a fun task with how many books I had to move, and their contents have not since changed. Hibiki has his super archive running comparisons against the original text and recorded copies almost daily, detecting any chances as fast as he can and then sending Mavis and I to investigate. To find whatever is causing this to occur. Problem is that we tend to get there too late, because this thing is moving through the time stream as a singular entity."
"You lost me there."
"How about this then. Imagine your entire life. Throughout the time stream for that, there is a version of you at every single point along it. If I went to any point in time in your life, I would always find you there."
Laxus nodded. "Alright, I'm still with you."
"This thing, it's different. Despite all the damage it has done, we have struggled to find it. That's because it doesn't stay static in those points in time. Rather it's like a single point that can only exist at one point for a time, and once it's done it leaves. There's only one place we are sure it is consistently present and that's within the time stream itself. That's where we got the first look at it recently… and why we got back so late."
"It displaced you two?" Levy almost shouted, covering her mouth a bit when she noticed a few curious eyes glancing up at them. "Sorry," she whispered more quietly. "Is that possible though? I thought Lumen Histoire protected you from stuff like this?"
"It did," came the soft voice of Mavis, stepping up the last of the stairs as she came to join them. She quickly pressed a hand against her chest proudly as she stated, "Just what kind of novice do you think I am? Preventing an entity that devours time from touching us is child's play!"
"Yet you're back months later," Laxus pointed out, the three watching her deflate a bit.
"I mean… yeah. But anyone else would have been flung to who knows where. That's assuming they even survived the exposure in the first place. That thing was hungry. It latched onto us the second we got close and basically surrounded the barrier I had up, trying to get in. It didn't manage it but it did force us out at the wrong point in time by making it impossible to see our exit location. But we now know that my barriers can contain it. We can't trap it within the time stream, I can't focus enough on two separate barriers while managing everything else, but if we can find it within some point of history, whether it be the past, present or future, then I can lock it up and get some system devised to keep it contained for eternity. I think."
"Not so confident on the last part?"
"You figure out a way to kill a formless entity that devours time, then we'll see who is laughing here."
"Come on, let's now fight right now," said Levy as she tried to calm the two down. Turning back to him, she asked, "Is there a name for this thing anyway? I'm sure the magic council has been bouncing around a ton. No matter who is in charge, people love to name things."
He nodded, remembering the meeting that had been way too long for his liking. "One was decided on. Kisuke came up with it. Called it the Chronophage. The time eater."
Protector Of The Fairies
"Another drink please."
"I think you've had enough Wendy."
"It's fine. I'm curing myself whenever I get a bit too tipsy. I just want the buzz."
"Alright, if you're sure." The bartender carefully filled up another glass for her and passed it over, having to lean over the passed out Cana on the bar. "Um… isn't it cheating though? Competing with Cana like that?"
"Please. Anyone challenging Cana knows she can down half the bar and still keep going. I'm just humbling her," she shot back, taking her drink and retreating back to her table. Half the guild was passed out drunk at this point, while the rest were either chatting or dancing. Her gaze shifted across the dancers for a few moments, stopping the familiar form of Ichigo and Nozomi. They looked happy she noticed as she took a few sips from her drink, but she couldn't help as she tapped her foot waiting for them to be done.
How long did she have to wait? When she got here she'd been practically ambushed by one of Ichigo's sisters, asking her a few questions on the other sister. She'd listened, it would have been rude to turn her away just because she was getting impatient, and the challenge she'd been posed was interesting. Though she'd been forced to choose her words carefully. She doubted Karin wanted to hear her call Yuzu anything akin to an interesting project, just because she found the idea of separating the spiritual link of a scrift from its host a fascinating one. She wasn't sure yet if she'd be able to perceive the connection, she hadn't exactly had a chance to tell back when Yhwach had been their enemy and she was far more experienced with her sight than she was back then, but if it existed then she probably would notice something. There was little she didn't see nowadays.
Once she had finally been freed though, Ichigo had arrived but been grabbed by others and locked in talks. Then the wedding had started and she'd been forced to wait even longer, and then at the reception after he'd been chatting with Laxus and Levy and she hadn't wanted to interrupt them and intrude on the time they had wanted with him.
Then, finally when she thought he was free, he'd sought after Nozomi before she could begin to move. And she could hardly ever get in between them.
She knew how their relationship was. A decent chunk of the guild did. Their relationship jumped from on to off enough times for them to recognise the signs when they weren't on speaking terms, but it'd happened enough that they also knew they tended to sort out whatever issues they had and would get back together shortly after. And judging by their smiles currently, this was one of those times.
She sighed. It would have been so much easier if they were fighting. Then she could have monopolised more of his time today, but instead she was stuck here waiting. Cana had noticed and tried to cheer her up the best way she knew how, and since she hadn't like some of the insinuations that the woman had made she had taken her up on her challenge. That distraction was gone now, and she was still almost fully sober thanks to her little trick. Displacing the symptoms of being drunk into others was easy. Cana might get annoyed at her tomorrow from the splitting headache she'd have but she would have had that anyway with how much she drunk.
Still, it was a bit mean of her. She just didn't like Cana treating her like a love sick fool, just because she was disappointed waiting to talk to Ichigo.
"You know why some of them see it that way," she heard Nabura tell her, floating behind her invisible to all but a few. "Just talk to others while you wait. There's plenty here you haven't spoken to in ages."
"I spoke to Chelia a month ago, I'm not bothered right now. Erza I met two months back on a jointed quest, that cooperation stuff was stupid when either one of us could have handled it solo but the council does like their show of cooperation between guilds, Natsu and Lisanna are probably reaching the point that they want some alone time now, Gajeel's passed out drunk and dragged Sting down with him, Levy left half an hour ago and I see her at least once a week normally, I speak to Laxus enough when he's lecturing me, I haven't spoken to Gray in a while but he's near Lyon and that man hasn't let me near his daughter since I accidentally made her cry a year back, do I need to go on?"
"If you say Weisz I'm ignoring you for the night," she snapped harshly. Her eyes drifted towards where the young blonde mage was, the man who was only a few years younger than herself currently looking like he was having a nightmare. She wondered if she was the cause of that. He hadn't been able to stand in her presence for more than a minute since their mission together.
It wasn't like she hadn't tried to fix things. Well… maybe not as hard as she could have done. She'd apologised for scaring him, but she was sure her wording hadn't been great there. She'd been paying less attention to it than she should have been, too busy observing the fluctuations of his mental state to her and how her words triggered a negative response. She wasn't even sure why she tried in the first place. Because Laxus was disappointed in her? Because she was worried he'd tell Ichigo and he'd be disappointed in her? She couldn't help it if it was hard acting like everyone else. Besides, didn't they understand how hard she worked to avoid the temptation of simply messing with their emotions to fix the issues? If she wanted to she could make Weisz's fear of her turn into admiration or love or worship or whatever the hell she wanted it to be. So long as she found the right emotion and flipped the right switches, she could have him view her however she wanted. But she didn't, because she knew at least that wasn't right. That her thinking was warped.
When had it started she sometimes wondered. Was it when she became fused with Nabura and began to see things constantly like he did? Was it when she used the power of Nirvana more and more and became changed by it as a result? Or was she always meant to be different, from the moment she learned Sky Magic and saw a world no one else but those with the same kind of magic could see?
Perhaps due to a mix of all three but as she began to see a world that no one else could for year after year, she began to find it harder to relate to those who couldn't see it. She found it hard to understand why they were so slow to notice things she saw immediately, even though she knew the world was different in her eyes. She struggled to get why they thought her feats were impossible and monstrous, even though she knew that what she could do with Nirvana was far beyond the means of others even if they had lifetimes to spend on it.
At least with those she had teamed up with in the past, members of the old guard now of Fairy Tail, she knew she could get along with and that they understood she was different yet still didn't care. If it was power, most of them had it in spades. Laxus was the undisputed strongest guild master in all of Ishgar. Natsu could literally burn away magic itself. Gray could freeze it all solid to the point he sealed it away within ice. Even Levy, retired and injured from pushing herself too far for too long, could make the magic she used act to her whims and imagination like no others could.
But they still flinched at her gaze. Not the one where she glanced at them from the corner of her eye. Not the one where she looked up through eyelashes with her head tilted down. But the straight forward gaze, where she met their own head on. And time after time, they always flinched.
Maybe it was something they saw it her look. Maybe the way she focused on them, and took in every detail, was too unsettling. It hadn't appeared that way when she tried to do so in front of a mirror countless times but when she put it into practice, the result was the same.
Except in one case.
"What are you doing over here by yourself Wendy? You look miserable."
His. Her eyes glanced up, staring at the man before her dead on. And he didn't flinch. Didn't avert his gaze, didn't try to find a reason to break it, he just stared at her like normal. Like people had done years ago before she became too warped for others to comprehend or understand.
He wasn't unsettled by her. Perhaps because as warped as she was from human understanding, he was the same.
"Waiting for you. You take too long."
"You could have grabbed me anytime you wanted you know. Others have."
"You were enjoying their company," she muttered back. "You were happy. I wasn't going to disrupt that just to cheer myself up and have you keep me company." She glanced over at Nozomi, the woman having more to the side and chatting to Jellal now. The man had thought he had hidden quite well but then he'd end up dropped into the middle of a fight at one point by Nozomi and now he wasn't even bothering to linger in the shadows, acting instead like a king as he kicked his feet up on one of the tables. "Did you fix things with Nozomi?" she asked, noticing how the woman seemed happier than before. Considering everything else around her, that was probably the one good sign for her tonight.
"Yeah. She accepted my apology at least, we've reorganised things for next month. She seemed… distracted though."
"And you know why?"
"But you're still worried regardless. What's her future looking like?"
"I don't peek like that Wendy."
"But even if you don't try you still get glimpses don't you?" Because that was the core of why she knew he could meet her own gaze and now find what she saw unsettling. Because while she would see the fabric of the world and how to manipulate it, he would see the strands of time and their outcomes. He'd said he didn't like it. He said he kept it suppressed. But she knew from her own experiences that such powers weren't so easy sealed. Their perceptions weren't that of normal people. If he wanted to avoid seeing anything, he would have to blind himself, and so instead he just tried not to look. But even that would not stop him from seeing snippets. "What did you see?"
"… She looked tired," he finally admitted. "Like she hadn't slept for a week. Like there were enemies in the shadows she was afraid were leap out at her. Now you want to tell me why you were staring at her too?"
Ichigo sighed at her, making her feel like she'd make some kind of mistake. "You realise when you find something interesting you stop blinking? You just stare at it, ignoring everything else around you until someone forces your attention away or until you solve whatever puzzle you're looking at. Nozomi didn't notice luckily, she was too distracted herself, but I'm pretty sure Cana didn't drag you into a drinking contest for no reason.
She wasn't going to bother correcting him on the reason Cana thought she'd been staring so hard initially.
"So, what did you see?"
She glanced at Nozomi again, tilting her head a bit as she thought on how best to describe it. Perhaps though it would be easier to describe it as how she felt about it.
"Alien," she muttered. "Foreign. There's something around her. Something lingering. Clinging to her like a shadow, but the way it flows is at odds with that around her. It's like she's been observed, but not in this plain. But elsewhere. I'd offer to tear apart whatever it is that is clinging to her but it seems harmless right now. Plus I'm not sure how it'd react to me."
"How it would react?"
She nodded. "Yeah. It's looking back at me, which is hard to describe since it's a formless trace of something else, but it knows I'm looking at it. But it's not doing anything. Maybe it considers myself similar to it? I don't know. The Celestial Spirit King probably does though. You noticed the magic lingering on her like a shield?"
"Barely," he muttered back, "Which means no one else did I reckon. Either he was trying to grab our attention or he's trying to shield her from something. You haven't seen that giant in a while have you?"
"No, but you have. Or will? I'm not sure what order that is in for you sometimes."
"I met him once when I was investigating-"
"The Chronophage right? A singularly entity like that, I wonder how it looks. Obviously there is a time component to it but the composition of its body and soul must be one of a kind… Ah."
"You realised you aren't meant to know this?"
She ducked her head a bit but she could still feel that gaze of his burning a hole through her. "I'm sorry. I might have listened in. Just a bit."
He sighed but he didn't sound angry, giving her reason to lift her head back up. She noticed he looked annoyed but not like he hadn't expected this. "You knew?"
"I did try to avoid it but I got a glimpse when I noticed you earlier, mentioning this. I figured I either told you myself, which I doubted, or that you listened in. And since I was paying attention, I noticed the disturbance behind us when you pulled your little stunt. What was it? Displacing sound from one area to the other and then reversing it back so you could hear it but not let us realise what was going on?"
"You picked it up from the difference in sound?" she asked in amazement, only for him to shake his head and poke a figure towards Mavis, the girl having taken Nabura to one side as they chatted in the corner, probably about her if the amount Nabura was talking was any indication. "Ah. When she went up the stairs right?"
"Pretty much. She might not have known what you did outright but she's smart enough and perceptive enough to know that in this room there was only one person capable of such subtle magic on the fabric of the world."
"I can talk freely on this then?"
Ichigo glanced around briefly, eying the others nearby and seeming happy no one was able to listen, whether too drunk or too occupied or simply too far away to make anything out. "Alright. You're going to pester me anyway. What do you want to ask?"
She smiled widely. "Can you talk me with you?"
And immediately that smile dropped, replaced by a frown as she glared at him. "Why not?"
"I'm not taking you on a trip through time."
"You have the space, it's not like one extra person in Fairy Sphere will take up more magic. The shield's cost is by space, not by person."
"You're correct. But there are a few very good reasons to not take you on such a journey. One, it's dangerous-"
"I'm an S Class mage who could beat almost anyone in this room."
"-because the entity I'm trying to track devours time," Ichigo continued, as if she hadn't interrupted him. "Nirvana is powerful but can you protect against it?"
"I can deal with time magic. You know that. Besides, it hasn't affected me yet. I even notice when it causes disruptions to time."
"And you didn't say anything or try and fix it?" Ichigo demanded from her. "I know you can do so if you notice disruptions, you did it with Yhwach's power."
"Yeah. But I thought these disruptions were caused by you. And if they were your changes, I wasn't going to stop them from happening. You'd obviously were right in making them."
Ichigo stared at her for a moment, making her think she had said something wrong, before he sighed again in frustration. "Wendy… just because I change something, it doesn't make it right. Don't let me do as I wish, else one day I might abuse that trust."
Ah. He was still worried. Even though he was using Mavis' power now, he was still worried he'd one day decide to go around and fix every problem he came across. His resolve to resist such temptation though was still impressive, more so now that he was using said power. It was the same kind of resolve that helped her avoid her own temptations with Nirvana too.
"Noticing disruptions though don't necessarily mean you'd be safe. This is an enemy I'm wary of, because I don't know what it's capable of or how its power might affect me. Reason two, I'm not going to be your excuse for running away."
"I'm not running away!" she exclaiming, raising her voice before quickly covering her mouth and lowering herself back down into her seat when a few glanced her way. "I'm not. I swear I'm not…"
"Laxus told me what happened Wendy," Ichigo said to her simply. He didn't sound annoyed at least. Just… disappointed? That sounded like it. "I know it hurts when people don't understand you. And I know I'm not in a place to offer good advice on this. Our situations differ too much. But nothing good comes from running. Of that I can at least say, not proudly so, that I know what I'm talking about."
"I know that," she whispered. "It's just… they stare. They whisper between themselves. They don't laugh or hurl insults or try and attack me in any way. They're good people here, the ones Laxus wants me to try and know. They aren't trying to be cruel or mean… but I scare them. And I have tried. Maybe not as hard as I should in all cases, but I have tried. But they look at me… and don't understand who I am. I've tried changing in the past but then I feel like a lie, like I'm purposefully wearing a mask, and I end up pushing them away or they push away when they finally ask me to take off the mask. I'm… tired. Tired of it all."
"So maybe it is running away," she admitted as she stared back at him hopefully. "But isn't that alright? Just for a bit? It's different with you. We might not see the same things but neither of us expects the other to. Both of us perceive the world in different ways that no one else but our partners, Nabura and Mavis, can even begin to describe. I don't frighten you because we're too similar, and even if just for a bit I want to not have to worry with all of this. I just want to go on a quest with someone who will meet my eyes and not flinch. Is that so wrong?"
"That's not healthy Wendy," Ichigo stated, sighing in a way she knew was a sure fire sign that his resolve on this was crumbling. "Coming with me won't fix your problems, it'll make them worse."
"Then I'll try some more. Take me with you and when I get back I'll try again. I'll take it seriously once again. I know I can do so and take that risk if I can at least have just a small break away from it all. Besides, that's needed anyway? My presence is scaring people and they need my absence to begin to get over it. It's this or a year long quest, and at least with you I'll have company that isn't Nabura, since he likes to lecture me a lot currently and I'm sure you can agree it's more unhealthy for me to only talk to the entity that embodies Nirvana that no one else but us can see."
"You'd still be at great risk."
She frowned. He was back to risk again. He knew she was strong, and they'd already been over this. Why was he clinging to this- Ah! He'd been hiding it under everything else but by peeling away each excuse she could find it beneath. The guilt. The familiar guilt.
"What did you do?" she found herself asking curiously, making him freeze. "You're feeling guilty. Normally that doesn't mean you are actually guilty though. For you, it's normally the feeling you place on yourself when you view something as your fault or your responsibility to fix. And you're feeling that right now? About the Chronophage? Why would you feel that way? Unless… did you… did you creat-?"
Ichigo's hand shot across her mouth before she could finish that sentence, his eyes darting from side to side as he made absolutely sure that no one had heard what she had been trying to say. It didn't matter much to her though. This was a lead she'd relentlessly pull on to get what she wanted.
"Well?" she asked as he brought his hand away. "Did you?"
"I…" He looked more guilty now, but also unsure. She noticed how he fiddled with the energy in the air as he tried to find his words, a subconscious habit she had noticed he had taken to more over the years. A left over from his time as the avatar of magic itself she supposed, in that even if he didn't make it visible he knew how to incredibly easily manipulate it and make it dance in his palm without needing to think. But it usually happened more whenever whatever he was thinking about seemed to relate to that time. "The largest event I ever changed was the world's end. I interfered in my own timeline. I stopped Mimihagi, but I also destroyed the very reason I went back in the first place. Maybe normally it could have been managed but Mimihagi's actions weren't one thread of time out of a million. Rather he played events so that all time collapsed into a single thread where it could all end at. And my actions returned one back to a million."
Ichigo paused for another moment, glancing briefly at Mavis. "We, Mavis and I, we've talked on this over the years. We wondered if there might be consequences. When the world was first remade and time began to diverge to millions of branches once more, the attempts at reconnecting all of history to new futures combined with the presence of the one who could cause it being unable to do so almost shattered reality. It created a paradox that would have ripped apart the time that was trying to stabilise, and so I removed the issue by erasing my past self. But I was slow, too weak to react as fast as I should have done. For a short while, that paradox would have left rumblings through time. And it's possible that, during the chaos, it created something. Something to fix the mistake. Something to correct time, and the only way to do so was to simply devour whatever the problem was. That's what we believe the Chronophage is. The aftereffects of my efforts to save the world from Mimihagi."
"Laxus and Levy don't know, do they?"
"No, but you being a little eavesdropper know that already. No one knows this, except for Mavis and I. And now you and Nabura."
"And that's why you won't take me with you," she pointed out. "You see it as your responsibility. Your mess. You want to fix it yourself where possible."
"It's still a bad habit of mine. Nozomi calls me out on it too much, even if she says I've gotten better. But if I did cause this, I need to fix it. Before my attempts at saving cause destruction. I won't tell Laxus or Levy because I won't drag them into this, not when they have lives they are living and when Levy would try and force herself beyond what she's capable of now. Though they probably suspect something."
"Not surprising then," he muttered with a chuckle. "They are some of the few who know me best. Of course they'd notice I'm trying to hide something when I spent so many years doing just that. Do you understand now?"
"Yeah. So I'll come with you."
"Thanks, I… Wait, what?"
"I'll come with you," she repeated, smirking slightly. "It sounds like it'd be a fun mission in the first place, I'm strong enough to help, I need to get away anyway, oh and I will blackmail you if you don't agree."
"Blackmail?" He looked at her in disbelieve. It might have made her back down and drop the threat if not for the fact she knew without it he would cling to his stubbornness. "Wendy, you can't just-"
"Shall I start with Laxus? Once he knows he'll drop everything as you well know. Or what about Nozomi? I'm sure she might be pretty pissed. Oh, what about Levy? How many lectures do you think you'll get until she's satisfied? I could have fun watching that."
"Weren't you listening to anything I said?"
"I was. And I don't care," she stated calmly, confidently placing a hand against her chest. "You're looking at the woman who Yhwach himself saw as one of the major threats to his desires near the end, all because I could reject the time he tried to cast and restore the world to its previous state. I can confidently say that with my power I'll be invaluable to you. If you're not able to catch it yet when chasing it through time, I might be able to see clues in the world itself that offer a hint. You have nothing to lose, everything to gain, and all it will cost is giving me the chance for a break from all of this. Sounds good right?"
He stared at her for a moment. Then another. The longer it dragged on for, the less confident she felt and the more she felt like she hadn't presented her case well enough. Should she lean more on the blackmail? Perhaps try and rephrase things again and sell her skills more? Perhaps if she-
Her thoughts grounded to a halt, taking a few seconds to get moving again as she replayed that word. "Fine? Really!?"
"Yes, really," Ichigo shot back at her in annoyance, crossing his arms. "Why is the girl who was blackmailing me sounding surprised now?"
"Well I mean… I thought I might need to press harder?"
"One trip though. I mean it Wendy."
"Sure, that's fine." She could always pressure him to extend it later. Nozomi had explained it well once but it was far easier to make Ichigo do what you wanted if you already had the grounds for it.
"And once you're back, you'll be trying to make friends again. I'm not going to cave so easily next time if you don't, regardless of what you try."
"That's fine!" It wasn't but she had promised it. It did seem he already knew what she was planning so she would be forced to give it her full effort but she had already planned to. She wasn't one to go back on her own word. "You won't regret this."
"Somehow I know I will," he shot back, half sarcastic and half amused. "I need to tidy up things here before we go. You're familiar with the Magic Council's headquarters so meet me there a week from now."
"Eh? A week?"
"… Yep, that's the same expression. This will be worth it," Ichigo muttered as he turned to leave, Mavis quickly rushing to his side as they began to move towards some of the others. "Don't forget."
"Hey, wait? What did you see?" she demanded, watching him go with a frown. He'd seen something, that much she knew for sure.
Wait a minute. Was he making he wait on purpose? Was that meeting a week from now for her going to be far less for him? He wasn't going to use Lumen Histoire as a shortcut for this right? But then he had looked amused at something. Her irritation maybe?
Ah who cared? She got what she wanted and could hardly wait. A quest chasing after a monster devouring time, teamed up with one of the only two who could understand her. She couldn't ask for more than that.
"I trust you will actual try more to make friends then when we return Wendy?"
Well, maybe a bit less nagging from Nabura.
Protector Of The Fairies
"You think we should be doing this?"
"Second thoughts Ichigo?"
He nodded, waiting patiently in one of the large gardens the magic council had for appearances for Wendy to show up. He'd gotten Mavis to tell Nabura a week ago the time of their meeting, easy enough to do so when they could communicate to one another without words, and so Wendy had been none the wiser of the timing until Nabura informed her. The two might be bonded on a physical level, but their minds weren't as closely linked as they were compared to him and Mavis so he was sure he'd kept the secret well. Once Nabura told Wendy the meeting time he knew she'd be here in moments, teleporting in with the ease of walking down the street. Her mastery of Nirvana was impressive. And worrying.
He hoped this trip might help somewhat. Had gone back and forth with Mavis on the pros and cons with this. And they kept coming back to the same answer. If left alone, Wendy was likely to deteriorate further.
Her mental state was too warped. Laxus had expressed concerns. Nozomi had admitted she had envisioned this years ago, that future realised by the illusion she was once trapped in. And he'd been around enough times to notice how she latched onto him whenever he was back where possible, how she'd talk to fewer and fewer others during those times. How no one that didn't know her as a kid, and even some of those if he was being frank, could really manage to get along with her for long. There were rarely harsh words thrown at her but the environment it created? She already felt it. She didn't feel like she belonged, a feeling that he was sure had grown as more of those who had still accepted her easily enough had moved to other stages in their lives, some of which took them far away.
He wasn't exactly much different. But she was too fixated on him as a potential answer to her problems. On the idea that if one person could understand her then she didn't care about the rest.
It wasn't healthy. It wasn't right. And he had no idea how to fix it because she was right too. Her mentality was shifting away from that of others. His had too. She resonated more with those that couldn't see the world in the same way of the masses in the hopes that they can understand her in some way, that even if they see different things they could still share in the knowledge that the world they saw was one only they could witness.
But that path would lead her to a dark place. She would never commit an act out of malice, but one day she might just stop seeing morality in the same way. Nabura had confided in them as much that Nirvana's power was dangerous in the hands of one who began to lose sight of human morality. That if she lost herself too far, she might feel nothing in the act of turning evil to good with a snap of her fingers, of warping the mentality of others to better suit her goals. She already did in on a small level, not so much affecting their emotions but reading them and taking actions or speaking words to try and either bring about a desired result, whether it be positive or negative, or using it as a way of determining whether it was worth even continuing to try and interact with them any further if she couldn't get them to stop being frightened of her.
There was no guarantee this journey would do much for her. But he hoped that the idea that at least one person understood her would help ground her for the time being. To buy time for her to find more people who could like her for who she was. Because if he was to disappear, whether through death or simply through a need to leave, she'd be left without anyone to rely on. Not even Nabura could help with this.
For now though, he'd have little choice but to try and hope his decision was a correct one. It was all he could do.
"Enjoying the gardens?"
He frowned, glancing at the new arrival. The man before him, with wavy brown hair, looked at him through thick glasses and had quite the kind expression plastered on his face. It even seemed real too, and he was sure he wouldn't even notice normally. But while one eye saw a smile, another saw a smirk, one that he had yet to see but apparently one day would. He didn't want to admit that it bothered me, because he hated whenever he saw something like this. It made him suspicious, it made him wary, of events that yet to even occur and might or might not depending on what he said from this point onwards.
"Yeah," he said, not wanting to give much of a pause and show any unease. "I've been here quite a few times over the years. It's a nice place to think. You new here? I'd assume so if you haven't seen me here before."
"Depends on how you define new," the man answered calmly. "It's been close to a year now but I suppose neither of us have had a chance to interact. Kisuke Urahara has spoken quite highly of you though, if I'm to be correct on your identity." The man's eyes briefly glanced up at his orange hair and he had a feeling he knew what kind of description Kisuke had used. One that rather annoyed him when he saw the smile look a lot more amused. "He was right on the colour, though rather rude on the carrot comparison."
"You can tell him to stop telling bad descriptions to his assistants… hang on, that's a normal Rune Knight uniform. You're a soldier, not a scientist?"
"I tend to be on loan between both," the man admitted easily. "Officially I belong to the units under General Meredy, but my intelligent tends to put me in high demand and so I get borrowed from time to time. Such opportunities have given me plenty of time to interact with your former mentor. He really is a genius, there's plenty to learn from him. Wouldn't you agree?"
He did but he was sure they were thinking differently on what there was to learn. "Kisuke only taught me how to fight and win. I wasn't smart enough to benefit from the stuff he does." The fact the man named Meredy as his superior rather than a typical unit captain was odd too, but he did remember Byakuya mentioning in the past about a surprisingly talented new subordinate that had Meredy had taken an interest in training. Was this the one?
"Ah, where are my manners? I have yet to introduce myself have I?" The man bowed his head slightly in a sign he was sure was meant to be respect but was one he still had difficulties guessing the truthfulness behind it. "My name is Sousuke Aizen. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"Same," he muttered, watching as the man lifted his head and glanced towards Mavis.
"And I assume this is Mavis Vermillion then? First master of Fairy Tail, and of course… Well, that part is confidential as you well know."
Ah, there was the unease back again. He didn't have to look to know that Mavis had taken a step behind him, putting him as a wall between the two. The man though seemed to notice her unease and gave another smile, one that tried to express his regret.
"I'm sorry. My curiosity got away of me. There's a lot of things I've been able to learn over the years, especially in this last year, and I couldn't help but approach the two of you. I was curious to see what the man from the legends was like, and how the object of desire from the great war acted. But it seems I have caused some distress regretfully. Do not fear, I was only interested from a scientific point of view. The idea of living and breathing entities of magic like her were rather fascinating."
"That's fine, but as you can tell Mavis isn't much of a fan. So do you mind leaving?"
"Of course. Apologises once again for the trouble. Though I do hope we will get a chance to talk again. I'm sure there are viewpoints of this world that only you two have that I'd be rather fascinating in learning if you had time."
With that the man left as quickly as he had arrived. He watched him leave to be sure, seeing this Aizen meet up with other soldiers as he reached the edge of the gardens and then disappear further into the corridors of the magic council to who knows where. Only then did he let himself relax a bit, glancing at Mavis who was still staring after the man.
"Fine. Just… you noticed right? We do meet him again."
"I'm not going to look."
"You sure? Because he seemed… off. But only because we knew he would be."
"I know. But you know I don't like seeing what is to come Mavis. What is to happen will happen, but unless it's in the short term I don't like knowing my personal future. There's too much chance seeing it will lead me to causing it when I'm guessing on what leads to a result. We've seen it happen once too, where our actions lead to the same thing we saw."
"If you're sure. Just… watch yourself around him."
"You will what?"
He glanced at the second newcomer, this one he had been more able to notice quickly due to still being on high alert. Wendy looked at him curiously, glancing a few times towards where Mavis was looking, before back to him questioningly. In turn he merely shook his head, denying her answers. "Nothing," he lied. "Just was talking to some new faces. You ready to go?"
That distracted her well enough, the beaming smile she had on her face enough to distract her from anything else. It was enough to even distract him, to let him focus on one problem at a time. For now, the Chronophage was what mattered, with the goal of hopefully helping Wendy in the process. Everything else could come after this problem was sorted.
"Let's go," he said, putting one hand of Wendy's shoulder as Mavis leapt onto his back and slung her arms around his neck, gripping him tightly as both of their eyes shifted to gold and the light of Lumen Histoire began to shine.
Whether to the past or the future, he'd just try and face each problem head on.
That was all he could do. He was still a member of Fairy Tail after all. And while the path of a protector of that home had brought him much pain, it was not something he'd wish to change.
And so one more time, he stepped forward to protect those he cared for.
Protector Of The Fairies
And so it ends. The final chapter. The end of the story, but not the world. And that's what a lot of this chapter wanted to show. That although the story had ended, the world itself had not. Some stories have currently ended happily for characters. Laxus may be stressed out, Levy might be retired, Erza may be in another guild, and so forth, but they are still satisfied with their lives. Are they what you would expect from the start of the story? No, but then this is where they have ended up years later after everything that has gone down.
Others meanwhile are managing to move on as best as they can. Yuzu struggles each day but still is managing to hang on. Gray is filled with guilt but he finds meaning in the happiness he gets to share and little by little is able to move forward. Even future Laxus has found some peace, a far nicer end than the original death he had half the story ago.
Other scenes meanwhile showcased that there is more going on in the world. Nozomi's adventurer for part of the chapter showcased that there is more to protect the world from, while Ichigo and the magic council are chasing after an entity known as the Chronophage, and yes that is an Edens' Zero reference just as some characters here were.
One of the most fun characters to write post timeskip though here was Wendy. There are many strong mages who stand at the top of the world right now. Laxus, Ichigo, those ones are obvious. And at this point, Wendy's own name is now known far and wide. She is like the Erza of canon in the early days of Fairy Tail when it comes to her fame, only it's far greater. But she's also so terribly alone. Nabura and the power of Nirvana have changed her in a fundamental way, to the point even the thing that Nozomi saw isn't shaking her when she sees its lingering energy. But that has distorted her view on the world and those around her, and has struggled to help her connect. And even when she tries, she ends up being disappointed in the results when she messes up.
All of that has led her to cling to Ichigo in a way many have already noticed as unhealthy. If Chelia was watching, she would likely equate it to how she probably acted to Yhwach. Wendy's problem is that she knows Ichigo is also distorted now too, that their views are not identical but they are different from those around them. It's why over time he has become able to use Lumen Histoire despite his earlier reservations about doing so. What he is now has changed him slightly, as Lumen Histoire is a part of his own makeup due to him and Mavis being one entity now, just as Wendy was changed by being fused with Nirvana. And that's good enough for her, to know someone else can understand what it's like for others to not get what you see but still accept her regardless. It's an unhealthy attachment however, one that as seen Ichigo does deserve to fix.
Funny though. I never thought Wendy would end up as one of the most broken characters in this story. There have been many characters in this story that have been strong in many ways, but she was definitely the most fun broken character to write. And she didn't start out that way either like Yhwach did. Which reminds me as well as probably my favourite fight that I wrote. Not Yhwach, not Zeref, not Baraggan, not even Mimihagi. Acnologia. The battle that didn't even feature Ichigo, but instead multiple dragon slayers attempting to slay the mighty beast. And even that wasn't enough.
Acnologia was the battle that I built to so well. From setting up Rogue long ago, to building the hatred in scenes in the past, to showing Acnologia's raw strength when he did appear, and then letting him unleash it all in that giant battle. It probably was influenced too by my disappointment at the time with the end to the canon fight against him but it didn't change how much I enjoyed writing it, especially once I got to reveal that Acnologia was Rogue. His end too was satisfying since in the end, it took everything they had to bring him down and kill him. And it was only because Acnologia finally let his guard down, because when it came to fighting dragons he had won. It was a victory that was only brought about by losing first.
If I was to write this story again, I would have leaned on that more, the idea of leading to one major villain. Not 3 with secret bosses. The war arc was too long, I tried to do too much, and in some ways I do think areas suffered for that. Equally I think there were many relationships I could have developed more, cast members I could have focused on more, but that's hindsight for you. But hopefully everything I came to dislike or realise didn't work well will make my future works that much better.
Still, while parts may have been long I did get to explore many fun aspects along the way. Different abilities in enemies, different plotlines that I setup years in advance, Baraggan in particular took years to finally show up and then for the payoff to begin. And while some relationships I should have explored better with Ichigo, I was happy with some of the ones I did do. His bond with Mavis, his closeness with Shinji, his friendship with Laxus and Levy, I was satisfied with stuff like that.
Which is also why I can't leave off with saying something about Levy. Never did I imagine I would take a fairly average mage using solid script magic and make her the most stubborn character in the story, always the first to try and get back up even when she was becoming more broken by her injuries each and every time. She was never able to match titans of magical power, but she held her own far past when some might have thought she would reach. She was honestly one of my favourites, and I wish I had used her more in the war arc. One of my regrets with it due to its sheer size and all.
Putting the story itself to the side now though, thank you everyone who has been here all this time reading this and looking forward to chapter after chapter each week. I have said this before I believe but my view on stories that I write is that I write the stuff I want to read. It's sort of a selfish style of writing, as I started writing because the story I wanted to read did not exist. So I decided to make it myself. By while I wrote the story for myself, I was happy so many people enjoyed reading it each and every week and it made sharing it worth it knowing others also enjoyed what had come from my mind. For those who always left reviews, thank you. For those who only left the odd review, thank you. To those who never left any reviews but instead just read the story, thank you. And to those who have been here since the start, thank you. Thank you for staying with it all these years.
Can you all believe how old this story is? I started this back in 2013. That's seven years ago now, and even with the longer breaks in the last 2 years let's say it's still been a long time with chapters. 261 chapters, over 2 million words, almost 3600 reviews, around 3000 favourites and alerts, and over 2 million views too. This has been a long piece of work, one that started before I started University and is now ending a few years into a job. Hopefully any future stories are better slotted in around that schedule, as I don't think I ever truly shifted away from the old schedule in my mind for this story when it came to free time for writing, which made it harder near the end.
I hope this journey has been as fun for all of you as it has been for me. Oh, and for those asking for Aizen even after years? You finally got him. Aren't I kind? That treat is for you lot. You'll have to imagine what trouble he gets into next.
But before I leave you all off, I know some of you have been curious of what my next work might be or whether I will write anything else. The answer to the latter is yes, I do have plans to continue with other stuff. It may be a little while before I do so, the fact this story was incomplete for so long meant I never could truly relax even during my long break, so I want to enjoy some true freedom from it for a bit. But when I do return, there are a few possibilities for what it may be. So I will leave off with small snippet type things that give indications to ideas floating around in my mind. Naturally I won't be writing all of these, but there are frontrunners currently.
"You can be a hero."
"Vigilantism is a crime. Your desire to be a hero is useless if you end up in a jail cell."
"There's something wrong with you Emiya."
"All of this, everything you see here, it is all for you."
"Just because you're correct, it doesn't mean you're right."
"Every night at midnight, another hour appears."
"You must take responsibility for your actions."
"A tower that stretches between worlds. Between realms. Such a thing is dangerous, and the Shinigami know it."
"You're not even afraid of dying. So how can I trust you to lead us when you don't even care whether you live or die?"
"One hand for akuma, the other for humans."
"Exorcists and Shinigami, all bunched together. What game shall we play today?"
"Your life will forever change if you accept this power. Are you sure?"
"Give me that blade Shinigami."
"What would you do if I told you one day you'll have to kill someone close to you?"
"Keep walking. Never stop."
"The time of heroes long since died. This is a land of adventurers, as much as some might wish for the old days."
"Welcome to my familia. We may be few in number but so long as you're with us then you're family."
"This place is the city of dreams. I wish you'd be shaken from them before it's too late."
"The gods and goddesses are fickle beings. They act like they wish the best for us, yet savour anything that brings them entertainment."
"Ah, the bells are ringing out."
"What does it mean to be a hero?"
"What does it mean to be strong?"
"What meaning is there that can be found in a dungeon?"
And there you go. Small snippets, disconnected really but trying to give hints at the ideas that may come. Guess away as you wish, but for now I'll bid you a final farewell from this story.
For the very last time from Protector Of The Fairies, till the next time. I've been Takei. Thanks for reading.