Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Fairy Tail.
Chapter 5: Edolas World War – Cataclysm
"YAH!" a young woman yelled fiercely, lashing out with her whip as she unleashed it in order to ensnare the three hapless fools who'd decided to charge her.
The magic-enforced weapon crackled with energy as it coiled around the necks of the three infantrymen and electrocuted them harshly, yet finitely — a function of the lacrima-powered weapon which took into account the limited amount of energy it had at its disposal to make effective use of.
"Heh. That's another three down," Lucy muttered as she retracted her magic whip, dashing off to engage other hostiles. The three foot soldiers that had been introduced into her tender care collapsed in a single heap, motionless and forgotten.
"What the fuck? Jet! Droy! Are you actually gonna let Lucy outdo you?!"
"And why shouldn't I?!" Lucy shouted back tauntingly at Levy as she dispatched another couple of soldiers. "More than that, why the hell are you blaming them? It's your fault! Your weapon's too clunky for straight-up fights. You need Jet and Droy to draw the enemy's attention away from you!"
Levy grumbled at that, visibly angry at how true Lucy's statement rang; while she was indeed able to mow down veritable hordes of the Royal Army's ground troops thanks to her magic cannon, she needed Jet and Droy to cover for her when any enemies closed in on her position. Given how many enemies she had taken out, it was no surprise that her two teammates had been run ragged, since eliminating her had become the current priority of their enemies.
The guild as a whole couldn't be blamed for how they had ended up in this situation, given the unforeseen nature of it all; while they had been furtively travelling beneath the ground as per usual, the earth had inexplicably started to split apart, with massive fissures opening up that coincided with pulses of energy that made it all too obvious that it was anything but a natural occurrence. What was so concerning about it all, though, was what the possible underlying cause of this phenomenon was — who, or what, was doing this? Didn't the people involved know that the world was tearing itself apart because of what they were doing?
Levy had hypothesized that the very fact they had ended up in an all-out fight with a significant portion of the Royal Army's forces was linked to that, which Lucy found to be rather obvious seeing as how the earth practically spitting them out set them up to either fight or flee, what with the Royal Army's ground troops converging upon their position shortly after their emergence from below ground. While in the past they would have quite easily taken the latter option — a recourse that was very much available to them given how their guild hall's involuntary surfacing preserved the magical energy that would have been expended had they emerged of their own volition — there was too much risk involved in such a course of action. If they retreated in the face of adversity in the form of Faust's forces like they always did, they ran the risk of subjecting themselves to whatever violent reaction the earth would have in store for them underground due to whatever was aggravating it. They were lucky enough to have escaped unscathed the first time around, and not even Lucy was foolhardy enough to try her luck with that.
A few of the spear-wielding soldiers Lucy had beaten to a pulp had boasted of how it had been their king whose power had adversely affected the environment (the ushering in of a new age, they had said), but she doubted their claims since she couldn't see the tyrant king having a weapon with such power at his disposal and keeping it under wraps when he could have just used it to finally wipe out Fairy Tail once and for all.
Sure, she was overestimating her guild's importance as far as perceived threats to Faust and his oppressive kingdom were concerned, but none of that even considered the possibility that the force behind the current cataclysmic events taking place was something else altogether; as power-hungry as Faust was, not even he would be alright with sending the whole of Edolas to ruination and destruction.
Looking around with a distinct air of satisfaction, Lucy took pride in the fact that her guild mates, despite being forced into combat in such an adverse (and frankly, unexpected) situation, were doing an admirable job holding their own despite the sheer numbers of their enemies. As a matter of fact, things were starting to look really good for them until the telltale roar of the dark-pinioned creatures that (alongside the Fairy Hunter) routinely terrorized them sounded out.
The Legions' roars, which were ominous in and of itself, were subsequently corroborated by their broad shadows combining to envelop the splintered battlefield, invoking a sense of doom and gloom within her fellow Fairy Tail members. Natsu, who had been doing surprisingly well despite his crippling fear, damn near dropped his sword at the sight, while Elfman cowered next to a despondent Mirajane. The two of them were already negatively affected by Lisanna's absence, and the appearance of the devilish creatures would surely only add to said despair.
"Levy–!" the busty blonde barked, intending to instruct her rival to get back to the guild in order to operate it for defensive purposes; she hadn't needed to, though, as Levy was already making to do what she was thinking.
"I know!" the girl snapped back, lugging her clunky magic cannon on her back as she retreated back to the mobile guild hall, escorted by her two teammates. "If I do this, we won't have enough magic power to leave, you know!"
"Yeah, yeah," the blonde grumbled, but took solace in the fact that their decision was made much easier by the periodic aftershocks that occurred; she didn't see any way they could traverse all of that without any complications. Hell, they were fortunate enough as it was that they came out of the first edoquake relatively alright.
"Wh-what the hell?" Lucy uttered, deeply alarmed by the thunderous squawk that drowned out the roars of the approaching Legions. When she looked up, she saw a gigantic, shaggy-feathered brown bird that looked downright freaky moving contradictorily to its appearance; while it looked ugly as hell, it moved with impeccable grace for a winged animal, gliding effortlessly through the sky. The fact that it suddenly accelerated into a corkscrewing motion and subsequently ripped the late-arriving Legions to pieces with an almost vicious ease had her amending the previously critical thoughts she had of it, though.
"Uh... Levy?" she called out, contacting the guild's machinist through one of their few communicative lacrimas (the guild had appropriated them whenever possible in order to supplement its members that were out in the field) as she witnessed the incredibly rapid change of circumstances. "...Yeah, we won't be needing you and the guild's magic anymore."
"What?! Quit fucking around, Lucy! Give me a sec, and I'll take out those Legions!"
"No need," Lucy said airily, more than pleased to let Levy know that her services were no longer needed. She felt the beginnings of a smirk start to grow on her face. "Just... see for yourself."
"...What. The. HELL...?"
Levy wasn't the only one at a loss for words. Lucy herself couldn't find the words to aptly describe what it was they were all bearing witness to. That bird's beak was lethal. As a whole, it really put everything in perspective regarding the winged animals Faust's army had at their disposal; this random bird put them all to shame with its sheer size, and its speed was so far superior to theirs that their defeat was a foregone conclusion. But...
"...Where the hell did it come from? Our luck ain't anything worth writing home about. It's... too good to be true. Dammit," she groused, already wary of their inevitable comeuppance that would surely arise as a result of their stroke of good fortune.
"Lu-Lucy-san, surely... surely this is good for us? Th... those Legions would have devoured us all," Natsu said as he approached her, wary of a potential outburst directed at his person despite the blonde's attention being held by the lone creature patrolling the skies.
"What's it gonna do now?" she mumbled to herself, already treating the apparent ally in the bird as a potential threat, a natural assumption given their lack of understanding regarding the motivations behind its actions. True enough, it flipped around in midair, making a sharp descent as it headed towards them.
"Oh... oh no! It's coming this way!" Natsu shrieked, heading for the proverbial hills as he fled from the rapidly incoming anatomical anomaly that was the giant drill-beaked bird that seemed to have turned on them now. Running seemed to be a futile course of action, though, since none of them would have any hope of getting away on foot; it was just too fast.
"As I thought," Lucy said, her voice laced with a tinge of satisfaction at the fact that she was proven right, in spite of her mounting fear at the seemingly inevitable attack; as a result, she consequently readied her magic whip in preparation for corralling, or at least deterring, the aerial marvel.
"You can't seriously be thinking of taking that thing on," Wendy said incredulously, backing away as she set herself up to ensure she could get clear of where the bird would swoop in when it made its pass at them. Her tonfas had been bloodied after having spent the better part of the last hour bludgeoning anyone sorry enough to cross her path, but they were far from the ideal type of weapon in this scenario.
"Of course not, I'm not an idiot," Lucy said somewhat irritably. "But... that thing's fast. How the hell can we avoid it? We'd have a better chance confronting it — at least we'd be able to defend ourselves instead of exposing our backs to it when we try to run."
"Whatever," Wendy muttered, continuing to back away from Lucy so as to not make herself such an obvious target.
The bird screeched again, but as it neared them, it ceased its spiralling motion (a development that caused the lot of them to stop holding their breaths in their relief — not a one of them could ever remember a more intimidating sight), although it looked to Lucy that it still seemed hellbent on crashing into the ground. Before she could utter warning to evade the kamikaze attack, it was engulfed in a cloud of smoke.
"Huh?" That... actually sounded like a young woman. "...Lisanna?"
"Unnnh... that jerk! Hic! Wait 'till I... 'till I– hic! 'Till I give him a piece of my mind... hic!"
The girl was so shaken she was hiccuping and shivering (her face was also tear-streaked in her fear), although Lucy got the feeling that she seemed to be pleased to be done with her ordeal, whatever it was.
'Wait a minute...' Lucy thought. 'Was she... riding that mutant bird... that entire time? Holy shit!' No wonder she was so freaked out. That animal looked scary as hell from a distance; the blonde didn't even want to entertain the thought of actually being near the damned thing.
"Mi-Mira-nee..." the girl mumbled as she was wrapped up in a hug by her elder sister, who had seemed to snap out of her morose demeanour at the miraculous appearance of her short-haired little sister. Lucy could see why she was so worried, especially after that scare they had almost two years ago where they had thought she'd died. Elfman rushed in as well, never far from his elder sister as he tearfully engulfed them within his large, broad arms.
"Look," Lucy said, "while we're all glad for your little family reunion, now's not the time for all this. We're not out of the woods yet." As she said this, everyone in the guild gathered in front of the guild hall where they were, ready for the next move.
Surprisingly, Lisanna was the first to respond to her words of warning, saying, "Y... y-you're right, Lucy. Everything's happening so fast, and that means nothing good for us..."
"Why is it that the Royal Army attacked us in force?" Juvia inquired, no longer looking like her immaculate self (her normally well-coiffed hair was frazzled, among other things) thanks to the frenzied fighting she had taken part in. To her credit, though, she appeared to have no wounds on her person. "Are we at war? Has the kingdom finally decided they've had enough of us?"
"More than that," Wendy said, adding on to her fellow blue-haired mage's point, "would they really go to such lengths to destroy us? To destroy the guild?"
"Yes," Lisanna said, extracting herself from her siblings' grip as she stood up on two shaky legs. "The answer to all of those questions is yes."
"Lisanna," Lucy said, grabbing the girl's shoulders and, with the action, her attention.
"Tell us everything that happened."
(Meanwhile — With Naruto)
After sending Pantherlily into a motionless heap, Naruto was quick to turn his gaze onto the woman he had in his unorthodox clutches. He didn't bother giving the fallen cat-man a second glance as he absentmindedly dismissed his clone, all the while sizing up the woman who had tormented the Fairy Tail guild to the point of being dubbed 'The Fairy Hunter'.
The Asura Path had to be one of the coolest abilities he now had at his disposal. When he had manifested the artificial arm thanks to the Path, his heart had raced in joyous relish as he took in the reaction that the proud woman now within his unrelenting grasp had made (the look on Pantherlily's face was a bonus). For her to go from the smug, self-assured confidence one could only assume after managing a stalemate (however brief) against a superior opponent, to expressing such pure, unadulterated shock at the latest ability he had demonstrated, he considered it to be a minor miracle that he had barely managed to restrain himself from assuming the large shit-eating grin that he had wanted to so badly display.
Holding himself back in that regard paid off rather quickly, though, as his mitigated expression at the turn of events (that taunting smirk, to be precise) provoked the bipedal panther into a most inadvisable confrontation that allowed for him to put the winged feline out of commission.
The Asura Path's ability to generate mechanized armour and weaponry was, in a word, fantastical; the fact that he could do things of this nature was eye-opening, to say the least. The most impressive thing about the Path, though, was that its capacity to manifest additional limbs could arguably be considered the most tame of its abilities, a fact which said a lot about its capabilities.
Retracting the supplementary arm from around Erza's neck and back into his chest, he produced a black receiver (a chakra receiver) in his right hand, intending to place it somewhere on the still-conscious redhead's flat, exposed stomach. Upon her throat's release from the frigid vice grip of his third arm, the brown-eyed young woman began coughing violently as she gasped and wheezed for air, collapsing to the ground as her hand gingerly coiled around her own throat in her efforts to soothe the pain of almost having her windpipe crushed.
After he pressed the black rod firmly against her abdomen — an action that prompted her to gasp weakly — only the briefest of moments passed before chakra chains from his Outer Path came forth from his other hand and wrapped around her, binding and restricting her as she started convulsing violently, her body being wracked with pain as a result the harsh restrictions that had been imposed upon her.
After a short amount of time, Erza seemed to get used to the feeling of having the ethereal chains tightly bound around her, merely hissing after having slumped down onto her side helplessly as Naruto towered over her fallen form. Even if she could move (which she couldn't), her renowned weapon was far out of her reach, making her a virtual non-entity as far as threats to the blond were concerned.
"Wh... why..." was all she managed to choke out, breathing shallowly yet harshly as she sucked wind.
"Why not?" Naruto said in response, smiling at the confusion etched on her face. "If I left you without doing anything, you would have just tried to attack me again or something. Tying you up helps both of us; I don't have to fight you, and you don't put yourself at risk of being killed."
Erza didn't know what to say to that. She'd been in countless fights, and if for whatever reason she didn't end up killing those she fought, they would have surely been turned off by her arrogance and sadistic tendencies and as a result, would have liked to see her dead. When she asked through gasping breaths why he didn't hate her or want her to die — why he was so different from others she had fought — he laughed, saying, "The difference is, I'm actually stronger than you." When she bristled at how easily he had said that, he continued, chuckling as he said, "I mean, when was the last time you got your ass kicked? It's probably been a while, right? What I'm trying to say is... why would I want to kill someone who wasn't strong enough to force me to kill them?"
That got her attention. "Are you saying... haah... that the only reason I'm... haah... alive right now is because... because I pose so little a threat to you?"
Realizing that that was the wrong thing to say (particularly since he wanted to keep the conversation going, and the best way to do that was to maintain at least some level of civility), he decided to change tracks blatantly, asking, "Why do you want to kill me so bad, anyway?" He was curious to know her motivations as far as their fight was concerned, and figured that the change in the topic of conversation would help her open up a little.
"I... I wasn't trying to kill you," she said at last, speaking up after a tense moment of silence, her ragged breathing lessening significantly in the time that passed.
"Really? 'Cause it sure looked like you were trying to kill me," he replied, not bothering to mention that he could instinctively infer such intentions from his opponents.
"Well, it may have looked like that, but it... it would have been a setback for us if I did. We... we need you alive to obtain unlimited magic; your power will ensure our nation's future success and survival."
Naruto smiled sardonically at how she spouted the company lines as he made a show of looking around at their surroundings — which, if it was any indication as far as what was to come, did anything but bode well for Edolas' future. "If you all really cared about your world and its future, you wouldn't have let this all happen."
'This' was the gradual, yet no less devastating, destabilization of almost the entirety of the western subcontinent of Edolas. Small tremors periodically wracked the landscape, miniature quakes that would only increase in area of effect and damage output if not somehow mitigated or rectified.
"This was inevitable," the woman said with a scoff, not even giving the deteriorating landscape a glance. She was more concerned with combating the sudden bout of sluggishness she was currently experiencing. "So the world's at risk of collapsing... so what? Sooner or later, it was bound to happen, especially with how limited the magic of Edolas was to begin with. The only reason we've survived this long is because the use of magic for nothing but the most essential of activities has been outlawed!"
"You mean the use of magic at all has been banned, and only outside of the Royal City — if everyone in this world followed your stupid limits and rules, then you wouldn't have had to destroy the lives of others with that Anima magic of yours."
"The Royal City–"
"–Is a goddamned paradise in the form of a city; don't try and deny it. In case you forgot, I've actually been there," Naruto said, cutting off Erza's protest. "If you want to make life here in Edolas as great as you've dreamed of, you have to change your ways and do something different, because all it has gotten you is the pain of the innocent, the hatred of your allies, and the destruction of those you should be protecting. Following in Faust's footsteps has only led to your downfall; that, Erza, was inevitable."
The young woman looked at him seriously, silent as she took in his words. Finally, she said, "While... there is some truth to what you said, would it really matter in the grand scheme of things? Once we obtained enough magic to sustain the lives of all humans, everything would have worked out."
"Yeah, but at what cost? What good would eternal magic be if you destroy everything else to get it? I mean, look at me," the blond said, dismissing her weak reasoning as he stood in front of the trussed up woman. "My power is what you all thought would set you up with endless magic, but at the same time, making an enemy out of someone like me isn't very good for your survival."
"Better this than certain death," the scarlet-haired girl muttered. When Naruto heard that, he shook his head; if she adhered to that sort of thinking, then even if — no, when — he triumphed over her allies, they'd merely pin their world's destruction on what they (supposedly) lacked rather than what they (in particular) did.
"If that's how you really feel," Naruto said, "then we have nothing more to talk about."
"Eh? Wait a minute, you–" was all Erza was able to murmur before Naruto sent her into unconsciousness with the genjutsu made available to him by the Rinnegan.
The blond sighed. That was merely a convenient excuse for him to end their little talk without investing himself too deeply in the concerns of Edolas as a whole; he had a lot on his own plate already. Perhaps Erza would come around when confronted with more evidence to support his claims. For now, seeing as how she seemed more docile and receptive to his words, he retracted the chakra chains that had previously restrained her, freeing up her limbs, though she still remained knocked out.
...Strange. She seemed a little... gaunt. Odd, considering she looked fine mere moments before. And didn't her hair use to be a more vibrant red? It looked... bland.
His contemplative thoughts were abruptly cut short, though, when he saw a barrage of light-coloured spheres converging on his position. In a flash, his body was suddenly engulfed in the red, turbulent chakra of his bijū companion. Instinctively waving his newly formed chakra tails around him, he dispersed the incoming projectiles, causing them to explode in the air around him.
'What? Where'd those explosives come from?'
"Keh heh heh. You always were an oblivious one, Naruto," a deep, gravelly voice intoned from within the dark recesses of his mind. The speaker, Kurama, smirked when it took notice of Naruto realizing its physical intercession of his behalf, chuckling as it maintained a constant flow to Naruto's chakra system with its own potent chakra in the aftermath of the whisker-marked shinobi being bombarded by missiles. "What could possibly possess you to get so carried away that you'd lose track of any incoming threats? Does that 'sage mode' of yours mean nothing to you? Why don't you make use of it, eh?" It was like old times, when the blond was a shrimp right out of the academy, needing to be bailed out by the crutch that was the vulpine Bijū's chakra.
Naruto smiled wryly at his companion's ribbing, keeping his mouth shut given the validity of its points. Actively drawing upon more of Kurama's unfiltered chakra, he had it solidify into a bubbling, roiling shell around him as he buffered it slightly with his own chakra to mitigate the strain it would otherwise have on him. As a result, his appearance had changed rapidly and drastically, highlighted by his now red-slitted right eye, significantly sharpened canines, and the thickened whisker markings on each cheek; the pupil of the Rinnegan eye thinned as well, shrinking into a miniature slit within the now-violet ringed, tomoed sclera. As he finalized his Version One cloak, complete with the translucent shroud of energy and the two large pointed ears atop his head, he mentally noted how much more in-control he was of it; he had currently manifested five tails in his initial jinchūriki transformative state.
"It's not that surprising if you think about it... this is the first time that you've directly used the chakra I still have dominion over instead of the chakra you stole, since the time you actually stole it."
'Hey! I didn't steal it!'
"Right, right. You gained full control over a sizeable portion of my chakra, fair and square. Never mind the fact that you needed your mom hold me down with her accursed chakra chains long enough for you to land an attack on me."
'...Whatever,' Naruto said dismissively, unwilling to admit that the bijū had a point.
Before the Fourth Shinobi World War, and especially before coming to an understanding with Kurama, such a utilization of the fox's chakra would not have been possible for him. In the past, especially during his pubescent years while training under Jiraiya (and due to his adversarial relationship with the Nine-Tails), making use of the tailed beast chakra was a risky proposition due to the adverse effects that would accompany it: the impaired mental faculties, the diminished cognizance of friend or foe, and the extremely harmful chakra poisoning he would suffer from having the raw bijū chakra running through his body for prolonged periods.
After befriending Kurama, though, these drawbacks were now no longer a factor, making it possible for him to use the bijū's chakra (at least the Version One incarnation) freely without any fear of those nasty side effects. The Version Two cloak, of course, remained to be seen, but the early returns in the matter were encouraging, to say the least.
The entire process of making use of Kurama's chakra after the multi-tailed fox took the initiative to ensure he did so (including their little conversation) happened near-instantaneously, leaving his latest opponent to stare upon the visage of the shinobi with the now beast-like appearance as he arrived within his metallic, magic dragon.
In a flash, the blond whipped his chakra tails around him again, deflecting a second volley of those magic missiles coming from said 'dragon'.
"Well, well, well... I never thought a punk like you would be able to handily defeat my Magic War Commanders. Your little excursion ends here, though, boy. Before Dorma Anim, you cannot triumph."
'Looks like he's finally unleashed that 'secret' weapon of his,' the blond thought, recognizing the mechanical construct that appeared before him. Wanting to rile up the power hungry fool piloting the mecha dragon, he responded, "...Who the hell are you, and what's up with the oversized puppet?"
The man, despite being safely concealed within the confines of the machined, armoured dragon, said harshly, "I am King Faust of the Royal Kingdom of EDOLAS! AND YOU, BOY, WILL FOREVER SUPPLY THIS GLORIOUS WORLD WITH YOUR MAGICAL ENERGY!" The loud proclamation was immediately followed by him deploying even more of those missiles from a small hatch on the machine's back, missiles which were again warded off by the tails of Naruto's initial jinchūriki cloak.
Naruto grinned. He had been anticipating this meeting, although he didn't really expect the use of Dorma Anim given its incompletion. As far as Byro had been concerned, it was far from ready for deployment, which only meant one thing: if the old king lost this fight, he would be done for. Even if he somehow survived against Naruto, he would still be the one to have brought the very nation he had ruled over to ruin. And that, Naruto thought, would be a more than fitting end for the deranged monarch.
"Accursed boy! You will fall before my might!" Directing his armored dragon to attack the blond once more, the old King kept spouting off at him about how he should 'submit' and 'relinquish' his power.
"Well, would you look at that. He's still talking," Kurama said, his gruff tone sounding amused at the man currently bellowing at his blond companion. "You... meet the most interesting people, Naruto."
Naruto shook his head at Kurama's comment. The bijū found almost anything and everything to be humorous if it had anything to do with screwing with the blond.
"Tell me," Faust said, having seemingly calmed down, "you stopped my missiles before... can you do it again?"
This time, only four missiles were launched, but they were all thicker and appeared to be more volatile. Although they converged on Naruto's position quickly enough, they were a lot slower than their more flashy predecessors. The reason for their decrease in speed became clear when, instead of continuing on to impact with him, they detonated once they were merely within range of him.
Fortunately for him, his Version One cloak was more than capable of warding off the flames that threatened to swallow him whole courtesy of the more explosive missiles.
"Im... impossible," Faust gasped aloud, stunned at the sight of his practically unscathed opponent. "The explosion got you! It got you!"
"It did," Naruto agreed, standing within a knee-deep crater riddled with spiderweb cracks — the work of the man's frivolous use of explosives. "What, is that all you got? Is this really all you can do? I can see why you want my power so badly."
He wanted to demoralize the man who would initiate a war for no discernible reason other than some perceived slight on his part; if there was one outcome he'd be alright with, it'd be with this warmonger beaten soundly, his spirit broken as the horrors of the war he spearheaded were brought down upon his shoulders. At the very least, he wanted to make the man think twice about doing such things again in the future.
"Rrrrrgh... Dragon Rider's Spreader Cannon!" the manic monarch screeched, desperate to inflict some sort of damage on the blond — literally anything would do.
The area in which Naruto stood was hit with a barrage of magical energy beams that ignited in flashes of fire; the attack was haphazard, with areas that the teenager was nowhere close to being sprayed with the wide-ranged attack at an impressively high frequency. Naruto liked to think that the man was starting to be affected mentally, with the accuracy of his attack being so negatively influenced and whatnot.
Of course, another aspect of their battle that was starting to be overlooked was the actual environment in which they fought. In addition to the wayward attacks Faust heaved that, in his desperation, drastically impacted with the earth, Naruto's potent energy — which was foreign as far as this exotic world was concerned — also catalyzed the already rapid destabilization of Edolas, at least the subcontinent where they did battle. In concert, the two destructive forces were well on their way to devastating the planet one portion at a time, the former (via Dorma Anim) by greedily extracting what little magical power the world had, and the latter (Naruto himself) by his sheer power and presence.
A multitude of fissures cracked open in between and around them, a development which was quickly followed by steam billowing out from within the cracks in the earth. These occurrences were widespread, at distances as far as the eye could see. As the faults shifted against one another, the ground shook violently, a multitude of jarring quakes that had even the delusional king perpetually off-balance despite being inside that armoured vessel of his.
Once the widespread cannon fire attack had died down, Naruto countered with a simple chakra claw attack that ensnared and lifted the machine clear into the air where he then proceeded to slam it down into the ground, repeatedly. While the jarring impacts with the ground weren't doing too much damage to the Edolas superweapon, just being within the grasp of the gigantic limb composed of Kurama's chakra did more than its fair share of damage. The metallic exterior of the Dragon Knight, which had once appeared to have been immaculate and impervious, was now partially warped due to its repeated and constant exposure to the corrosiveness of the Kyūbi's chakra.
Stalling in his brute force attack as a result of spotting the motionless bodies of Erza and Pantherlily out of the corner of his eye, Naruto made a clone to get them out of the way and off of the battlefield while he himself relinquished his chakra cloak's grip on the metal dragon; the intervention on his part on behalf of the two Edolas Army War Commanders was actually quite timely, as they had been lying near a fissure that abruptly started to shift jarringly, a precursor to the heated billowing of steam rushing forth from the cracks in the earth.
After the clone had gotten the two defeated subordinates of Faust out of the way, it dispelled, which in turn provided him an update on his higher-priority clone's progress, which he had ignored in favour of fighting his latest opponent. In a flash, his thoughts were now occupied with his escape from Edolas as opposed to his current engagement.
Generating an Anima in reverse powerful enough to transport him out of Edolas was proving to be quite the chore, Naruto noted a bit sourly, but he was glad to see that some progress was finally being made on that front. While he already sought to get out of this place, the fact that the world seemed like it was gonna literally fall apart made it all the more imperative for him to seek such a departure.
His heart longed for the opportunity to get back to the Elemental Nations, and while his mind supplied the logical reasoning insofar as reminding him of the ramifications of using an all-encompassing technique like the Reverse Anima, in a lot of ways, he didn't really care for what it meant for Edolas as a whole.
Sooner rather than later, he was going to get out of here... at whatever the cost.
(Earlier that day — Royal Palace, Outside the Anima Chamber)
"W-wait! Who are you? Y... you're not permitted to be here! Hey–! GAH!"
"You're not the first person to try and tell me that," Naruto said to the now-unconscious man as he left him to slump to the floor bonelessly. That was the thirteenth guard he had to dispatch that had been stationed outside of the Anima Chamber. Even with all the commotion being caused by the Boss, the place still garnered high priority status as far as guard postings were concerned.
After making sure to conceal the bodies so as to give the appearance that the high priority post was abandoned (something he thought should have been the case given the circumstances — it seemed even Byro underestimated the importance of the chamber which housed the Anima generator), Naruto entered through the giant banded steel doors, only to be met with mayhem as the various technicians, scientists and operators responsible for both the complicated maintenance and operations of the Anima machine scrambled around all helter-skelter.
Given how panicked and frazzled the chamber's occupants were, it was almost as if Naruto may as well have not been there; not a single person saw or detected him despite him not making any effort to conceal himself.
"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my GOD!"
"Magic power is rapidly draining! It's... unprecedented! How is this happening?!"
"Where?! Where is it all going?"
"Here!" a woman shouted, pulling out a hologram-projecting lacrima, which portrayed a depiction of Edolas. The woman (who was middle-aged, moderate in height, and had light-brown hair which was streaked with gray) had a stern look about her. "This red dot is where all the magic is being drawn. If we don't manage it somehow, the world will collapse in on itself centered around that point!" Right on cue, a violent tremor shook the earth, causing everyone to freeze in their tracks momentarily before resuming their previously panicked actions with even more anxiety.
The brief pause was all the blond needed to gain his bearings, though, taking the opportunity to approach the one person in the room who wasn't running around like a madman. "I take it you've all gotten used to the little earthquakes by now," he said almost casually to the middle-aged woman.
"The correct term is 'edoquakes', but yeah, you could say that," she replied absently; Naruto recognized her as Byro's chief subordinate regarding Anima operations, though he didn't care to recall her name. She was currently focusing her attention on something else and was about to elaborate on what she had just said before she realized that someone had decided to speak with her instead of get to work on generating an Anima to help mitigate the magical consumption taking place in Edolas. "...Huh?"
Naruto smiled when she froze after turning to face him. She no doubt recognized him from his wanted posters — speaking of, hopefully the Originator wouldn't mind too much; those were a real annoyance — and probably didn't expect to see him here of all places. When he saw her give him a look rife with wariness, he smiled (he found her reserved reaction to be a pleasant surprise) before asking, "What were you saying?"
"We... while we don't know what exactly is causing those edoquakes, I'm really just concerned with finding out what in particular is the cause of the significant disparity of magical energy between the two halves of the continent. They're obviously connected, but..."
'So only Byro and Faust know about that little weapon of theirs,' Naruto thought, tuning her out when he realized she was out of the loop compared to the king and his Chief of Staff. He didn't even bother acknowledging the fact that she spoke to him truthfully; it was probably out of a sense of fear for what he might do to her if he caught her lying or something. "Why don't you try finding a solution?"
"That's... that's what I'm doing," the woman continued, a bit flummoxed at the line of questioning. This was the man purported to be her superior's killer; what was his end game? "Everyone else is trying to dredge up an Anima to gather some magic to help balance things out, but it will be undoubtedly tough given the expected interference from Earthland..."
What went unsaid was that said interference would doubtlessly come from the king's exiled son, Jellal, whose efforts in such matters had served as a thorn in their side for the better part of the last seven years. Faust, infuriated at the fact that his wayward son had routinely gotten the better of the various professionals he had set about working on the Anima project, had made things more difficult for them by diverting the funding he would have usually preserved for them towards other uses (of which he naturally made no mention of).
Given that they had already been largely unsuccessful as it was, the ensuing termination of their financial support had, in turn, led to even fewer successes on the Anima front. As it was, their greatest success wasn't really even their own; when they had managed to extract a considerable amount of magic from another world just the other day, it was actually orchestrated by their deceased leader, Byro, and the king himself (and was probably where they had focused their funding and energies to ensure its success).
Naruto, aware of all of this, said dramatically, "Well, do I have a solution for you. Do me a favour and gather everyone here in this room, would you?"
The woman, seeming to realize that this was likely the reason he had come here, gave him a long, searching look before gulping and giving a hesitant nod as she set about doing as he asked.
When everyone had gathered, Naruto looked at them all strangely. Everyone here, every scientist, technician, operator, you name it, was...
"...Old. Why is everyone so... old?"
A few people scowled at his blunt observation, although they were justified in doing so — it was a bit of an exaggeration, given how a good portion of them were middle-aged at most, including their interim superior.
'Seems like Byro hated young people,' Naruto thought. Given what he knew of the man, the revelation of his ageism wasn't all too surprising. The wrinkly old crone probably thought that anybody who wasn't of a certain age was too stupid or something.
"The reason I've called you all here right now," Naruto said, "is because there's only one way to save your world, and it's nothing like what any of you'd expect."
"And what's that, young man?" an elderly man said crankily, still peeved at the blond's tactless utterance from earlier.
Naruto smiled as he took the snide remark in stride, opening his mouth to say only two words: "Reverse Anima."
"WHAT?! Did you know that we're desperate for more magic power? Edolas is damn near depleted, and you tell us to relinquish what little we have?"
"That's insane! You're insane!"
"This is why Byro-sama only wanted people with experience! No sane, mature person would propose something so... so... asinine!"
"How do you even know about that?"
"ENOUGH," Naruto said sternly, his thunderous voice — a result of his using chakra to project his utterance — echoing throughout the Anima chamber. It did its job, conveying his anger at their childish squabbling and shutting them all up in one fell swoop. "Reverse Anima will solve all your problems, because the problem right now is who — or what — is taking all the magic power for themselves."
"Isn't it you?" a sniping voice piped up from within the little crowd.
"No," the shadow clone said, the smugness in his tone letting on that he knew who the true culprit was, and he knew they wouldn't like the truth of it. "It's your maniac king, Faust, who's responsible." He neglected to mention that Faust went to such drastic lengths on his creator's behalf, but these lackeys of Byro didn't need to know such details.
If they initiated the inverse of the technique they loved to use abundantly, then Faust's mecha-dragon would not only be unable to sustain itself, but the whole of Edolas would be bereft of magic, thus saving it from certain destruction. With only specific portions of the planet being introduced to stresses far beyond its capability to endure such things, that, along with the Boss' own colossal power throwing a wrench into everything, would do nothing but ensure at least a portion, if not the entirety, of Edolas' demise.
The Reverse Anima was an all-encompassing solution; it would undo everything Faust had done. Without magic, there wouldn't be a single thing that could take it all for itself — the balance of Edolas would be restored, and the planet would no longer be at risk of collapsing. And, bonus: the boss would be able to get the hell outta here!
"That claim is nothing but conjecture at best, and a fabrication at worst; there is no conclusive proof of our magic perpetuating the situation. Besides, King Faust will have our heads if he catches wind of this," the interim head of the Anima division said, speaking denials and making excuses. "With... without Byro-sama to convene directly with the King on our behalf, our hands are tied. We have no... influence, no sway. If we do as you say, if we follow your orders in lieu of the king's, it will surely spell the end for us."
Hearing a smattering of mutters in agreement from the gathered Anima operators, Naruto frowned, although he wasn't surprised at that in the least. Diplomacy was always tough sledding when dealing with people who had no trust for you.
"Listen, I don't care about your stupid little hang-ups!" Naruto snapped. He was starting to get frustrated with these old fools. "I want to know if you can even make an Anima that'll take magic out of this world. Can you?"
"We-we can," the lead technician said, her voice quavering as a result of Naruto's outburst, but it eventually firmed as she uttered her refusal. "But we won't." Not for you, was what went unsaid.
The clone sighed at hearing that, rubbing his forehead in his vexation at the time wasted in his futile venture to maintain civility. "Then I guess I'll just have to operate the Anima machine myself."
"What?! But... but you don't know how to operate it! You can't!"
Giving the woman a quizzical look, the blond said, "Of course I can." The control room was adjacent to the cavernous operations chamber; once there, he'd be able to craft and bring about the Anima to his liking.
Stunned at his assurance at being able to operate the Anima machine, the woman asked weakly, "If... if you truly knew how to operate the Anima generator, then why do all this? Why try to recruit us? Why ask for our assistance?"
Naruto smiled grimly, an apologetic look in his eyes as he said, "So I wouldn't have to do this."
With a flare of his killing intent, he sent everyone else in the room into a state of catatonia, paralyzed out of sheer fear due to the weight of the projected intent. A pulse of his dense chakra later, and they were all sent into a collective unconsciousness.
While he obviously didn't need them thanks to his intimate knowledge of the Anima machine's mechanism, he would have preferred leaving them as they were and potentially getting their aid to make the process easier and more seamless; unfortunately, they had chosen to fear the wrong man.
(Meanwhile — With Fairy Tail Edolas)
"Get on the ship!" Lucy bellowed. "There's no time to waste! This place is done for!"
"No! We refuse to consort with you! The king wants you dead! You criminals from Fairy Tail being here means nothing good for us! Leave us alone!"
Lucy snapped at the clueless civilians, irked at how naïve they were being. "Look, ya damn idiots! You've all already evacuated your little towns, but you've only made it this far because you've had no choice! Louen and Sycca are no more! I mean, look at them!" A glance back in the directions of the towns showed that they had quickly collapsed into ruination as the world's seismic activity increased in its potency. "These edoquakes have destroyed them, and if we don't do anything, we'll be next! Do you really think you have a choice now? If you don't take these ships, you'll all die!"
"B-but these ships belong to the Royal Army! It may be alright for criminals like you to take them for yourselves, but we can't risk undertaking such a venture!"
"They have a point, you know," Wendy said lowly from her position adjacent to the blonde. "The only viable route for this ship to take is to the Bay of Traia, which is the closest body of water to the Royal City. If they board this ship, they're risking a lot."
"Yeah, but at least one of those risks wouldn't include their lives," Lucy shot back. "And unless you want to be the one to do all the work and get these civilians onto the ships and out of here, you'll shut the hell up right now."
To her satisfaction, Wendy obliged.
After some more arguing with the belligerent citizens who were adamant that they not take the ships that would get them to safety (boy, were they stupid), they finally acquiesced. That development was primarily thanks to Wendy finally stepping in and appealing to them in a more civil manner, a process that took far longer than Lucy could ever care for.
They were currently on the coast bordering the strait that spanned the gap between the two landmasses and the cities Sycca and Traia. The guild had, as a whole, decided to do what they could to get people out of the hellish landscape that the western subcontinent had become; conveniently, an entire fleet of ships laid abandoned on the coastline north of Sycca. It didn't take much convincing of her guild mates that they may as well appropriate the watercrafts made for and used by the Royal Army — a glance back at the battlefield, where countless soldiers laid either dead or unconscious, was all they needed to know that the ships wouldn't be missed.
Out of the corner of her eye, Lucy spotted Lisanna, who was staring almost longingly off into the western horizon. The white-haired girl had, at the very least, managed to have finally broken away from Mira and Elfman, but seemed to have her thoughts preoccupied elsewhere.
Approaching Lisanna from behind, Lucy opened her mouth to address her, but was surprised when the girl spoke to the blonde without turning to visually acknowledge her, saying, "Why are we doing all this?"
Lucy, caught off guard at the blue-eyed girl somehow managing to anticipate her arrival, merely uttered a baffled, "Wha?"
"These people, these... civilians," Lisanna said deliberately, turning to look at Lucy with a hard stare that looked strange and out of place when formed by her normally bright blue eyes. "Why help them at all? Why not leave them? We don't have the means or the time to look after them."
"Wh... where did this come from?" Lucy asked, taken aback at the line of questioning.
Lisanna frowned at the defensive reaction, the words Naruto uttered to her in passing running through her mind.
"Why would they leave you behind like that?"
"Feh... some friends they are..."
His blunt observations had slithered into her head, lingering at the back of her mind in spite of the guild's contradictory behaviour here with the displaced citizens of the two towns that had collapsed due to all the fighting and the world's cataclysmic reaction to it. The only ones who had shown any genuine, heartfelt concern for her were her edo-siblings; while everyone else at least greeted her with great pleasure at her being relatively unharmed, Mirajane and Elfman's tearful reaction to her return had actually invoked feelings of guilt to emanate within her. She was ashamed that she had ever thought they'd be alright with leaving her to the wolves, so to speak.
It was with a start that she had come to the incredulous realization that Fairy Tail Edolas was truly the opposite of the Fairy Tail of Earthland that she knew and loved. Of course, there were the opposite personality quirks in the members themselves, but even the guild's nature ran incongruously to their Earthland counterpart; where the latter, as a whole, would do anything to protect and stand by its members, the former wouldn't, at least when faced with imminent danger. But wasn't that when solidarity and togetherness were most important? In times of peril?
"Are you still worried about that idiot?" Lucy asked, snapping the white-haired girl out of her quickly souring thoughts as she referred to Naruto in an obvious bid to change the topic of conversation. When the white-haired girl nodded morosely, the blonde scoffed. "And what good does that do for you? For us?"
Lisanna looked at her sharply. "What do you mean?"
"What I mean is, what can you possibly do for him? Is there anything you can do to help him when he's fighting the Royal Army?"
Lisanna looked down, her deep blue eyes softening at the inquiry. "No..."
"So what is your worrying good for? It's not helping him, and it's sure as hell not helping us."
Lucy sighed, frowning. "Lisanna..."
"You... you don't understand, Lucy," the short-haired girl said heatedly. "You weren't there when he just... threw caution to the wind and jumped right into a fight with Erza Knightwalker! You weren't there when he fought her comrade, who not only may be as strong as she is, but is twice her size! You weren't there when he fought them both at the same time! You weren't there when he fought... drove after drove of the Royal Army's foot soldiers single-handedly!" At this point, the petite girl was shouting, breathing harshly as her blossoming bosom heaved in her anger. Lucy, stunned, could only listen to the ongoing outburst.
"You know on my way out of there I saw a... monstrous metallic dragon?" Lisanna continued, asking a rhetorical question as she all but hissed at the blonde. "It was going right towards him, but you didn't see that, did you? You ran away! You all ran away! So you'll forgive me for being a little worried!"
Lucy was speechless. After a time, though, she spoke up, having taken the time in which Lisanna could calm down from her little tirade to gather her thoughts. "You know, I always thought he was kinda like me. A guy who liked going against the grain, someone not afraid of what anyone thinks."
The white-haired girl gave no indication that she heard what Lucy said, merely wiping at a stray tear that had trickled down her right cheek, but quietly said in reluctant agreement, "I guess that's true."
Lisanna didn't have it in her to be angry any longer. She was just so tired of it all. The people of this world led such a miserable existence, living in the tyranny of Faust's dystopia; she honestly wondered what the hell she had been thinking to have ever been alright with the mere prospect of spending the rest of her days here. Whatever her motivations were, she knew that they no longer mattered now that Naruto had come into her life.
He was just like her, abducted from Earthland, from his home, and he was fighting to get back, to get away from this hellhole. Granted, the Royal Army was hunting him (as opposed to them practically ignoring her aside from her affiliation with Fairy Tail), but that was neither here nor there. The point was, she wanted to go with him. She wanted to leave this place, forgo this sad existence, and return to her family, to her friends, to her Fairy Tail.
She wanted to go home.
Lucy smiled, oblivious to Lisanna's current thoughts as she answered the soft-spoken girl's last utterance. "It is, but I also noticed that he's a cocky bastard who does some stupid shit when it comes to fights." Lisanna merely sniffled at that; she already knew all too well about that.
"He's also one of the few people who can back up such overconfidence on the battlefield. You watched him fight them, right? You just said as much. He didn't lose did he?"
"...I don't know. He sent me away before I could see what had happened," Lisanna replied somewhat absently.
"Yeah, well I'm pretty sure he beat them."
"What makes you say that?" the blue-eyed girl asked.
"Because I saw him fight them too, and he made it look so easy, I actually felt embarrassed for them. It was insane."
"Really," Lisanna said, quirking an eyebrow as she chuckled shakily. To hear that he was as strong as he acted gave her some comfort, but she was still worried for him. They had only known each other for... what, a day and a half at most? Regardless, she considered him to be a good person, and a good friend; she wanted him to be all right so that they could go back to Earthland together.
"Yes, which is why you shouldn't worry about him, okay? Once we get him back, we're gonna have to show him that sometimes, it's better to be afraid than it is to be brave."
"...You're right. Thanks, Lucy," Lisanna said, outwardly voicing her agreement, but in the back of her mind, she doubted Naruto would ever join their guild; they were too flaky, and she found herself longing to be by his side rather than be with these doppelgängers of her true guild mates.
"Ah, it was nothing," Lucy said with a smile, unwary of Lisanna's contradictory thoughts.
"No," Lisanna said, turning to face her sort-of friend fully; at the very least, she knew the blonde meant well, in spite of the guild she was starting to have legitimate misgivings about. "It was great, and really well said."
"Well, I don't know..."
Lisanna smiled, her previously dark thoughts receding from her mind as she took in the blonde's flustered expression. "...You know, Naruto was right. You are a mother hen."
"I... I am not!"
"The great Lucy Ashley, the Mother Hen of Fairy Tail! Now, isn't that a nice nickname!"
"D-don't call me that!"
"Relax, I'm only teasing!" Lisanna said with a giggle, the rapid change in her countenance doing a good job of convincing Lucy that her mood had been lifted.
"Good. And you better not tell anyone we had this talk."
"And don't go calling me by that stupid nickname either."
"Good, now come on," Lucy said, either oblivious to the facetious tone Lisanna's voice had taken, or deliberately ignorant to it as she put a hand on the dainty girl's exposed shoulder. "We need to link up with the guild so we can–"
She was suddenly cut off by the blaring noise of what seemed to be a group of trumpets. The cacophonous sounds spread out from above, where a flock of cats flew by.
"It's... it's the Exceeds..." was all Lucy managed to utter, her tone laced with disbelief. "What the hell are they doing here?!"
"They're going to where Naruto is!" Lisanna cried, her fear for the blond rushing back. "C'mon Lucy, let's go!"
"Wait!" the blonde shouted, grabbing the white-haired girl's arm. "They're too fast for us to follow on foot. We need a ride!"
As if he had been cognizant of their plight, Natsu zoomed in on his magic four-wheeled vehicle right on cue, wheels blazing and kicking up a miniature dust cloud as it skidded to a stop. "You called?"
Lucy grinned at the sight, saying, "Great timing, Natsu. About time you started pulling your weight around here." Ignoring Natsu's petulant grumblings at the slight, the girl said, "Follow those cats!"
"Eh?!" Natsu exclaimed in shock. "Are you nuts?" His reaction made it apparent to Lisanna that he had actually come to take them in the opposite direction: to the ship the guild would soon be boarding to get to the Royal City.
Lucy grabbed Natsu by the lapels of his jacket and shook him violently in response, yelling, "Stop arguing! You're wasting time! Now do as I say and follow those damned cats!" When she relinquished her punishing hold on the now-dishevelled Natsu (who reluctantly followed her extempore directive), the blonde with big brown eyes turned to Lisanna, her smile widening as the girl with similarly large blue eyes returned the smile hesitantly, although she felt as joyous as her hardy companion looked at the convenient occurrence that was Natsu's arrival.
Hopefully this wouldn't be the last of their good fortune.
'Good,' Naruto thought as he spotted the people fleeing in the distance, rushing en masse to the boats that would take them clear to the other side of the continent. 'Last thing I need is people dying needlessly.' Hopefully the damage he had had a part in wreaking could be restricted to this area, but in his experience, such a thing was often wishful thinking, at best.
Speaking of fleeing...
"I'm surprised you two are still here," Naruto said as he noticed both Erza — who had reacquired her magic spear — and Pantherlily having awoken, standing on the peripheries of the battlefield; the former looked haggard and weakened (probably due to the chains of his Outer Path — she looked pale and a bit thin), unable to stand on her own and thus having to lean on the Exceed's larger form for support. The clone he had sent with them had long dispelled, notifying him of the tall Exceed's regaining of consciousness, and said Exceed's forceful awakening of his uptight companion.
While neither of them spoke, they also made no move to attack him, a decision he liked to think was motivated by the thrashing he had just given them and their leader.
As for the enemy he was currently engaged with, well... he'd be lying if he said he'd allow the frenzied king the opportunity to flee after everything he'd done; not that he could, anyway. The mecha dragon was currently unmoving, completely stationary as if it had been broken to the point of being incapable of motion altogether.
That is, until it suddenly started to move rudimentarily, its limbs having escaped the localized damage of Kurama's corrosive chakra. The entirety of the construct's middle portion had degenerated and was completely warped, though; the damage did the job of introducing a new weak point on the machine, showing that not even Faust's precious weapon was impervious to damage.
"Nghhh..." Faust grunted with effort as he struggled to commandeer the motor controls of his ultimate weapon (which had been messed up something fierce after enduring Naruto's sole offensive move of the battle), but found himself too weak due to his injuries to do much of anything.
"To think..." Faust rasped from within his artificial dragon, "t... to think you'd truly be THIS powerful... I never would have thought it would come to this when we sought to collect magic power. It seems I have no choice..."
When Naruto heard that, his eyes lit up in a mixture of amusement and curiosity. What could the guy even do? His machine had been ravaged. "So you really are the one who was behind my arrival here... and here I thought it was Byro who truly ruled Edolas, and that you were just some puppet king under his control..."
Faust, clearly enraged at the remark meant to anger him, hissed, "You dare? You dare? I... am Faust! KING of Edolas! And I... serve... NO ONE!"
Naruto smirked. Clearly he hit a nerve with that little taunt.
He was ready to finish the old fool right then and there, but the sound of blaring trumpets sounding out caused him to momentarily pause; it was a noise which was followed by the sounds of a multitude of wings flapping vigorously in concert.
"WRONG!" an eccentric voice shouted out from a short distance away up in the skies. "YOU SERVE... THE EXCEEDS!"
'What the hell?' Naruto thought. 'What now?' His internal question was answered when a flock of cats swooped down upon the battlefield, dressed in uniforms and armed with various melee weaponry.
The Extalia Imperial Guard had flown out in force.
"HUMANS~! Leave the Earthland mage to US!" the Imperial Guard Captain, Nichiya, hollered, sword in hand as he led the platoon of his most competent men down upon the devastated battlefield. "The Queen commands it!"
"Idiots," Pantherlily grumbled, incredulous at their incompetence and incredibly poor situational awareness. "What the hell are they thinking? Do they honestly think they can strong-arm Faust into doing as they say? Do they really think they can get him to relinquish his claim on Uzumaki? And even if they could, could they even beat Uzumaki himself?" And was Nichiya speaking the truth? If so, what the hell was Shagotte thinking?
"The Exceeds..." Erza muttered quietly, stunned at their unexpected arrival. "Uzumaki must be more important than I thought if even they want him..."
When Faust made no move to answer them, the Exceed Captain took that as some sort of acquiescence on his part, so bellowed, "MEEEEEEHHHHHN~! Capture the HUMAN! We want him ALIVE and UNHARMED! Our Queen demands it, and I'll be damned if we disappoint her Majesty!"
As the flock neared the group of humans, the previously motionless Dragon Knight made its way onto its knees jerkily, before its mouth opened so wide its jaw seemed to unhinge.
"I... serve... no one, especially not you pathetic cats! After today, I will be the one true King of Edolas, with the elimination of the entire Exceed race! Let this be the herald of your resounding defeat! Experience... total destruction!"
At this declaration, the nozzle within Dorma Anim's gaping maw shifted into one that was obsidian in colouration and thicker in diameter. On the machined creature's two shoulders, two thin panels flipped open as two nozzles identical in appearance to the first emerged, protruding forth before expelling a trio of bright blue energy beams in concert that enveloped and trapped the airborne Exceed in a dome of crackling energy.
"RNNGH! HU... HUMANS...! WHAT... WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!" the Exceed captain shrieked in apoplectic rage. "YOU DARE...?!"
"GYAAAH! IT HURTS!"
The lacrima converter cannon installed in his prized weapon did its job well, rapidly converting the main platoon of the Imperial Guard into a lacrima that took on the appearance of a gigantic, crystalline cat, but not before the Exceed leader hollered one last threat in his feverish panic.
"THE QUEEN... WILL HAVE YOUR HEADS FOR THIS!"
The moment the cat lacrima crashed to the ground, the large mecha-dragon wasted no time, making its way to its feet in order to close with the newly repurposed source of magical power.
"FAAAAUUUUUUST!" Pantherlily bellowed furiously, charging the dragon knight recklessly in an effort to prevent what he knew would come next. Blitzing the metal construct at a speed that impressed even Naruto, the battle-adept Exceed closed with his enemy, using his sharp claws as he initiated his spur-of-the-moment melee attack. It was proving to be futile, but he didn't care; he wasn't about to just stand by and let this atrocity happen.
Faust did want it to happen, though, and so maneuvered his dragon puppet's metal tail to harshly strike Pantherlily and send him into a crumpled heap a short distance away. All too quickly, Faust had the Dorma Anim place a hand on the cat lacrima once he reached it in order to establish physical contact with it so that he could start absorbing the newly repurposed magical energy and put it to use. The absorption process itself didn't take very long, the solid lacrima state allowing for the conversion into pure magical energy to occur with great rapidity. It was quite timely for the Edolas monarch, since he had drained the planet's magic stores to a state of near-depletion — he was convinced that this would give him the power to overcome the blond mage.
"No, STOP!" Pantherlily yelled in frustration, lying on the ground in pain from the latest blow he had endured on this day. It was too late, though. He was helpless to do anything to stop the unceremonious demise of his fellow Exceeds as the Dragon Knight devoured their magical energy and respective life forces precipitately, leaving naught but a trace of the prideful warriors of Extalia. It was a shame, really; they, for all intents and purposes, merely served themselves up on a silver platter for Faust to appropriate their life energy into more fuel for his magic-thirsty weapon.
"Hehehehe... HAHAHAHAHAAA! Talk about killing two birds with one stone! Not only have I just neutralized a portion of the Exceed threat, I have generated enough power to ensure your defeat, boy! The time has come for me to crush your fighting spirit! Now, fall before the true power of the glorious nation of Edolas! Dorma Anim: Black Sky!"
After hearing that, Naruto prepared himself for whatever the guy would try to do next. Part of him was regretting letting this all transpire, but he never knew of such a capability being available to the psychopathic monarch. When he saw the armoured machine dragon morph in colour from a metallic silver into a glossy black, the warped metal straightening and reforming into an immaculate shell for its host, he could actually feel its power ramp up. Not only that, the boost in energy allowed for the metal puppet to move with improved fluidity, able to stand upright as it overcame its crippling at Naruto's most recent attack.
Naruto felt conflicted at the development. While a part of him was curious at what its full power looked like (a curiosity he felt he could afford given its relative inferiority to him), the rational part of his mind knew that he couldn't let things remain as they were; he'd wasted enough time as it was, and he had to end this, soon.
As far as his opponent was concerned, it became all too apparent that the absorption of the Exceeds that comprised the Extalia Imperial Guard had merely been enough to catalyze the transformation of the Dorma Anim (as well as repair a good portion of the damage he had already inflicted upon it), and in order to sustain it, it would need to take more and more magic power from the surrounding environment.
Thus, it was no surprise that the environmental reaction, given said environment's glaring lack of the very energy it previously had in spades, was violent; the earth started breaking apart almost explosively, the winds started whipping up into a frenzy (to the point where miniature typhoons started forming at moderate distances from where they were standing), and lava started flowing in rivulets across the cracked earth.
None of this would have been possible, though, if not for Naruto's presence; while the Dorma Anim was extracting every last modicum of magic power from Edolas, Naruto's potent energy was wreaking havoc on the immediate environment that had been weakened by its currently bereft state as far as magic quantities were concerned.
"The output of magical power of Dorma Anim has now been increased manifold! Behold the power of Black Sky!" At that declaration, the now-upright Dragon Knight, which was now dual-wielding swords, swiped them each at the ground in front of it in the direction of Naruto. In a split-second, the area where the ground was struck erupted.
Naruto managed to dodge the attack, but it was a closer thing than he would have liked to admit, since the ground beneath them exploded unexpectedly in a blast of energy and flaring bright lights.
"You..." the mad king growled though the lacrima-empowered speakers on his precious Dragon Knight, furious at the sight of the blond having once more dodged his latest attack, "you... I won't let you send Edolas into ruin. In fact, I'll use your power to revolutionize this world!"
"You want my 'power', huh?" Naruto asked lowly in a threatening tone as he placed his left hand over his stomach, correctly inferring that the king of Edolas was (erroneously) blaming him for the planet's rapid deterioration. The man wanted the power that had actually helped destroy his world rather than make it more powerful? Naruto chuckled, scoffing at that; he'd be sure to oblige the man, but not in the way he would have liked.
Concentrating some more of the red chakra of the Kyūbi he had at his disposal alongside a small portion of his own chakra into his right hand, he formed a Rasengan that was its usual blue, except it had a red shell surrounding it, reinforcing it. At the point of contact between the two chakras, there was a sort of a merging effect, giving it a purplish glow to it and therefore making the Rasengan take on a gradient-like appearance, with smooth color transitions between the red bijū chakra, his blue chakra, and the purple mixture of the chakra between them.
This action of him preparing a technique didn't go unnoticed, particularly since he had been rather passive for a majority of their fight, so Faust felt compelled to attempt to strike first before Naruto could attack.
At that rancorous utterance, the machine opened its mouth, a triangular-shaped nozzle protruding forth from its gaping maw as it began charging an energy beam of great potency. "Dragon Rider's ROAR!"
When Naruto saw the concentrated energy beam heading in his direction, he, in remembering his previous attempt at absorbing a magic spell, decided it wasn't worth taking head on, so dodged it with a timely shunshin. Once he cleared the attack, he dashed in with another burst of high-speed movement to engage the mechanical construct in close quarters, bringing forth his prepared technique, the Shui Rasengan (Vermillion Spiralling Sphere), to strike at his nefarious opponent.
In a flash of speed that would give the average person the impression that he had teleported, Naruto appeared in front of the obscene construct as he thrusted the bijū-chakra infused Rasengan right into its gut, thoroughly damaging the machine at the point of contact. The attack managed to penetrate the armoured shell of the Edolas superweapon, and its metallic exterior, which had once been immaculate and unblemished, became irreversibly warped due to its point-blank exposure to a concentrated dose of the Kyūbi's unfiltered chakra.
In addition to the fairly large hole in the middle of it, the corrosive chakra of the Kyūbi-enhanced Rasengan invaded the mechanical construct, managing to ravage the Dragon Knight's armoured shell with its potency as it caused it to begin jerking around aimlessly before it collapsed, its motor functions having been rendered inoperable. In the face of his intense chakra-based technique, the metallic construct's protection was paltry at best — the Vermillion Rasengan had practically melted the right through its shell at the point of impact, the point-blank, blunt force trauma sending the vaunted Edolas weapon into a state of severe disrepair.
Seeing the Dorma Anim still into a sort of motionlessness, he ramped down on the chakra he was drawing from his tailed beast, reducing his bijū cloak down to only one tail's worth of chakra before retracting it altogether. He had no intention of accelerating the destruction of Edolas any more than he already had — it looked like Faust had done more than enough in that regard.
All he needed was to get out of here... so long as he did that, everything else would take care of itself.
"Heh... you actually defeated him..."
Naruto turned to look behind him, only to be met with the red-eyed gaze of Pantherlily, who had dragged himself over to the short overhanging cliff on the left side of the arid battlefield to avoid the lava (as little as there was of it, anyway). He smirked, saying, "Yeah." Seeing the Exceed gingerly cradling his body reminded the blond of just how the cat had gotten the latest of his injuries, prompting him to tell the Exceed, "...Sorry I didn't save your comrades." He didn't know why he was apologizing; Lily's 'comrades' had wanted to take him prisoner, after all. It was part of the reason he'd remained idle — letting two of his enemies fight each other and all that, although it backfired in the case of Faust, whose weapon seemed to grow noticeably stronger from the encounter.
Pantherlily smirked wryly at that, saying, "They weren't my comrades." Noticing the questioning look the blond gave him in light of that information, he elaborated, "They were warriors from my homeland, Extalia, a place where I've long since been banished from."
The way he spoke of his homeland, in a strangely longing fashion, gave Naruto the impression that he either missed his home greatly, or he was banished unjustly... or both.
He himself couldn't fathom being banished from Konoha (a scenario he only imagined in order to relate to Pantherlily), so he could understand the panther's grief. Turning his attention back onto the downed Faust, Naruto, with a frown on his face, said, "So you wanted to save them because they were from your homeland?"
Pantherlily grimaced at the reminder, saying, "Yeah, and if you didn't do anything, I would have been the one to handle Faust. More than that, if you didn't do anything to stop him now, he would have gone on to do that to the rest of the Exceed race had I failed as well. So, you may not have saved these fools, but you saved almost the rest of my race from certain death. ...You have my thanks."
Naruto hummed in appreciation at the reluctant expression of gratitude, before asking, "Where's Erza?"
The black Exceed responded by looking up; Naruto followed his gaze, only to be greeted with the sight of a Legion (so he hadn't killed them all) with two people riding it. "Coco brought her Legion from the capital," Pantherlily said. Naruto got the feeling that the large cat was grateful for the girl's appearance; it meant he wouldn't have to look after the surly redhead, who currently was incapable of any level of independency. The Exceed himself was nursing wounds of his own, and would have been hard-pressed to aid the ailing woman.
Hearing a faint rumbling noise off in the distance, Naruto directed his attention back to the eastern horizon; upon his doing so, he was greeted with the familiar sight of a car that was on fire and out of control careening towards them.
Knowing what to expect, Naruto remained where he was, and found it hard to be surprised when both Lucy and Lisanna clambered out of it once it skidded to a stop in front of him, spraying lava everywhere. Naruto felt that the only reason he didn't panic was because of his transplanted eye, which had Sharingan properties and allowed for him to anticipate and avoid the lava globules hurtling towards him.
"WHOA! Are you serious right now?! Wow!"
Naruto grimaced at the familiar sounding voice as the curvaceous blonde who owned said voice scampered up to him, making sure to watch her step in order to avoid stepping in some of the thin streams of lava as she expressed her jubilance at his victory. "You did it again! I shoulda known ya had it in ya!"
"Lucy..." Naruto said, nonplussed at their far too premature reunion. She seemed to be genuinely happy to see him, as if they hadn't had an argument in which she'd stormed off angrily just earlier that day. Lisanna wasn't far behind, he noticed, following sedately and holding up her long skirt in her hands as she traipsed across the cracked earth. As she came upon them, he greeted her before saying to them both, "Lisanna... what are you guys doing? This is no time for a... a reunion."
"Why not?" Lucy asked. "The war's over, isn't it?"
Naruto frowned at how casually she had referred to everything that had transpired to being a war, although he knew she wasn't wrong in her assessment. Registering the other part of her question, he quirked an eyebrow at the girl, asking, "What makes you say that?"
"You beat that psycho tyrant king!" she exclaimed. "I mean, look at him; you trashed his precious magic suit! There's no way the war will continue now, Naruto. You cut off the head of the snake!"
What an overly simple way of looking at it, Naruto thought with an amused grin. Turning to Lisanna, he asked warmly, "How are you? Are you okay?"
The white-haired girl mometarily tilted her head in confusion, before nodding hesitantly with a pink-tinged face as she not only took in the sound of his voice, but realized what exactly he was asking her. She eventually gave voice to her answer, saying, "Um... I'm fine, but... why ask?"
"Well, I know what you went through on my bird and everything, y'know?" he said, casually reaching over and cupping her cheek gently. The affectionate gesture had Lisanna sporting a furious blush.
"No... no, don't worry about that right now, Naruto," Lisanna said, speaking so softly that she wouldn't have been heard had the area been filled with noise. Catching herself leaning into his calloused palm (which emitted a warmth that she not only felt drawn to, but felt transfer into her own body, giving her the feeling of a pleasurable buzz that quickly spread within her), she backed away slightly, shaking her head as she tried to recall just what it was she had wanted to tell him. She tried to continue speaking, but was cut off by a loud creaking noise that pierced through the welcome silence.
All eyes turned to the glossy black mecha-dragon, which started moving slightly, still in its prone position.
"I should have seen it..."
Naruto quirked an eyebrow at hearing that, surprised at the raspy, yet calm and contemplative voice that echoed through the Dorma Anim's speakers. It seemed he hadn't fully destroyed the magic-consuming construct that the power-hungry king had thought to be invincible, but it looked like he wouldn't need to, seeing as how it was low on power and incapable of standing to fight him. With the exception of its head and neck, the rest of its body was mangled and warped. Even if it somehow managed to make its way back into some semblance of an upright position, which didn't seem at all possible, he wouldn't be worried in the least; he had seen all that it was capable of, after all.
"I became too zealous... trying to fight when it was all unnecessary..."
"You ready to surrender?" Naruto asked, stepping forward as Lisanna and Lucy (who remained behind him) backed away from them, surprised that he was still alive. "You know you can't win. Give up, and I'll spare your life. Live out the rest of your numbered days without your precious magic."
"No..." he said lowly, growling as the mechanical dragon flexed its long neck to rise its head towards him, its mouth opening wide once more as it revealed that same large, black nozzle that charged a familiar crackling blue energy. That, combined with the emergence of its accompanying shoulder nozzles, spelled out what would soon occur.
"No, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO, NO!"
In the next instant, it expelled yet another trio of beams of that bright blue magic; this time, however, the beams spewed by the lacrima conversion cannon were of a much greater potency, and as a result, were of a much wider range. The vast improvement to its area of effect was an attempt to account for Naruto's speed, but it was futile since he still evaded the last-ditch attack.
Just because he managed to dodge it, though, didn't mean any of the others had.
'Lisanna!' Naruto thought, feeling a strange sort of panic shoot through his heart at the tortured scream the girl let loose. He had momentarily forgotten about her at the sight of the metal dragon's improbable operation.
Lucy was frozen beside her, for some reason wholly unaffected by the magic converting attack — unsurprising given that she had no magic inside her. She was horrified, though, seeing Lisanna writhing in pain like that, a reaction that told Naruto that the short-haired girl indeed had magic. Concentrating on his vision through the Rinnegan, he could see the faint wisps of the energy common between magic and chakra — which was all his eye could discern — solidifying within Lisanna's slender form, symptomatic of the forced transformation she was undergoing.
Absently noting that Pantherlily was within the range of the beam as well (though undergoing much the same process as the dainty white-haired girl, he made no overt noises to indicate his discomfort; he was merely growling mutedly in his efforts to endure the attack), Naruto voluntarily entered the lacrima converting ray to extract Lisanna and spare her any further pain, but was shocked to find that even he was affected by the technique, albeit slightly. Small crystals started forming on his extremities very slowly (a sign of his internal energy being intrinsically different to magic), appearing on his hands and feet and starting to spread towards his wrists and ankles in an effort to cover as much of his body as quickly as possible.
In a flash of light, the beam ceased in its operation; it seemed Faust had exhausted all the magic at his disposal. It had done its job, though, Naruto thought grimly as he turned towards Lisanna and was surprised by the sight of her having been transformed into a giant lacrima, the block of crystal being a physical manifestation of the magic she was made up of. Pantherlily, from what the spiky-haired blond had seen, had been turned into a somewhat large cat lacrima as well.
Naruto, not even bothering to examine himself (the lacrima crystallization process his body had started to undergo had stalled, leaving only his hands, forearms, feet and shins partially yet patchily covered by the blue crystal-like substance), started drawing upon Kurama's power once more, the corrosive cloak of chakra enveloping him in his anger as the crystals that had formed on his limbs were shattered in short order.
He felt fury and shame at what he had let happen; fury at the injustice that had been done to Lisanna (not to mention the implication that the power-hungry king intended to end her life not unlike what he did to the Exceed Imperial Guard), and shame that he'd left the man the chance to live without ensuring his total and thorough defeat.
"You should have stayed down..." he growled balefully as he brought forth his right hand decisively and generated a Rasengan larger than normal before directing the gaze of his left eye at it.
'Amaterasu (Heavenly Illumination),' was the thought that went through his mind as he set the much-heralded, unquenchable black flames upon his signature technique. While the Rinnegan eye was able to make use of the Sharingan technique thanks to their amalgamated properties in that lone orb, he lacked the ability to precisely manipulate the flames to his liking, and so the technique was not localized to the Rasengan despite it being the focal point of where his eyesight was directed.
The end result was that, despite covering the blue sphere of chakra with the slow burning flames, said flames also covered his hand.
The rational part of his mind supposed that it was a good thing that he had his Version One cloak active — else he would have subjected himself to his own attack — but on the whole, he was still furious with his opponent, and intended to make sure he'd be finished.
The practically prone robotic dragon quickly switched out another nozzle within its jaws, this one silver and far wider in diameter than the others. The function behind the design became apparent in the very next moment, though, when it started violently sucking everything within its line of sight towards it, obviously hoping to guzzle down whatever magic it could get its paws on.
It wanted Pantherlily. It wanted Lisanna.
It wanted him.
"Greedy old bastard," he snarled. If he was so hungry, then the blond would gladly serve him up his last meal. At that thought, an idea popped into his mind as to how he could manipulate the flames of Amaterasu. Realizing that they couldn't bypass or penetrate his bijū chakra, he manifested two additional chakra arms, using them as a proxies to shape and corral the unruly flames, moulding them around his Rasengan. The final incarnation of the technique was of his usual standard fare Rasengan, surrounded by a shell of the obsidian flames, which itself was encapsulated by a red shell of bijū chakra courtesy of Kurama.
"Your magic power... for the glory of Edolas... relinquish it to me!"
"You... you deserve... far worse than this," Naruto said deliberately, his visage twisted in a rictus of rage as his fury threatened to overwhelm him at the sight of his feeble opponent lying prone, yet still making demands of him. He managed to gather himself, though, when he finalized his newest attack, saying, "But... since you want it so bad, I'll gladly let you feel... just a little of my power! Enton: Shui Rasengan (Blaze Release: Vermillion Spiralling Sphere)!"
Given that it wasn't a Rasenshuriken (let alone the fact that he didn't include sage chakra in the attack), he couldn't throw it, and so kept it stable by extending forth a chakra arm from his right hand to thrust it into the dragon knight. The moment it made contact with it, the technique exploded in a violent flare of chakra, the spiralling functionality of the Rasengan propelling the potent flames outwards in all directions at the point of contact.
"YYYEEEAAAAARRRGH!" Faust yelled, shrieking in pain as the attack wholly enveloped him; no longer operating the Dorma Anim's vacuum nozzle, the lacrimas that Lisanna and Pantherlily had become ceased in their movements, safe from being absorbed and appropriated by Faust much like how the now-deceased Extalia Imperial Guard had been.
Faust, in the unenviable position of being burned alive, scrambled within the mangled, disfigured construct, desperate to escape. His efforts were in vain, though, as he soon found that the flames had trapped him within, having warped the metal to the point of sealing him in. His prized machine would become his final resting place.
That wasn't the end of it, though: the potency of the attack that was essentially comprised of three separate sources of chakra was more than strong enough to penetrate his armoured protection, coming into contact with his lower body and vaporizing it in mere moments. The flames quickly expanded into a miniature conflagration, with the dying monarch's screams reaching a crescendo just before the volatile technique (and the metallic construct at its epicentre) exploded in a blazing shower of sparks and fire.
Naruto didn't flinch in the face of the attack's explosive aftermath, staring resolutely at just what he had brought forth. His rage had lessened into an out-of-place solemnity reflecting just what it was he'd done.
It was one thing for an individual to endure immolation as a result of run-of-the-mill, generic fire, but to be set ablaze by and suffer at the hands of an incinerating technique the likes of the inextinguishable black flames conjured up by the Mangekyō Sharingan...
Naruto could understand why the man let loose such tortured screams.
And there we have it. The Edolas arc is winding down, with only a few things left for Naruto to deal with before he makes his inevitable departure. It's just as well, what with half of Edolas being ravaged thanks to the combination of adverse forces upon the planet, one of said forces being him.
'Till next time, guys.