Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto
For a second, nobody could bring out a word as they stared at the being before them, a huge crimson fox with nine long tails swishing through the air. Then Celia broke into a smile. "Naruto, you're awake." She stated, before tiredly grinning "What took you so long?"
Hagwin smiled at his transformed friend, before adding his own playful scolding. "Ye took yer sweet time getting up lad, we nearly had all the fun without ye."
The fox's face split into a grin. "Sorry, I was a bit more tired than I thought. But now I'm here, that's all that counts."
Meanwhile, Isegrim fought himself to his feet, shaking his head to clear the last disorientation away. He painfully felt the bite on his shoulder, a fairly deep wound that refused to heal in seconds like normal injuries did on transformed Skinwalkers, and a number of bleeding scratches. Looking at this newest foe, he dropped to all fours. Weres could effortlessly walk on their hind-legs, but they were still fastest on all fours. In fact, a were on all fours was a sign of respect, it meant that the Skinwalker was taking his opponent seriously. And this fox was setting Isegrim's hairs up. He was dangerous, the inner animal warning of this nine-tailed monster before him. And Isegrim was inclined to agree to his instinct, as he had bitten down on his enemy's side, only to find that his teeth could not break the fox's skin. On the other hand, the appearance of the fox was the one puzzle-piece missing to complete the picture.
However, before Isegrim could do anything else, the pack attacked, seeing the fox as a threat to them. Werewolves rushed to the red fox, werebears stampeding a short distance behind them, while the werecats jumped through the trees to attack from above.
The fox's chest began to swell, before he released the gathered air in an ear-shattering "ROOOAAAAAAAR!" that sent the wolves scattering like leaves in a stiff breeze, while the bears were pushed back. The werecats had avoided the roar and rained down on their enemy from above, only for the fox to reveal a weapon none of the Skinwalkers had ever considered; his nine long tails. Cutting through the air like whips, each struck with absolute precision, throwing all who came too close away and into the nearest tree, until all of the werecats had been scattered. A stunning display, as the tail for Skinwalkers was more for balance and communication, being generally too weak to deal real damage.
Despite the impressive display of power, some of the bears continued their charge, hoping to overpower the foe that had appeared out of nowhere. However, here the fox let them come, using his arms to repel their attacks. He shoved two away, sending them flying almost thirty feet, before grabbing two others who had tried to pincer him by the heads and slamming them together.
However, just as the dazed forces gathered themselves for another attack, Isegrim broke free of the trance that had overcome him at the display of power. "Enough!" he roared, and the pack froze. Isegrim stepped forward, a mix of worry, respect, and a slight hint of what almost seemed like amusement on his face. He looked at the odd trio before him, a dwarf, an elf, and a Skinwalker. "I think I understand now. I found it odd that a mere merchant was so well armed, and that he knew how to fight as good as he did, even if it was a dwarf. But you're not a merchant Dorlin, and I doubt that's your true name. You are a warrior, most likely a Knight or a Paladin, as is 'Elenor'. You two were a team with that one, Naruto I believe you called him, who was probably the one that held your group together. He got himself infected, and the two of you kept it hidden as long as possible. However, eventually the information leaked, and the two of you aided your friend in his escape. Am I right?"
Hagwin, Celia and Naruto exchanged glances, before Naruto nodded. "Not quite, but close. The details were different, and I am not a Skinwalker, but aside from that your story is almost correct, cursed shifter."
Isegrim's eyes narrowed. "Not a Skinwalker? And why do you call us 'cursed shifters?'"
The fox lowered his head, frowned, before his form seemed to blur. Within seconds, Naruto was back to his blond-haired self. "I call you cursed shifters because that is what you are. You are shifters, and you have been cursed."
Shocked silence filled the clearing as the Skinwalkers stared at the being that had just shifted into his human form while the moon was still high. "Huh? Impossible! H-H-How?" Isegrim stuttered, before catching himself. "Either way, we have learned to live with what we are. We can even enjoy our transformation, it is not a curse."
Naruto nodded. "I never claimed otherwise. You are shifters, descendents of ancient druids who had deepened their bond with nature beyond what mortals may consider wise. However, they angered a demon-lord, who cursed them. I am amazed that even after 10.000 years it has not been broken yet."
Isegrim stared at this revelation. Their transformations were natural, and even good? "How are we cursed?" he demanded.
Naruto shrugged. "You have been cursed with pain, so that the transformation is dragged out and causes agony. When that did not keep the druids from defying him, the demon-lord cursed them with one of their objects of worship. 'If they love nature so much', was the curse 'then I shall deepen that bond. In the night you pray to the moon, so the moon shall be your god! When the moon forms a full circle, then and only then shall you return to your beast-forms that you love so much. And under these spells you and yours shall be until I or one of my kind grants you their mercy.' Though even the one who cursed you expected the curse to be broken by now, I'm sorely disappointed."
Silence reigned after Naruto had spoken, as all tried to digest what they had just heard.
To Celia and Hagwin, this was shocking, yes, but it was merely one more of the many unexpected events that seemed to follow their friend and brother-in-arms.
To the Skinwalkers however, this was casting an entirely new light on their entire existence. The knowledge that the transformation could actually be painless, and that they were not bound to the moon above was something that they hadn't dared wish for even in their wildest dreams. It meant that they could be able to defend themselves against the lynch-mobs that inevitably rose whenever their cover was blown even at new-moon, or even during the day. It also meant that they would not have to risk revealing their true nature on every full-moon, a possibility that could grant them safety.
While the Skinwalkers huddled together to converse, Naruto looked into the darkness. "Nazgûl!" He called out, and the hooded figure appeared in seconds.
"You called, master?" It asked, after kneeling before the blond.
Naruto's eyes were cold. "You saw everything that was happening, yet you made no move to intervene. Why?"
The Nazgûl lowered its head. "I saw that you were in no immediate danger, and I was not informed of the worth these two had. Had there been a sign of one of the Skinwalkers intending to enter the carriage, I would have slain them."
Naruto looked down at the ancient being kneeling before him. "I see. In the future, I expect you to give their health and safety the same care that you do mine. They are important comrades."
The Nazgûl's head lowered even further. "As you command."
Isegrim's voice pulled the attention back to the situation at hand. "Since you seem to know so much, do you have the knowledge to break the curses on us?"
Naruto smiled. "The question you truly want to ask is whether or not I can break the curses, is it not?" The black wolf-head went up and down with its owner's nod. Naruto's expression turned serious. "The answer is yes, I can. However," he interrupted the excited mutterings with a cold voice "you attacked two very important friends of mine, without provocation as far as I can tell. So why should I? What do you have to offer me in return for not only forgiving you for the attack, but also releasing you from curses that you have failed to dispel for a good 10.000 years?" There had been a time where Naruto would have lifted the curses without any hesitation, just to be helpful, but the last time he had done something for someone just to help, it had ended with him getting two holes into his chest before being thrown in a river and left to die. The lesson had been 'There's a fine line between being helpful and being a sucker, and suckers are everyone's doormat', and Naruto had learned it well. Help should be given within, within reason, and redemption was an option, but careful evaluation of a situation was better than rushing headfirst into an early grave.
The Skinwalkers looked at each other, unsure on what to do. On one hand, it seemed cruel to dangle such hope before them, only to pull it just out of their reach at the last moment. On the other hand they could understand where the blond boy was coming from. He was an alpha, that their instincts told them without a shadow of doubt, and they had attacked his pack. Even if he had repelled the attack almost effortlessly, they had still roughed up his pack-members, which was a strong insult to any alpha worth that title.
Surprisingly, it was the Nazgûl that spoke. "Perhaps...their service?"
Naruto looked at him. "While the idea has merit, and I would not be entirely avert to the idea of becoming a ruler, I do not have lands. What good would this pack do me, and I them, if I could not supply them?"
The Nazgûl tilted its head, apparently in thought. "If land is what you need, I may know of some. Tell me, what has become of Mordor?"
Naruto glanced at Celia and Hagwin for help, the word not ringing any bells. Hagwin shrugged helplessly. "Sorry Naruto, never heard of it in me life."
Celia tapped her chin in thought, before finally shaking her head as well. "Mordor, Mordor, Mordor... I'm sure I heard that word before, but for the life of me I can't say where."
Naruto shrugged. "No problem, not like I have more information." Kyuubi had never bothered to learn of something as trivial as countries, as those changed shape, size and even names too regularly for the immortal being to be worth the effort of keeping up. And who bothers with learning the name of every anthive they come across anyways? Not even the ants. Many citizens on Gaia were unable to even name their neighboring countries, especially in small villages.
"Enlighten us." Naruto ordered.
The Nazgûl nodded. "Of course. Mordor is the name of Gaia's second continent. It is smaller than the Mainland, however it is still enormous in size. The straight of Verdonis would be the quickest way to reach it, the distance between Mordor and the Mainland is only a few miles at its narrowest. It's also the only easy access, seeing that like a giant arrowhead, the distance between the continent increases drastically from maybe five miles to over 600, and except for a few well-hidden beaches, the shore facing the mainland is composed of steep cliffs and jagged rocks. My last master had his base there, though I don't know how it looks now."
Celia gasped. "The Unreached Lands! The giant island next to the continent that can't be reached due to heavy winds and giant whirlpools!"
Hagwin was equally baffled. "There were people there once? By me beard, that must have been ages ago. Nobody lives there!" He paused, absentmindedly playing with the end of his beard. "On the other hand, that could be a good thing. Aye, if the lands are as rich as the continent, me hands shake at how many treasures the mountains there might hold." In the end, he was a dwarf, and the interest in the treasures of the earth was almost a genetic trait of the entire species.
Naruto on the other hand saw potential. He didn't agree with the treatment of the so-called Dark Races, and thanks to the Nazgûl he knew of the dangers that the hunt for them was bringing to the world Naruto happened to be in, a situation he found altogether uncomfortable. If the island was truly that difficult to reach, and that vast, then as long as he found a way to safely reach it and ensure that others would safely reach it, he'd have a perfect retreat where the hunted races could rest, where they could gather their strength and perhaps restore the balance. A darker part of him, remnants of the Kyuubi's amusement in carnage and destruction, also considered the idea that an army could be built in the safety of the so-called Unreachable Lands, and that forming it would be rather easy considering the grudge the self-proclaimed Light Races must have amassed in their time in power. But before he could start planning that far, he needed to actually get to the land, and build.
The Skinwalkers meanwhile had finished a hushed conversation, and Isegrim stepped forward. "We have come to an agreement. If you truly can lift the curse from us, then we will aid you."
Naruto nodded. "We will have to see if Mordor is an option, and if so, we shall discuss further details. But now, gather before me and kneel. That is needed to break the curse."
The Skinwalkers quickly organized themselves in rows, almost like soldiers preparing for a parade, before they dropped to their knees as one.
Naruto took a few steps forward, before he stood directly before Isegrim, who made up the entire first row. Flaring his demonic energies, the nine phantasmal tails now clearly visible, Naruto raised his hands, his voice sounding like a mix between a lion's growling and a snake's hissing. "Before me kneel those cursed for their defiance. Penitent they lower their head, and the mercy of a demon-lord they shall receive. Listen cursed ones, and rejoice! In the name of the abyss and my power as a lord amongst those who dwell in it, I hereby absolve you of your sins! You have learned your lesson, so let the curse of pain and the binding of the moon be BROKEN!"
There was a sound that sounded like a mix of breaking glass and shattering metal, before it was over. The Skinwalkers were still kneeling before Naruto in their beast-forms, looking confused, as if waiting for something.
Naruto rolled his eyes. "I broke the curses, but if you want to see some changes, you have to will them to happen, you know."
There seemed to be a bit of embarrassment, before the Skinwalkers frowned, trying will themselves into their human-forms. It took a few minutes, as they had never initiated a transformation by themselves before, but after a few minutes some furs began to ripple, and seconds later those Skinwalkers turned human.
While the shapeshifters reveled in their new-found freedom, some of the younger ones even making a game of running, jumping and rolling while changing forms as quickly as they could, Naruto turned to his friends. "Celia, Hagwin, you alright?"
The unlikely duo had already fought themselves back to their feet, and nodded. "I'm fine lad. That Isegrim packs a punch, but me armor took the blow, and me father always said 'A good pounding only makes the mythril better'." Hagwin boasted.
Celia grinned. "So you're mythril now Hagwin? That's quite a boast." She rubbed her stomach. "I'll probably feel that till tomorrow, but I'll live." She turned to the Nazgûl. "You suggested Mordor, but how does one pass the winds and whirlpools? Is there a secret passage?"
The Nazgûl tilted its head in confusion. "Winds? Whirlpools? There should be nothing extraordinary hindering the passage."
Naruto frowned, the whole deal starting to sound suspicious. It was fairly safe to assume that the Nazgûl at this point would be completely honest, as the Witch-king was still sealed away and that little stunt with leaving Celia and Hagwin to die had cost him a few points in Naruto's book, so the only other explanation was that someone was trying very hard to keep people away. Still, it sounded like a better place than anywhere else, which made it worth checking out.
"Perhaps it's best we see for ourselves. If Mordor is suitable, then we'll set up camp there, with the Skinwalkers. If not, then we may have to leave them behind for the time-being. We can't afford too much attention on us right now, not when the world's attention is still on us."
Hagwin nodded. "Aye. I like the idea of more fighters, but I like me life more. Naruto, ye're right. It's worth a look before we send yer new friends away."
Isegrim, now in human-form, joined the small group, before bowing to Naruto. "Thank you. We may never be able to repay you for what you have done, but our loyalty to you is assured. I could not help but overhear parts of your conversation." He smiled in embarrassment. "A wolf's ears are very sharp. Either way, we will of course accompany you as long as you wish."
Naruto nodded gratefully. "I'm grateful. Though I think that this night you will all want to enjoy your new freedom, while my friends will want to rest. We shall start our journey tomorrow."
Isegrim nodded and returned to his pack to inform them of the plans. A few minutes later the entire pack was gone, playing in the woods with their newfound powers.
Celia yawned loudly. "After all that's happened today, I just want to go to bed. All in favor of calling it a night and catching some shuteye?"
"Aye." Hagwin agreed immediately, also looking tired.
Naruto on the other hand didn't feel tired at all. He had been resting for over a day, and the breaking of the curse had not been a real drain on him, if anything the small use of power had just energized him more, a feeling not unlike a sugar-rush. He smiled at the two people he cherished more than anyone else. "Then you two get some sleep. I'm wide awake, I'll keep watch tonight."
The two former knights visibly disliked dumping an entire night-watch on a friend, but both were just too tired to disagree, so with a few mumbled words of gratitude, they climbed into the dwarven wagon and went straight for their sleeping-bags.
Naruto on the other hand made himself comfortable on a tree above the wagon, staring at the sky and wondering about the future.
The Kyuubi had been a more solitary creature, but power and respect were two things it knew and appreciated, it even had a few followings that prayed to it as a god. And as a demon, Kyuubi had been a god of war, leading its followers into battle, and while it simply could have destroyed all opposition with raw power, as a kitsune Kyuubi had always preferred tricks, which had left Naruto with a great amount of knowledge on how to lead an army, and how to arrange and make use of advantageous situations. The only question was, did he want to?
He wanted to help, that much about him had not changed. He had seen a grave injustice, done to those who were hunted down like animals because they were labeled 'evil', or because they were looked at as mere beasts, essentially they were victims of genocide simply because they were different. Different like Naruto had been his entire life. Yes, Naruto wanted to help those labeled as the dark races, and Mordor sounded like what they needed most; a refuge. A safe haven for those mercilessly hunted, where they would be safe. However, Naruto knew it wouldn't be that easy, even if he found a way to claim Mordor as his. All those hunted would have to brought there without the hunters knowledge, and even when they were there, the self-proclaimed light races would not leave them alone. They would search for them, and eventually they would learn of Mordor's service as a home, and attack. What the dark races needed were multiple things, the perhaps most important one was a leader, who would unite them under his banner and organize them into an army that could defend itself from the attacks that were bound to happen eventually. For that however it was necessary to...
Naruto violently stopped that train of thought. He was already beginning to plan for an army while the most pressing questions were still unanswered. Could Mordor be reached? Was it suitable for the needs of all dark races? Would said races even come to Mordor, on nothing more than his word? Would they accept his leadership? And most important of all, did Naruto really want to lead them?
After a few minutes of deliberation, the night's silence broken only by the occasional howl, Naruto could at least answer that last question. Yes. If he was the most suited for the task, and with both the Kyuubi's knowledge and him being impartial to all races, belonging to none of them, he most likely was, then Naruto would be willing to lead them. It had always been Naruto's dream to be Hokage, and as he grew older it had changed from the naïve wish of simply being accepted as the leader to a more practical view, the knowledge that he'd be not only accepted, but that the fate of Konoha would rest in his hand. That responsibility, coupled with the less noble but equally motivating thought that he'd be able to rub it in the face of those that had doubted or disliked him, get justice against those that had wronged and hurt him, had kept Naruto going. He had wanted that responsibility, that power, he had wanted to prove that he was worthy of it. So if it would come to that point, then Naruto would pick up the mantle of leadership.
Naruto sighed deeply, pondering what the future would hold for him and his friends. As he waited for the sun to rise, he wondered what Mordor would look like.
The sea separating Mordor from the mainland was rough. Dark clouds hung over the sky, and whirlpools appeared and disappeared every few seconds. A strong wind was blowing, waves washing over the gray beach of the mainland, and smashing against jagged cliffs that made up Mordor's shore, fifteen stories of sharp rock making up Mordor's coast at its lowest point, the wall of stone going for as far as the eye could see. Strong winds were battering the entire shore, as if trying to blow everyone who even considered approaching back to the mainland. All in all, it didn't look like a nice place to be.
Celia looked around, and blankly spoke out what most were thinking. "Well I've seen more inviting places in my life."
They had been on the road for four days to reach this place, a forgotten shore in a godforsaken and uninhabited stretch of land. The Skinwalkers had been cheerful the entire way, still enjoying the freedom of their shape-shifting, and more than used to having to go through unfriendly terrain to avoid being spotted, but for Naruto's group, it had been a journey less for fun, and more to find a refuge, so the tension was high.
Hagwin frowned. "Naruto, I don't see how we could make it there in one piece."
Celia nodded. "No ship would make it through that sea, and the winds are too strong for a passage through the air. There's just no way."
Naruto glanced at the Nazgûl. "Your opinion?"
The hooded being shook its head. "Even with how much time passed, there is no way that the currents could have shifted to form anything like this. This is not natural, somebody has changed it."
Naruto nodded in agreement. He also found something fishy about this. He looked at his companions. "I'll go in for a closer look, I'll be back soon." Without waiting for a reply, he ran towards the shore.
Celia tried to grab him, but missed. "Naruto, don't be an idiot! You can't swim through that! NARUTO!"
As the blond boy reached the water, he couldn't help but think 'I'm going to get slapped for this, I just know it.' Still, he jumped over a wave, and started running.
Hagwin, who had been right behind Celia in her attempt of stopping what was equivalent to suicide, felt his jaw drop. "C-Celia." He asked, freely using her name by now. "Are me eyes playing tricks on me, or is Naruto running over water?"
Celia, equally baffled, blinked. "I see it too, but I don't believe it."
Naruto knew that for the distance, had the sea been calm, he would need maybe five minutes. However, seeing that the ocean was a giant washing-machine, he felt that ten minutes would be optimistic.
Water-walking was useful, however it had been designed for use on lakes, or rivers at best. On this sea the water constantly shifted, each step risking a twisted or broken ankle if the water shifted wrong, and balance was nearly impossible to maintain when the surface beneath your feet moved unpredictably. And every jump covered less distance than Naruto assumed, the winds increasing in strength the further he moved away from the mainland's shore.
However the whirlpools were the worst. Twisting the water beneath Naruto's feet, they had nearly pulled him off his feet four times already, and since they appeared with little warning, they were dangerous pitfalls that Naruto was not sure he would be able to get out of if he fell into one.
He had passed probably three quarters of his journey, and he noticed that now a lot more whirlpools were forming in front of him, when it happened. Suddenly a particularly large one formed only a few feet in front of him. It was too late for an evasive maneuver, so Naruto did the only thing he could, he leaped. He had aimed for thirty feet behind the whirlpool, but a combination of the hole widening further than expected and the by now hurricane-like winds blowing him back, he landed right at the edge, his arms grabbing onto the water while his feet dangled. Knowing he had only seconds, Naruto stemmed his feet against the whirling wall of water, the feeling not unlike that one gets when a carpet is swiftly pulled from beneath their feet, and pushed himself off.
With a small flip, he landed on calmer water and continued his run. However, both his jump and the unintentional flip had confirmed Naruto's suspicion about the whirlpools not being natural. Because deep down, at the very bottom of the whirlpool, almost hidden beneath a layer of water, Naruto had seen teeth.
Naruto had always been very good at multitasking, a skill necessary for many of his pranks, so while maintaining his run Naruto tried to access Kyuubi's knowledge. However, instead of simply trying to absorb the knowledge, a task which would have been fatal in Naruto's current circumstances, he instead tried to draw out specific knowledge, using the keywords 'whirlpool', 'teeth' and 'creature'.
Within seconds, Naruto had his answer. Charybdis. A type of creature living on the seabed that opened their jaws and sucked in enormous amounts of water, special tubes allowing them to filter and pump out the water it swallowed, and digesting anything that was pulled into the whirlpool. The creature was nearly invincible, it's entire body harder than steel, however it was stationary. The only problem was that charybdis' by itself reproduced very slowly, and over wide areas. A population like the one necessary to do this would never occur naturally, which left only one conclusion. There was a single species that was safe from the charybdis's jaws, that could cultivate them and even replant adults onto new ground; the scylla, a being that had the body of a human, only that instead of legs, the powerful tentacles of a octopus or squid grew from the hips. Scylla also were a part from a branch that had seemingly been forgotten by the current population of Gaia, the Tribes of the Deep, which consisted of countless sentient species, the only one Naruto had found any information on in the Order's archives were mermaids.
The question now was why the Tribes were involved in this. Most of their species could not cross onto land for extended periods of time, so why would they spend so much effort to protect it?
As Naruto pondered this question, he jumped and ran up the cliff. As he reached its peak, he paused, drinking in the scenery.
The cliff he stood on was, while large, actually not connected with Mordor's mainland. It was instead just a giant piece of rock in a rough T-shape, the longest part extending into a large gap in the cliffs, which led to a hidden bay with a flat shore and even some beach. The entrance to the bay was hidden from the mainland's view simply because the two shorter pieces of the stone-island Naruto was standing on were completely hiding the gap from view.
Further inland Naruto could see mountains and lush forests, but most of what he saw was meadows, green grass as far as the eye could see, with a river cutting it here and there. All in all, it looked like the perfect place to start a new life. If he found a way to get the others here.
Almost absentmindedly he drew his sword, and pointed right in-between the eyes of the reptilian humanoid, the blade's tip less than an inch away from the skull. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. Tell your friends to come out this instant, and tell your cousins to land this moment, or I blast them out of the sky."
The reptilian sniffed, before he let out a series of what sounded like chirps, followed by deeper growls. "What you are?" The thing asked then, the human language a bit odd on its tongue, and clearly not used often.
Naruto looked him in the eyes, unminding that seven more of the humanoids climbed up the ledge together with three smaller ones, while four that looked smaller ones, only with large wings, dropped out of the sky. For a second Naruto paused, wondering how he could answer that without admitting that he wasn't entirely sure either, before finally shrugging. "I'm complicated." He calmly answered, before looking around. "I wish to speak with the leaders."
For what had tried to ambush Naruto were none other than the dragonkin, both warriors and kobolds. That particular species was thought to be extinct, having according to legend been created by the mighty dragons through unknown means, to serve as servants for more delicate tasks, and they had indeed always pledged allegiance to, and blindly obeyed dragons in every chronic that mentioned them.
Also, the winds that pummeled Naruto could in the intensity and length that Celia and Hagwin described, lasting days and even weeks, only have been made by a dragon aligned to the element of Wind, and probably more than one. Naruto knew that if he wanted to build a refuge on Mordor, then needlessly antagonizing the dragons that had obviously used it as a retreat from the hunters would be a stupid idea.
The Dragonkin huddled, breaking out in a feverish fit of hisses, growls and yips that signified their heated debate. Oddly enough, something resonated inside of Naruto, and he guessed that Kyuubi had at some point in its life learned the tongue of the dragons. Finally, one of them turned to Naruto. "You. Follow."
Naruto nodded, but when the closest dragonkin pulled out magic-draining bindings, one of Naruto's phantasmal tails lashed out and shattered them in its hands while a second one snaked around the reptile's neck and hoisted it into the air. "Let me make this clear dragonkin. I'll follow you, but I am not a prisoner. You did not capture me, I spared your lives as a sign of good will, so don't you dare try anything like that again. Now take me to the leaders." Then he dropped the frantically struggling dragonoid back to the ground.
The atmosphere tensed, but finally they nodded, surrounded him, and led him into a cave.
It had turned into an entire labyrinth that needed to be passed, and Naruto briefly wondered who had set this up, as it clearly connected to the mainland of Mordor, seeing that they had literally walked miles. Finally however the dark tunnels were lit up by torches.
Three figures were standing before him.
The first was a dragon in the way that most would picture them, with black scales, a long serpentine body, two folded wings, four legs with razor-sharp claws, and a head sporting massive jaws with jagged fangs that seemed able to tear anything apart. It's eyes glowed red, and occasionally one could see a glimpse of fire in its throat.
The second was also a dragon, though this one was clearly a lindwurm, having no wings and and only one pair of arms, the rest of the body, whose coloring was a mix between gray and various shades of blue that may serve to blend in while under water, stretching out like a giant snake. This one seemed to be a water-dweller, but it made him no less dangerous. Both dragons had heads the size of small two-storied buildings, and both seemed more than capable of crushing armies.
The final figure seemed insignificantly small compared to those two giants, like it would be completely overlooked, but in fact its presence set Naruto on edge the most. It was an elven woman, a light-elf, who stared at him with azure eyes that showed their immense age in the otherwise youthful face.
Also, Naruto felt that the cave he was in was charged to the brim with Nature Magic, a security-precaution that would smite Naruto like an insect if its master so desired. Seeing that Naruto didn't feel like dealing with a Damocles-sword hanging over his head while the negotiations went on, he decided to show off a bit, just to make it clear that he was an equal to those present.
What one must understand about Nature Magic and Demon Magic is that, on the higher levels of magecraft, they were mutually exclusive. Demon Magic was a magic not of this world, and while lesser demons could easily enact it elsewhere, the higher demonic magics twisted the concepts of nature in order to create the conditions to be used. High Demon Magic in essence temporary shattered the native Nature and replaced it with the demon-realms to allow the foreign magic to work. Nature Magic on the other hand was a resident magic that made use of the very nature to fuel and amplify their spells. That of course meant that in the result of the twisting of Demon Magic, Nature Magic could not be used. On the other hand, Nature Magic fueled the nature of their world, which made the altering of Nature more difficult if not outright impossible. In the fight between a demon and a user of Nature Magic of equal power, he who struck first won, as his magic made it impossible for the opponent to use his. Of course in the case of lesser beings using weaker magic that didn't twist the world, that rule was moot and the better one won.
However, if one of the opponents vastly outclassed the other, then that opponent was able to overcome his enemies magic, enacting his own while shattering all of the opposing magic. Naruto did just that. With a pulse of raw Demon Magic he shattered the Nature Magic surrounding him, one that Naruto estimated had the strength as wards of a strong six-tails, maybe even a weak seven-tails. For an instant the very world twisted, the elf staggering while the dragons twitched uncomfortably, before Naruto's magic, not being further supplied with fuel, burned itself out and the world returned to normal.
Naruto bowed politely. "Greetings. I apologize for any discomfort from my actions just now, but I felt it prudent to clarify right from the beginning that I come to this hopefully fruitful little debate as an equal, not a beggar. But past that, I thank you all for taking the time to hear me."
The winged dragon huffed, clouds of smoke coming out of his nostrils, before his jaws opened slightly. "Why have you come here, halfbreed?"
Naruto's brow twitched slightly, but he kept his calm. "I am no halfbreed, dragon. I was once a human, into whom a terrible demon was sealed. Not long ago I was ripped from my own world by a summoning and landed here, as what you see now. My parents were human, what I am even I do not know. My name however is Naruto."
The second dragon hissed. "No matter. Why have you come?"
A more dramatic being of Naruto's power would have now used its magic to conjure a throne into which he could gracefully lean into, but Naruto felt that he had provoked his opposites enough for now. "I assume that you are all aware of the state of the world, and of why it is happening."
Surprisingly it was the elf that answered. "Yes," she replied, her voice like a symphony "but it's surprising that you know. I gather that you're a stranger to our world, yet you know something that on the mainland has been forgotten, and the few that should know it deny. The world needs balance, light and dark. White and Black Magic are, relatively seen, the weakest, yet those that can use it, those who carry in them the darkness, a force that is despite its stigma not evil, are just as needed as those of the light. Our world needs the dark like it needs the night, the time of soothing and rest, without which Gaia would be a barren desert. Yet those fools disturb the balance, trying to drive the dark ones into extinction. Yet why do you ask?"
Naruto smiled humbly. "I have learned of this injustice, I have seen the hatred of those that call themselves the Light Races. I had found myself unwilling to let it continue, yet however powerful I am, I am merely one person. I am not deluded enough to think myself capable of ending millenniums of war and bloodshed by myself. I was in fact planning to scout out Mordor as a refuge for the hunted, and perhaps a base for building a resistance against those that disturb the balance. Right now a group of Skinwalkers, and a few comrades, are waiting on the shore of the mainland, and truth be told I had been hoping that they could find a new home here."
The three exchanged glances, and Naruto had the feeling that there was a lot more going on than he realized, from the occasional growl and shaking head he began to suspect that there was an entire telepathic conversation he wasn't privy to.
Finally, the elf sighed. "Normally we would kill you." She stated. Naruto raised a brow, his expression practically screaming 'you could try', but she continued. "However, there are certain circumstances that speak in your favor. First, you are planning on tackling a problem that we here are in no position to deal with. We will have further discussions on just what and how you plan on doing so, but we are not opposed to relocating the hunted here. However in return there is a problem that you can solve for us. Those that call themselves the Light Races have in recent times made more and more attempts to reach Mordor, the last refuge for many, and with your plans soon more. Many beings that are extinct on the mainland still live here, it is a preserve in some way."
Here the winged dragon interrupted. "It is the last refuge of the dragons. Our race was once as numerous as the birds in the sky, our flocks darkening the sun when we migrated! Now, barely more than a hundred are left, and should those that have the nerve to call themselves the Light Races reach Mordor, then it's only a matter of time before the last of us will be slain and our eggs smashed. Right now Mordor is a low priority for the Ignorant, however they will keep on trying unless otherwise occupied, and once they learn of us here they will turn their full attention on this last refuge. What we ask in return for our permission to make these lands your home, and the home of those you bring, is that you keep it safe! Bringing the hunted here is not a bad plan, yet they will only attract more attention to Mordor. We feel that you are powerful, and we realize that killing you would be a task that would cost us our lives as well, yet we are not totally ignorant. You are part fox-demon, and that breed is known for its cunning. If you can bring the hunted to Mordor without the Ignorant noticing, and raise an army that can defend Mordor, then you will have our allegiance."
Naruto bowed deeply. "You honor me with your trust. I give you my word that I will do as promised. How soon I can act depends on what I find on Mordor, how quickly resources can be gathered, but I have made some plans for a distraction large enough to safely evacuate all hunted. It will need time, but I can give you a basic outline."
Naruto described his idea, and finally the lindwurm nodded. "Very well. Return to your followers, I will inform the Tribes of the Deep to let you and yours pass unharmed."
Naruto bowed again. "My deepest gratitude. We shall meet again soon, but now I should hurry before my comrades believe me dead."
With the discussion over, the winged dragon vanished into a tunnel and the lindwurm slid into what looked like a giant puddle, though it was likely connected to the ocean. The elf had vanished in the distraction that the two dragons had caused, so Naruto shrugged and let himself be led back outside.
Interestingly, there were no whirlpools on his run back.
Naruto hadn't even reached the beach proper when Celia and Hagwin rushed at him, former literally flinging herself onto him and pulling him in a hug.
"Thank heaven you're alright! We began to fear the worst! How was it?"
Naruto scratched his chin. "It was... interesting. I'll tell you about it while we prepare the boats. We have a new place to stay."
She collapsed into her chair with a tired sigh. The gears had truly begun to turn, as the dwarves and goblins would say, beginning with that pulse that had shook the earth, and now this new being, this... Naruto. She had to admit, she was impressed, something that didn't happen often. Despite having lived hundreds of millenniums, that boy had not only surprised her, but she felt something she had almost forgotten; hope. She actually had hope that with him, things might actually change for the better. She chuckled.
"My lady?" One of her comrades asked, his bronze skin identifying him as a fire-elf.
She kept chuckling. "Varondir, can you feel it? The times are changing. The balance of power has begun to shift, and I eagerly await to see what the future holds."
The preparations of the vessels had taken over three hours, which spoke volumes of how much work needed to be done, but finally the entire pack and most of their possessions had been stowed away on large rafts, which began paddling towards Mordor.
Suddenly Isegrim jumped up. "The whirlpools are starting again!"
For a second Naruto growled, suspecting that they had been betrayed, until he noticed something. His face split into a grin. "Clever. They're building us a road."
And indeed, the whirlpools were placed strategically and with ideal rotation that they actually created a current, like a road that pulled the rafts towards Mordor. A few particularly large whirlpools altered their course just enough that instead of hitting the cliffs, the rafts floated elegantly into the bay, to finally hit the soft, sandy shore.
A minor part of Naruto's mind considered that this would be a good place for a small harbor, and that the way of transport would be ideal for quickly bringing refugees in quickly. Shaking his head, he jumped onto the beach and turned to his captivated audience.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at our new home. I welcome you all, to Mordor."
Chapter 10 is finished. Wow, that really took a while. You know, for some reason this story is one of my favorite ones to write. Probably because I'm a fantasy-fan, and because I am practically building my own world here. It's fun. The only thing that pissed me off was that I had this story at the point where the dragonkin showed up, and then my laptop crashed on the ground and I had to wait WEEKS to finish this chapter. Very irritating.
Anyways, this chapter was almost a prelude, I might say. Naruto gained his first followers, made them helluva lot more terrifying and useful than they were before he appeared, and dealed with three beings old as time to get a foot on Mordor, and will get the allegiance of them and some more beings that fled the mainland for Mordor when the persecution started, though what runs around on Mordor is not even remotely human, with the exception of a very specific group of very special elves. Naruto will bring civilization to Mordor, or rather bring it back, as you wouldn't believe just how well magic can preserve strongholds, with all of their priceless content.
And Naruto can change his form whenever he likes, but the bigger the difference between his forms, in other words the larger he allows his fox-form to be become in comparison to his human-form, the more it drains him. Changes like he had when this chapter started are his minimum size, and don't cost him anything.
And I was asked if the Undead would attack Dark Races as well, since the Light Races are the reason they are forced to exist. Let me put it this way. If you tie a Light Creature and a Dark Creature to chairs, place them on opposite ends of the room, then put a natural Undead in the middle, it will always go after the light-creature. However they hate all life, so if the opportunity is present, they will attack a dark-creature as well. Though if a dark-creature escapes them, they quickly lose interest in it, while a light-creature would be pursued with the determination and persistence of a bloodhound, or a shark that smelled blood. So an Undead would kill dark-creatures as well, though given the choice they would go after light-creatures.
Well, I showed three new creatures, so here comes their description.
Encyclopedia of Gaian Species
The charybdis is an unusual life-form. It is one of the few species that are neither animal nor plant, belonging to what has been described as mineral life-forms, its body by default harder than steel. As a result of their mineral-base the charybdis grows roots like a tree, and remains stationary its entire life. On its own it reproduces slowly, once every few decades letting a piece of it break off and be carried through the ocean by currents before the fragment takes root where it lands, though a particular member of the Tribes of the Deep, the scylla, has found a way to artificially plant charybdis, multiplying their population. The scylla are known amongst the Tribes as the only ones capable of handling these beasts, as they can even influence the beasts on when and how to use the natural ability that made it so feared. A charybdis can open its jaws and suck in tremendous amounts of water, which are filtered for nutrition and then released through tubes over their body. They can keep this suction up as long as they wish to, which allows them to form whirlpools to drag in meals that float. It has complete control over this ability to the point where the charybdis can if the whirlpool spin clockwise or counterclockwise. It should be noted that the charybdis is in no way dependent on this hunting-method, gaining all nutrition that it needs directly from the soil they dig into, but it certainly helps them. Charybdis that digest large amounts of metal grow even stronger and harder, which may be the reason they 'attack' ships. It possesses fine sensors, being able to detect things miles away, and a keen sense of smell that can not only distinguish living things, but also types of wood and even the difference between metals, however it is blind and deaf, not to mention that it possesses hardly more intelligence than a housefly.
The dragonkin are an odd race. They are humanoid, possessing a human's basic build with two arms, two legs, and a torso, standing straight. Their skin is made of scales, which, like their masters', the dragons, come in all colors and have resisted steel, and they all have a tail that reaches the ground. Aside from their service, what gave this species their name is the fact that their heads look identical to those of dragons, only on a smaller scale. Most have horn-spikes growing out the back of their heads, which together with the sharp claws on their hands and feet, and the fact that some also have spikes growing from the end of their tails, make them a terrifying enemy at close range. All dragonkin can breathe fire, the intensity of the flame an indicator of a dragonkin's strength, and health. Legends say that the dragons created these creatures in their image, using the design that they had seen to become more successful to have servants that were able to do tasks that the dragons themselves were too larger or strong to do, though there are debates whether the dragonkin were made from nothing like the gremlins, or merely transformed into their current form. The truth of their origin has been lost ages ago, hence why they aren't considered an artificial race like gremlins or homunculi. Aside from their basic look there are two types of dragonkin, so different that they had been long believed to be two different species.
The first, the original holders of the title 'Dragonkin', now often simply called 'Warriors', or impolitely 'Drones', stand at the size of a human, some even larger, with an average height of 180cm. They possess great physical strength, but aside from that and their ability to climb almost as good as a gremlin, and of course their fiery breath, they are rather plain, having no other special abilities and a rather low intelligence for a sentient species.
The second are known as the kobolds. Kobolds are less physically imposing, rarely growing larger than a halfling, their frame lean if not thin, lacking the muscles one can see bulging under a warrior's scales, but in return they have been given a much higher intelligence, and a priceless gift. They are capable of magic. While the Light Races labeled them as users of Black Magic, in truth they wield a brand of magic unique to them and their masters, Draconian Magic, a very powerful magic, and only one type whose existence has been denied by the Light Races in favor of generalization.
Finally there is a subspecies of kobolds born with wings. This is not hereditary, as not even the kobolds know just what causes some of them to be born with the gift of flight, and these winged ones are seen as blessed, and a sign of good fortune amongst their own.
The dragon is one of the most famous, and infamous, creatures of all times. According to Gaian mythology, and it is true that even the oldest of elves, those that have lived since the dawn of their race, and the dwarves, who have kept records of their entire existence, admit that the dragons had been there long before the first humanoid set its foot on Gaian soil. Like elves, dragons have an infinite lifespan, and their enormous inner power, their Draconian Magic, has kept them from falling to illness, so there is much truth in the saying that a dragon will only die when it is killed, a task that grows exponentially harder with the dragon's age, as a dragon's growth in power never truly stops, though it slows down with time. Dragons come in different forms, though all share the diamond-hard scales, serpentine bodies, and the ability to produce mana instead of merely absorbing it, a trait that they share only with their servants, the dragonkin, and demons, though those produce demonic mana for their Demon Magic instead of the basic Neutral Magic that a dragon produces simply by breathing. Draconic Magic is more primal than its counterparts, having no incantations and instead using the pure will of its master to achieve the wished result, which also makes it an unpredictable magic as not even the dragon using it can be sure just how the magic will achieve a more complicated result. Most dragons have four legs, it being seen as the default-type of dragon. Dragons with no hind-legs are called lindwurms, as they were initially not recognized as dragons, and are mostly found as water-dragons, though some are aligned with earth and burrow through it instead. The other two types of dragons are distinguished only by the question whether or not they have wings, and there are no names to separate the two, as a winged dragon can come from wingless parents just like a wingless dragon can hatch out of a winged dragon's egg, and neither is seen as inferior. All winged dragons are capable of flight, though while most wingless ones remain on the ground their entire lives, there are those who have managed, likely as a result of their Draconian Magic, effortlessly fly through the air without wings, a feet that all dragons see as impressive. One thing that all dragons have in common regardless of appearance is their breath. While every fool can tell you that dragons can breathe fire hot enough to melt stone and steel, far fewer people know that while yes, every dragon including the water- and frost-dragons can breathe fire, all dragons have a secondary breath, which can go from a freezing blast of under -200°C or scalding hot steam of over 1000°C, corrosive mist and thunder over petrifying gases, poisons to more solid substances like acid or magma, and that is said to be only the tip of the iceberg. Some even claim that water-dragons actually have the ability to spit high-pressured streams of water, and that their steam-attack is actually the result of them mixing their two breaths, though there has so far been no conclusive evidence. While dragons had once been the rulers of Gaia, advancements in weaponry and magic have encouraged the younger species to hunt them, and while the odds of having a successful dragon-hunt and actually surviving it are less than 1%, the sheer mass of fools willing to try has driven this noble species to the brink of extinction.
Wow, I really had a lot to describe here, but I'm actually fairly happy with how everything turned out. The negotiations were a bit short, but I decided to just have them negotiate that Naruto can bring refugees to Mordor, and have them iron out the details for their allegiances later. Next chapter will be Mordor.
Well, that was it for now,