A/N: I know, I know. Too long between updates. Like I said, I will always update, but life likes to be difficult sometimes. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah) if you celebrate.
As always, thank you to everyone who's been reading, reviewing, and adding/fav-ing. I appreciate it.
Jennifer: I can't respond via PM, so I just wanted to thank you for your encouragement. I apologize for the wait! Hope this makes up for it :)
Disclaimer: I only take credit for the OCs and any shred of originality to the plot!
"Delilah, we don't have much time," Adie nodded her head toward Ifrit, indicating the urgency of her summons and a silent warning.
The newcomer looked at Ifrit as Lucy agreed with her friend. "Please help us, Aquarius!"
"Delilah," Aquarius replied calmly, voice soft as she looked ahead. "That's my…real name."
Lucy's pursed her lips to hide her surprise. She was aware that the names Spirits used in the Human World were not necessarily their given names. She also knew that to share a given name was of the utmost trust. Not every spirit gave all their power to the assigned role when they were out of their own habitat. And Lucy had a sneaking feeling that Aquarius was one of those spirits.
"Delilah, then…we could use your help!" Lucy corrected herself.
The spirit rolled her eyes emphatically, her demeanor more familiar. "Stop begging, girl! You look pathetic, you know." She smiled ironically, closing her eyes. "Your mother….she was the only other human I allowed to call me by my given name."
Lucy's heart swelled with pride. To know that she had earned something her mother had been privy to was of great honor. Especially when it came to a particular haughty spirit. Aquarius continued, slipping a thin wrist through the handle of her urn. "But, even then, I hadn't shown her my true powers. Of course, there was rarely a need back then…."
Lucy's eyes widened as the spirit reached up and plucked a dagger from her ample bosom. With a quick upward slice of her right arm, she had shorn her long cobalt locks. She gripped the hair tightly in her hand, her now shoulder-length bob floating unevenly in the wind as she shoved the hair into her urn. As she did so, her tail disappeared, revealing two shapely legs. Numerous anklets circled the narrow curve above her feet, and her skirt was sheer, leaving little to the imagination. Aquarius wriggled her toes, sighing, "Scorpio loved me in my mermaid form. The things I do…"
Lucy stared in disbelief, noting Adie's grim smile. She, of course, knew the intricacies of the Spirit World. The pale-haired woman looked up as the newcomer landed next to Aquarius, body in its liquid state.
"Juvia." Adie murmured bowing her head.
Aquarius looked taken aback. She had seen Juvia die, and had even mourned the passing of a mage she respected for her strength and courage. Juvia nodded at both spirits, hands on her hips as she took a less transparent shape. Delilah looked at the dragon slayer, eyebrows raised in question. Her shoulders shook gently as she surveyed the woman next to her. Lucy could tell Juvia has said something, but she couldn't quite hear it. Had she been closer, she could have caught the exchange and the respect that grew between those two women in that moment.
"What? Would you turn down Juvia's help?" the water mage had asked. "This is war. You are my ally and I would gladly die by your side. Besides," Juvia looked ahead at Ifrit, "What's a little extra water?"
"You humans...always surprising me." Delilah's lips had upturned in a smile, "I suppose the more water we have, the better off we will be." She paused, hand outstretched to Juvia. The water dragon slayer looked startled, quickly recovering and gripping the spirit's proffered extremity. Both women looked to the massive ball of inferno that Ifrit was creating.
"The more we have, the better, Juvia agrees," the water mage had softly murmured, doing her best to hide her fear.
"Aqu—erm, Delilah!" Lucy interrupted, feeling slightly helpless by allowing her spirits to fight for her. The woman turned toward the blonde as she continued to speak, "Thank you for this. You have no idea how much—"
"Yeah, yeah. Just get married when this is all over." She waved, looking uncomfortable with Lucy's appreciation. She cast a deadly warning stare at Natsu, who shivered.
"Married?" Natsu echoed. "Is this all women think about?"
"Not now…" Lucy hissed. "Smile and nod so she helps!"
Aquarius paid them no heed, and Juvia looked determined to help. The two women stood before them, looking up at Ifrit. Aquarius raised the urn above her head, and Juvia's posture grew rigid.
"You may want to move back," Adie warned. "Her attacks are, well, you know…"
Without further discussion, Happy carried Natsu back as Adie dragged Lucy closer to her comrades. Safer, she thought. The wind was picking up around Aquarius and Juvia, their hair whipping about their heads. Lucy saw Gray fly over them, being propelled by some type of air magic. She wanted to warn him, but Adie raised a hand to silence her.
"He needs this," she quietly told Lucy, who pressed her lips together, nodding in agreement.
The sound of feet hitting the ground next to Delilah drew her gaze to the second human to arrive, causing her to momentarily hesitate in her attack. "You, too? Is this your girlfriend?"
"This is not the time for that, dammit!" Gray had growled immediately. "Besides, I can't let you two do this alone...not when I can help."
"How chivalrous," the spirit mused. She looked at both of them, then back to the humans behind her, all ready to aid if asked. She glanced at Lucy, a look of determination on the girl's face. She looked so much like her mother; it annoyed Delilah yet made her proud to serve the human girl. She would never admit it, but the young woman had turned out much like her late parent: dedicated, determined, thoughtful—all things Delilah silently respected.
She looked at Juvia and Gray, "I won't be responsible if I kill you two in my attack." She shook her urn, now filled with water from her shorn locks. "I'm more powerful now that I'm royally pissed off."
"Juvia has good control, and I can surprise them with an ice attack," Gray sneered. "Don't you worry about us."
"Juvia thinks we should make our move; it doesn't seem like it waits for anything," the water mage suggested, eyes narrow as she watched the growing flame.
"I recommend you bide your time, human boy," Delilah told Gray as she hurled her urn, a dangerous and dark smile on her face as she uttered the cryptic words, "This is one element that bitch won't be able to control." Gray said nothing, narrowing his eyes as he processed her words. Delilah raised a hand, the water swirling and moving upward in a massive roaring tower.
"Right," Gray finally replied, cautiously.
The water curled upward, and Lucy gasped as the wind whipped around them. She looked at Adie, the spirit staring at the sky. "I've never seen her use this much power. She doesn't use her magic for just anyone," Adie murmured, expression solemn.
"Because Ultear is risking our world and yours. And because she was deeply upset that she used your mother's body. She respected your mother—loved her, even." The spirit explained.
"She does have a heart," Lucy whispered to herself.
"Don't underestimate Delilah; she's prepared to die for you. That's not something spirits easily give to humans."
"Her?" Lucy asked in disbelief as she recalled years of death threats, screaming, and defiance.
"You've proven yourself, Lucy," Adie told her carefully. "We are willing to sacrifice for your safety. Do not insult their—our—dedication."
Lucy took that information and buried it deeply in her heart. Tears welled in her eyes as she looked at those behind her. She turned back to Adie. "Then let's end this."
"We will. I promise you," Adie's grimly answered. "But for now, let's stay alive."
The water spread outward, creating a vortex. It was as loud as an incoming train, its roar a dangerous warning. Delilah's short hair flew fiercely around her face. She looked at Juvia, who watched the water body intensely, "Go, now. Take Lilith when it's clear."
Juvia hesitated, then nodded before leaping into the swiftly swirling water, body disappearing. Gray moved, and Delilah threw an arm, "Boy, your time will come! I want to ensure the Princess' safety. Remember what I just told you? You'll need all your reserves." She watched him, studying his reaction. "You'll know when the time's right."
Her words were cryptic, and Gray slowly processed them slowly, "Got it." He hid his look of perplexity, slightly annoyed at her insistence he not intervene. He had a promise to keep with his late mentor, and he didn't want to waste time sitting around while Ultear summoned whatever creatures she had at her command.
"Good, 'bout time someone did." She threw up both arms as Ifrit howled. "Now, if you'll excuse me. I have a fire beast to get rid of."
She stepped forward, into the water. It lapped around her calves before a pillar of fluid lifted her skyward with a rushing roar. Something shone brightly in her left hand—a trident. The pillar curled into a wave, rushing toward Ifrit while carrying Delilah. She threw her arm back as a fiery ball formed in front of Ifrit's mouth. She swiftly and deftly launched the pronged weapon with a mighty heave, water and fire colliding in a cataclysmic explosion, the heat emanating outward. For a moment, it looked as if fire would triumph. Delilah brought her arms upward, her water morphing into a chariot with horses. With Ifrit's fiery attack reduced to hissing steam, the water spirit re-equipped without hesitation and a deadly look on her face. She sped toward her opponent, the chariot passing Ifrit and sliding to a halt as Delilah's slicing injury to Ifrit was revealed. Lucy blinked, having nearly missed the stealthy blow. The monster roared, and Delilah spun the trident between deft fingers, stabbing at Ifrit without mercy. In a finishing blow, she leaped out of her chariot, descending to slice the beast in two. She landed lightly on the water, her chariot reappearing. Without looking back at her opponent, she was back in her vehicle, her next destination Lilith. And Ultear. Her water preceded her, and she circled the duo, Lilith looking terrified, or shocked—Lucy couldn't tell. She felt Adie tense, as if afraid Delilah would cut her sister down. In the time she spent looking at her friend, Lucy had missed the exchange between Ultear and Lilith—the words muttered between summoner and spirit. She heard Adie hiss profanity, and she turned to see Delilah's eyes grow wide.
The water spirit tried to not waste time for whatever was coming next. She swung her trident down, only to be thrown backward from her watery chariot as the earth sucked apart and a vortex of water spouted from it, quickly crashing down in turbulent waves. The swelling, rolling water rose even more, roaring toward the Alliance in tsunami-like proportions. Lucy swallowed hard, knowing that they needed a miracle to counter this magic. Her fists clenched tightly as she saw the giant, tentacled creature rising from the choppy water, summoned by Lilith. Its body was massive and hidden in the dark depths of the waves, though Lucy noted the sucking hole that was likely its mouth, lined with razor sharp teeth. A fierce and pronged tongue lashed out, snagging Delilah around the ankle, jerking her away as she mounted her chariot. Her body was tiny in comparison to the monster, and it easily bashed her repeatedly against the water as she attempted to regain her bearings.
"We need to help her!" Lucy cried out in panic.
"We need to protect you," Adie yelled, eyeing the wall of water roaring toward them, threatening to drown them all.
Happy swept forth and plucked Gray from the imminent danger as Wendy arrived, screaming, "We got it! Dragon's Roar!"
Charle deposited her next to Natsu as Erigor landed beside her. A few other mages appeared, their faces concentrating on using their magic to hold off the swell intended to engulf them. The wall was stories high, ebbing as they stared into the deep cobalt depths. If the invisible wall were to fall, Lucy knew, they'd all drown for certain. Suddenly, the earth split apart, a deep and wide chasm appearing in front of them, spreading along the expansive water body. Porlyusica appeared with a deft move of her staff, providing the magic to tear at the earth. She nodded at the other mages, who carefully controlled the wall, allowing it to creep forward and be swallowed by the giant canyon—now creating a cavernous path of water. It nearly reached the top of the expansive void of split earth, and Lucy marveled at the combined efforts and craft of the mages surrounding her. Her heart swelled with pride at how everyone was working together to help her and her beloved spirits.
She looked at Adie, an idea flashing into her head. "Call Pisces."
Adie wordlessly nodded, stepping back with a sweep of her arm. She hesitated as one of her keys caught her eye, and Lucy noted the bow, gasping. As quickly as the object distracted her, it was gone and Pisces' key was before her. Adassandra threw it into the river in front of them and, immediately, the two mermen were before her, the eldest taking in his daughter's plight.
"Iku Turso," Nethuns murmured carefully, his son stiffening at that name. "It's been a while since I saw my old foe. I'm responsible for his banishment."
"You know what that is?" Lucy asked, incredulous. Gray was listening carefully, and Lucy knew he was devising a plan, but they lacked time to discuss. "Help her, please!"
Eros nodded, "Mistress Lucy, please step back." He looked at his father, risking a grin. "It's not every day my baby sister needs our help."
Baby sister? Lucy mouthed to Adie, who sent her a warning look. Lucy did as she was bid, and the spirits quickly dove into the water, their bodies morphing into the large fish with their glistening diamond-hard scales and golden rings connected by the thick, binding chain.
Without hesitation, they sped toward the monster, Iku Turso, as Nethuns had called him, their bodies surfacing as they skimmed over the water's turbulent surface. They dove again, disappearing for half of a minute before leaping upward in a coordinated attack, circling over the appendage capturing Delilah and returning to the churning depths of water. The chain grew taut, ripping through the beast's tongue and freeing the water spirit. She surfaced, screaming in rage and regaining control of her element as a tower of water shot upward beneath her. She had retrieved her trident, and she quickly brought it down, severing one of the monster's tentacles. It flopped on the water's surface before disappearing into its depths. Pisces circled its foe, attempting to maim. The fish dove and leaped, removing another tentacle, though a third quickly plucked their chain from the water, halting Pisces' descent. Iku Turso tugged, and the spirits were dragged backward, despite their attempts to push away from the monster. Unable to overpower the beast, they were pulled toward the gaping hole—its mouth—that was now visible, furiously sucking the nearby water into its blackness. The water frothed and roiled with turbulence as it crashed against the thousands of razor sharp teeth.
Delilah, who was worse for wear, attempted to free the two by severing an appendage or the chain—Lucy didn't know—but was instead knocked away by a tentacle that had surfaced from beneath the water. Iku Turso was obviously much larger and resourceful than they had considered, and that underestimate was taking its toll.
Lucy yelled to Adie, hoping for a suggestion in her panic. "It's going to kill them!"
"I got this!" Erza yelled, flying past them in her Flight Armor, Adie's sword in her hand. The red-head barreled toward the monster with the black blade in her hand and a look of determination on her face. With deadly accuracy, she ascended then plummeted toward the water with as much speed as she could muster. The force of Erza's descent and the strength of the blade shattered the chain and sent Pisces writhing in two directions.
The fish disappeared, as did Erza, and Lucy realized she had been holding her breath. "Where is she?" her teeth chattered.
"She'll be fine," Natsu reassured her. "She won't die that easily."
As if on cue, Erza shot out of the water, her sword slicing upward through more tentacles. The water churned around Iku Turso, turning dark from the monster's blood. It was now resorting to trying to suck anything and everything into the void of its razored mouth.
Nethuns appeared, his body morphing into his human form. Like his daughter, he carefully controlled the water with a ferocity that shook Lucy to the core. He stood tall, his back straight and skin glistening as Lucy saw the giant silver trident in his hand. It was heavier than Delilah's and more deadly looking. Beneath him, Eros steadied himself in his fish form, Delilah standing on his back next to their father.
"Iku Turso!" Nethuns bellowed. "Prepare to return to where you came from."
"Attack them!" Ultear commanded the monster and it poised to do just that.
The elder merman easily sliced the attacking tentacles with his weapon. Gently touching the water with the tip of his trident, he summoned a wall of watery needles that shot at Iku Turso, impaling the beast . It writhed, the large sea of water momentarily drawing away from the Alliance as if recoiling. The trident glowed as Nethuns drew his arm back, launching the heavy weapon into Iku Turso's mouth.
The monster faltered, its tentacles folding in on itself. Slowly its body began to sink under what water's surface. Lucy looked at Adie, but she seemed just as clueless as to if the monster was truly defeated or if this were a ruse. A bright glow shone in the water, and a beam of light shot skyward from Iku Turso's body, which had now resurfaced. The monster was flailing its appendages as its body was being attacked from the inside. Another beam shot outward, then another. Soon, Iku Turso's body was riddled with holes, water oozing from every orifice.
Gray shifted on his feet next to them, and Adie took notice. "You have an idea?"
"I have an idea, yeah," Gray replied cautiously. "Ultear can't control this water, which means if I used an ice attack, she can't negate it."
"And how do we not harm the spirits?" Lucy queried.
"I can't ensure I won't injure your sister," his voice was low.
"Juvia will take care of that," Adie told him, to Lucy's surprise. He seemed taken aback, but merely nodded.
Iku Turso's body dissipated, and some of the water with it. Nethuns and Eros disappeared as Adie released them. Delilah wasted no time, stepping onto the water, her toes dancing over its surface as she approached Ultear, trident in hand. The water swirled around Lilith and her summoner, and Lucy tried to see what was happening. Suddenly, Lilith disappeared from her view.
"She got her!" Adie suddenly yelled, her eyes catching something Lucy couldn't.
"Who? What?" Lucy rasped, confused.
"Juvia. She must have been able to get close enough to Adie's sister," Gray responded as he pushed past them, using his ice to create a bridge for him to pass over the chasm before them. "Shit, this was what she was talkin' about earlier!"
Adie took a few steps forward and Lucy felt overwhelmingly confused by what was transgressing. She saw Ultear attempt to attack Delilah, a terrified expression momentarily crossing her face. Delilah flicked away an orb as Ultear ferociously countered after her failed first attempt.
"She's realized she can't manipulate Celestial Magic!" Adie murmured. "Genius, Delilah!"
Gray was meters away, now close to where Delilah and Ultear were fighting. Juvia appeared on the other side of the water, her body taking form and dripping as she ushered Lilith from Delilah's swirling element.
"Adie, this won't free your sister from Ultear, you know that!" Lucy pointed out, surprised by Adie's excitement.
"No, but it ensures she's safe," the Spirit cryptically responded.
"From what?" Lucy wondered aloud. As she did, she saw Gray clap his hands together and Delilah's water become icy spires that shot skyward. Adie released the spirit, and Delilah disappeared before she risked injury from Gray's attack.
Lucy gasped as she saw Ultear's impaled body dangling from the ice stalagmites. Her head hung limply as blood ran down the ice, pooling beneath it. Gray's body stiffened as he observed the end result of his attack.
"Is she….dead?" Lucy ventured. Had Gray just ended the war? The ice mage turned to look at them, his expression wan and features pale. He looked like a man sickened by what he had done. Beyond him, Lucy saw a flicker of motion as Ultear lifted her head. Blood slipped from the corner of her mouth and her teeth were red as she whispered one word.
The word sounded unfamiliar to Lucy. Perhaps it was in another language. She opened her mouth to ask Adie what it meant. Before she could form the words to her unspoken question, she had her answer as Adie collapsed to her knees and Lilith let out a high-pitched terrified scream.
Until the end of her days, Lucy would never forget that word. In fact, she would have nightmares about it for years to come, the sound of Lilith's screams resonating in her dreams.
No, Lucy would never forget what Ultear had whispered as she dangled from her icy prison. Just one word had so much of an impact.