A/N: I said it would be a short epilogue and yet it somehow turned into the second longest chapter. I'm so sorry!
Epilogue: At Night the Moon Will Rise
Shyly peeking through the thick layer of clouds was the waning moon, bright and silver. It winked a few times before retreating behind its cover. Calm was the night sky, but below, it was the complete opposite.
Five large pyres, positioned to form a wide semicircle, were burning; each with towering roaring flames that wanted to reach the clouds above. The fires hungrily swallowed the darkness, brightening the area where a rowdy group of pirates and mages have gathered.
Drinks and food brought over from Thousand Sunny were served, cooked, and eaten around the flames. Laughter, chattering, singing, and shouts of excitement and happiness rang amongst the small but boisterous crowd. It was a celebration of their victory and triumph over bad and evil; a party and feast earned through pain and hardships. But it was also a final gathering before goodbyes are said and friends must part.
Beyond the boundary where heat and light did not touch, was darkness and ice. Frigid, yet tranquil, the shadowy world outside the reach of the fires was a vast frozen landscape covered in crystal and frost that hid the scars of battle that marred the land. Whenever the moon shone through, the ice would palely gleam silver and white.
Far from the fire, but not too far from the noise, it was out here that Gray could contemplate without too many intrusions.
Hands folded behind his head, the Ice-Make mage was laying on his back atop the charred and icy skull of a slightly annoyed demonic sea demon that thankfully no longer reeked of decay. The smell of burnt bone was more tolerable than the strong odour of rotten fish. Eyes closed, he listened to the joy of his friends. The group was impressively loud; their voices carried across the wide, icy field and reached his ears.
Gray's lips twitched into a smile when he heard the thrill of Brook's violin as the musician began to play another one of his songs. Joining in was the pleasant sound of a harp belonging to Lucy's spirit, Lyra. The girl strummed along with the skeleton's melody and together they formed a wondrous duet. Then the group broke into song, belting out the words at the top of their lungs:
"Yo-hohoho, yo-hohoho. Yo-hohoho, yo-hohoho. Yo-hohoho, yo-hohoho. Yo-hohoho."
Gray's smile widened further at the sheer volume coming from such a small party. He could easily distinguish Luffy's and Natsu's voices for they were the loudest amongst them all. He knew they wanted him to hear because it sounded like their voices could reach every corner of the island.
"Going to deliver Bink's sake! Following the sea breeze! Riding on the waves!"
Gray recognized the song, having heard the pirates sing the same tune on the first evening they were out at sea together. That night was the beginning of their friendship where tensions dissolved and bonds were formed and strengthened. Everyone ate heartily and drank heavily that night, resulting in awful hangovers and terrible sea sickness the next morning, with the latter affecting Natsu the worse.
The memory felt so long ago. How much time had passed since they had departed from Karuu Port as a team? Days? Weeks? Gray couldn't quite remember. The past few days had been a blur; full of vague memories and blanks that were partially filled thanks to Tuirehal's memories. There were some things he could vividly recall that he wished he could forget, such as the murder of the mages and demons done by his hands and the look of horror on each of his companions' faces when they first saw him as their enemy.
And the clinking of chains… He could always remember the dreadful sound whenever moments were quiet, reminding him of the awful binds that had encircled his limbs and pulled him forward against his will and manipulated his magic.
Fortunately, his enslavement was only a memory and it will forever remain as one; one that was filled with guilt and remorse every time he dwelled on it.
"Farewell to the harbor, to my hometown. Let's all sing out with a DON, as the ship sets sail."
Close by, a familiar presence appeared seemingly out of nowhere and stepped onto Tuirehal's giant skull to accompany the ice mage and demon in the cold and darkness.
"They're certainly having a lot of fun," said Loke with a noticeable grin in his tone.
Tuirehal was irked at having another body on its head. It started to move, soundly breaking the layers of ice that had accumulated over its bones and forcing Gray to sit up to stay balanced.
Before the fiend could snap and throw a fit, the Ice-Make mage stomped his bare foot atop of its skull and warned, "Hey! Calm down. Don't make me freeze your damn mouth shut again." Sit still and listen to the song, he quietly added.
The serpent made a furious hissing noise, making its bones vibrate and the remaining ice to weakly crack. It wanted to thrash about and throw the pair right off. But it held back the urge, knowing full well that Gray would be more than willing to follow through with his warning. Neither were in the mood to bicker either after spending nearly two hours straight heatedly discussing and debating on the fate of the Anima Stone with Gray's team and the occasional pirates lending their thoughts on the situation prior to evenfall. There was a lot of anger involved when nothing could be agreed upon, resulting in death threats being exchanged between demon and Dragon Slayer, bitter emotions, and utter frustration. It took Gray at least three times to drill into Natsu's thick head that a Blood Pact was irreversible.
Arguments almost turned disastrous, nearly to the point where Tuirehal was ready to unleash its frustration in the form of another violent storm. It was up to Gray to tame the raging demon using sheer force and much-needed meditation. Once the fiend had somewhat settled and its thundering storm dispelled, Gray had asked for more time to ponder over a decision with the sea serpent.
Turiehal was adamant on destroying the Anima Stone despite not knowing the consequences. It didn't like to be vulnerable and it certainly didn't like the fact that it could be easily manipulated by one little artifact. Not only that, it deeply feared the Stone could fall in another wicked user's hands and be used against it, forcing it to serve under another wretched being's control.
Tuirehal had called him a naïve fool for allowing the woman named Cynthia and her daughter to go free.
The wretch will be a threat in the near future, the serpent had warned him. However, Gray had an inclination that Cynthia would never look back to what had transpired on this island now that she was no longer obligated to her master. He stuck to that belief no matter how much Tuirehal scorned him.
He did share one similar fear with the demon and that was the risk of the Anima Stone ending up in an enemy's possession and used against them. That was one of the supporting reasons the artifact had to be eliminated, but Gray was still hesitant to follow through with that decision. Only Hell would be waiting for him if his life came to a sudden end.
The destruction of the soul-bound crystal didn't exactly guarantee the immediate demise of the demon. But with Tuirehal further reduced to nothing but charred, brittle bones thanks to Natsu's fires, the chances of its remaining life perishing away was very likely. The serpent only clung to the realm of the living due to the power of the Anima Stone.
There was nothing left for Tuirehal. The serpent had purposely goaded Natsu to attack it during the battle, sacrificing its life and body in order to break the powerful spells that had controlled Gray. Now trapped in a weak and pitiful state, it could no longer swim; it would only sink to the bottom of the ocean where it would forever haunt the deep, dark depths. The once proud, mighty, and feared leviathan who ruled the entire western seas centuries ago had been stripped of its pride and dignity. And having to resort to seeking the help from a lowly human had shamed it further. Turiehal was extremely miserable and it made it plain obvious to Gray that it wanted to be finally free of its seemingly endless suffering.
Fuming, the bony snake ceased in its movements and the hissing stopped. Only for now will I allow this, child! it snarled bitterly, mentally speaking to Gray alone.
Loke nervously rubbed his cold hands together as he took one slow, tentative step forward, afraid to accidently anger the demon right under his feet. "S-Sorry! Didn't mean to startle you… two," he said anxiously. He slightly flinched and looked away when the Ice-Make mage's gaze fell on him.
Gray disregarded the spirit's reaction, now used to the fact that almost everyone was intimidated by his stare. He had seen his own reflection in a mirror provided by Lucy, but it wasn't his glowing green eyes that caught his attention first – it was his hair. The front of his locks had turned white – white as snow against a contrasting black. He was appalled by the change because it looked like he was prematurely graying. Tuirehal didn't have an absolute answer as to why his hair was suddenly bleached and that was rather irksome.
"You didn't surprise us," Gray replied, propping an arm over one raised knee. He lightly patted the top of the demon's frozen skull. "He's just annoyed as usual. Shouldn't you be partying with everyone else? It's a little cold over here."
The lion chuckled as he buttoned the front of his black suit and tucked his hands into his pants' pockets. He visibly shivered, his breath misting in the air and fogging up his shades. "'A little' is definitely an understatement. I wanted to make sure you're not feeling left out."
Gray smirked, though he doubted the spirit could see his smile under the shadows. He had a feeling Loke was only acting as a messenger on behalf of the group. So the others were worried about him. "No. Not at all. I'm actually happy. I'm glad to hear them having fun after everything that's happened."
Loke raised a questionable eyebrow. "For real? You're not a teensy bit envious of all the drinking and hoopla going on over there? The pirates like doing this weird thing where they stick chopsticks up their noses and stretch out the bottoms of their lips and dance around. It's pretty hilarious."
The ice mage shortly laughed at that. "I've seen them do it before. Besides, I'll ruin the fun if I join in."
His demonically infused power was like a curse. Everything instantly froze around him. Even when he didn't wear the magic amplifying rings the evil mages had foolishly given him, the longest Natsu's blazing fires survived within the Ice-Make mage's proximity was a minute or less. Gray couldn't drink and he couldn't eat since whatever he touched turned into ice before he could count to one. Erza had even tried to force feed him a piece of freshly cooked shrimp shortly after the party started, but the food became a block of ice the instant it landed on his tongue. Not being able to enjoy Sanji's delicious cooking didn't disappoint Gray too much since he didn't have an appetite to begin with.
"Now comes the storm through the far-off sky. Now the waves are dancing. Beat upon the drums. If you lose your nerve, this breath could be your last. But if you hold on, the morning sun will rise."
Loke peered at the distant fires, seeing only the tiny silhouettes of their companions moving about. "It's been one heck of a wild adventure," he began in a quiet, somber tone. "Pirates from another world… Demons… And a bunch of evil mages. I can't believe how close we were to lose you and Natsu…"
"Natsu?" Gray furrowed his brow in concern. He was only vaguely aware of what had transpired on the island between Natsu's party and the sinister mages of the island. He had overheard about Natsu's shocking transformation into an actual dragon during the time he was imprisoned and chained up in the mages' underground laboratory. The vile old man named Herman had been infatuated with the Dragon Slayer's ability; obsessing over the many details in his horrid experiments he had wanted to perform.
When Gray had confronted the Dragon Slayer about it earlier in the day, Natsu turned glum and avoided the question. The ice-user didn't inquire more about the incident soon after that, understanding that it was not his place to pry.
However, Gray didn't hear about Natsu almost dying. "What happened to him?" he asked, almost demanding.
Loke lowered his gaze and didn't answer right away.
"Today and tomorrow, our dreams through the night! Waving our goodbyes, we'll never meet again! But don't look so down, for at night the moon will rise!"
"One of them nearly killed him," the lion quietly murmured. "Shot him with a magic bullet. Stopped his heart… But he obviously pulled through." The Celestial Spirit turned to bravely face the other. "These guys… They were more ruthless than any other bad guys we've ever encountered. I can't imagine what would've happened if things haven't turned out the way it has… You shouldn't feel guilty about anything. We might not still be here if you hadn't done what you did."
Gray snorted and formed a humorless smirk. "I bound my soul with an evil snake and then nearly killed everyone after being turned into a slave. How can I not feel guilty?"
"It wasn't your fault, Gray. You did what you had to do, right?" the spirit tried to reassure. "These mages were dangerous, heartless, merciless people. Would you be here talking to me if you hadn't formed the pact?"
No, I'd probably be dead and rotting alongside Tuirehal within the dark cavern… the Ice-Make mage morbidly thought.
"It all worked out in the end. We're still alive. That's something to celebrate about," Loke continued, turning back towards the sound of everyone's voices with a small smile on his lips.
Do you still bear regret for those wretches you have slain? Tuirehal questioned, personally speaking to Gray alone.If you had not taken their pathetic lives, your worthless companions would have joined the dead or worse.
Sighing, the ice mage followed Loke's gaze as the thought crossed his mind.
Was he still regretful? No, not after hearing what happened to Natsu. The mages who wished to harm Gray's friends deserved the deaths they got; especially the old bastard Gray had the pleasure of freezing solid. The accursed being who came very close to killing everyone for the sake of his own sick and twisted ambitions had been frozen through and through, his life completely sucked away by the intense chill of Gray's magic. His crystallized body had been scattered to the winds after the ice mage crumbled the statue into fine, glittering dust.
Gray couldn't deny how good it felt to destroy the bastard caught within his ice. It was pure, sweet vengeance that ultimately satisfied Tuirehal.
"Tomorrow, the Straw Hats will return back to their world and we can finally head back home," said the Celestial Spirit. He glanced over his shoulder. "You are coming back with us, right?"
"I can't go back… not like this. I'd have to move to Iceberg if I do," Gray replied, managing to crack a joking grin. The smile didn't last very long. "I doubt the Magic Council will look kindly on what I did. Blood magic's taboo and forbidden and all that, ain't it? They'll probably lock me up or something."
"They don't need to find out."
"I can't exactly hide this power and I can't leave this pile of old bones behind. He'll get very, very cranky."
Loke fully turned around, his face serious. "Then what do you plan to do? You can't stay on this island for the rest of your life." His eyes narrowed behind his shades, shifting from Gray to the block of ice by the ice-user's side. "Or have you already decided to do what we have already argued against?" he demanded.
Gray bowed his head, his eyes falling on the same spiny block. Encased inside was the Anima Stone, its pulsing, purplish-black light weakly shining through the thick layers. It was the remaining half of Tuirehal's soul that had been long sealed away. It resonated with both demon and Gray, beating in time with the mage's slow heartbeat. Only the ice mage could access it; a precaution he took just in case there were other members in Pandora's Box still alive and foolish enough to oppose them. The sealing staff, Anguis Zhan, was safe with Erza, further minimizing the chances of any retaliation.
"I've yet to decide on anything," he murmured as the group in the distance broke out into the final chorus of the pirate's song. Knowing Loke would try to speak out his mind in order to convince Gray of the 'right' choice, the Ice-Make mage quickly added; "I still need some time."
"I know how you feel – I know how everyone feels. You don't have to remind me why I shouldn't throw my life away."
Gray wasn't a particular fan of dying. After all, he had experienced it once and it wasn't an entirely pleasant sensation from what he could remember. Death was painful; hot, searing, and excruciating… it had felt like he was burning alive along with Tuirehal when the demon was engulfed by Natsu's rage. But the decision was still there… to perish along with Tuirehal for the sake of granting it freedom and to eliminate another evil. However, that decision would bring only grief and sadness to his companions and, as Natsu had stated earlier, none of them would ever forgive him if he did sacrifice his life.
Sighing in disappointment, the Celestial Spirit turned his back to the ice mage. "Then I'll only tell you this," Loke began firmly, "Lucy already cried for you and Natsu… Don't make her cry again." Then, as he stepped into his gate, he softly added, "And she won't be the only one…"
With that, the lion disappeared out of sight, leaving Gray alone with the sea demon. The Ice-Make mage heaved a deep sigh as he fell onto his back and linked his frosty fingers beneath his head to gaze up at the cloudy sky. The singing was over, only to be replaced with loud cheers and laughter.
Why care for those fools? If you destroy the Stone now, you will no longer have to hear their sad and pathetic pleas,Tuirehal pointed out in a brusque manner.
Gray huffed and closed his eyes. "We share the same mind and soul, snake. You should already know why. They are my friends… and my family. I can't do that to them," he said with a light shake of his head. He dared to sneer and openly mock, "As we are now, they're kinda like your friends too."
The serpent wasn't amused. It shifted slightly and mentally snapped, You speak utter nonsense. Demons have no need for companionship.
In the past, Tuirehal had lived alone and ruled alone. It had single-handedly conquered the western ocean, where it sought only destruction and chaos within its watery territory. The serpent had been a feared and detested monster, making enemies and not allies in its destructive wake. And when it was banished, it suffered in isolation at the bottom of the Straw Hat's ocean for four hundred long and lonely years.
Gray was the first and only 'partner' it was ever forced to have. To cooperate with another being, which the demon had previously deemed inferior, had never been to Tuirehal's liking. It despised the presence of others. Especially weak, lowly humans.
However, through Gray's memories and past and present experiences with his guild and friends, the demon's dislike for companions was a tad, tad less than what it was before. It was a tiny but significant improvement according to Gray's standards.
"Well, you're stuck with them at the moment whether you like them or not," said the ice mage, still sneering.
The serpent's response to that was an infuriated hiss and a quick snap of its jaws that fortunately didn't toss the Ice-Make mage too far from his spot. After another warning, Gray settled back in his position.
The party continued on late through the night where it eventually migrated into Gray's frozen domain in spite of the harsh, frigid cold that haunted the landscape.
"Doesn't feel right to leave you alone when we're all having fun," was Natsu's claim as he and a nervous Happy flew over.
However, right after the pink-haired mage stepped foot on top of Tuirehal, the serpent violently jerked, nearly throwing Gray right off, and suddenly bellowed; My head is not a platform! Begone or I will devour your souls, you puny, little, insignificant insects!
Happy panicked and immediately took to the air with the Dragon Slayer in tow. "Who're you calling 'puny', you stupid, ugly bone-face?!" Natsu growled at the demon, his hands engulfed in bright orange flames. "You want another roasting?!"
"Ah! Wait, Natsu! If you do that–" the Exceed started to say but was sharply cut off.
Come at me then, you ignorant, flame-headed buffoon! This time I will take you to Hell– A giant muzzle of ice locked the demon's maw shut before it could move another inch. Tuirehal snarled a few vehement curses at Gray in its demonic tongue as it had no choice but to bear with the heavy weight of the mage's creation. Lying still once more, it seethed at Gray and the twisting black clouds above reflected its foul mood.
Not wanting to induce any more havoc in the form of another raging storm, Gray grabbed the frozen Anima Stone, leapt off the serpent's giant head, rolled into his fall, and quickly dispelled his magic muzzle right after. As he sauntered away, he took several deep breaths in hope of calming the serpent's burning soul, managing to bring its boiling anger down to a simmer.
Once far enough, he turned and gazed upon the hideous, ice-crusted face of the demon. Tuirehal was ugly before and he was uglier now with more gaps in its toothy snarl and blackened bones chipping away. Gray evenly met the demon's fervent glower. "Sorry, but I told you, didn't I? And besides, you shouldn't let that dumb idiot get to you."
"What did you say?!" Natsu roared, soundly dropping close by. Pissed and magically enveloped in fire, he marched towards Gray, making the surrounding ice shimmer and melt and the frigid air wisp and steam.
The Ice-Make mage sneered at his rival. "You heard me, lizard-breath."
"Guys! We're supposed to have fun tonight!" Happy intruded as he fluttered between the two rivals. He became a little sad. "The Straw Hats are leaving tomorrow. Let's make this night one they'll never forget!"
Natsu grinned, his previous anger forgotten. "Happy's right. So c'mon, ice-freak. The party's not over yet. Don't worry about freezing anything. I gotcha covered. I ate so much that I'm full of energy and ready to burn all night!" He powered up his flames to his maximum level, chasing away every shadow in the surrounding area and blinding Gray and Tuirehal in the process.
The heat coming from Natsu's fire was incredible, feeling like a hot slap against Gray's skin. Not to mention it was as bright as the freaking sun to the ice-user now that he was more accustomed to the darkness. Shielding his eyes, he had to take several blind steps back. "Damn! That's way too bright!" he said.
"Eh? Sorry." The Dragon Slayer lowered his magic, dropping the heat and dimming the light. "Your pet demon's invited too… by the way."
I will take no part in your pointless, redundant celebration.
"He's not my pet," Gray snapped before Natsu could say anything else that would likely aggravate the serpent further. "Can't you tell he's not the partying type? We'll leave him be."
They distanced themselves from Tuirehal, far enough where everyone wasn't too bothered to be watched by a pair of eerie green orbs lurking in the dim shadows. Gradually, the serpent's bitter mood diminished, giving Gray the opportunity to enjoy the last night with his new friends from another world.
Dressed in winter clothes or protective gear, the gang of pirates and mages brought their joy and antics, brightening the darkness and shattering the peaceful calm. Even though most were wounded and weary, the whole group still had a lot of energy to spend.
Natsu acted as a living campfire to keep everyone warm and comfortable. All the food had been eaten prior to their relocation, which was no surprise with Captain Luffy around. But drinks were still passed around, nicely chilled by Gray's touch.
More song and dance entertained the group, sung and played by the lovely Lyra and the talented Brook. Even Plue, Gemi, and Mini were summoned out along with Loke and Lyra at the same time thanks to the piece of Amphorite in Lucy's possession strengthening her magical ability. The twins transformed into numerous people including the Straw Hats, much to the surprise and amusement of each and every pirate.
Luffy went as far as challenging the clone of himself to a fight only to lose due to his fatigue and wounds. However, he was quick to laugh off his defeat, his jolly chortle always contagious within the group. Seeing the battle made Natsu eager to fight the captain, however, under Erza's strict order, he had to restrain his temptation or else be severely punished.
Meanwhile, the constantly quivering dog-spirit Plue became a quick friend of Chopper's who could amazingly translate the canine's speech and Lyra was a quick favourite to a smitten Sanji. Franky, Usopp, and Luffy performed that ridiculous dance with the chopsticks up their noses with Happy, Chopper, and Plue joining soon after. There was constant giggling and gossip among the females as they watched the males fool around.
The best part was the stories that each group exchanged later on. They spoke of grand adventures and epic fights, distant lands and parallel worlds, amazing friends and powerful foes, heart-breaking hardships and victorious triumphs; it was endless chatter and laughter that seemed to last all throughout the night. To end it all, Lyra sung one final song. Combined with the gentle sound of her harp, her beautiful voice brought tranquility to the tiring group.
It was the same song that had moved Gray to tears when he had first heard it back on Galuna Island. But now, it made him smile along with everyone else.
It was nearly dawn by the time almost everyone had fallen asleep, too exhausted to walk back to the ship. Wrapped in several layers of woolen and fur blankets the pirates had packed with them, the two groups huddled for warmth before Natsu snuffed out the last of his flames, bringing forth the shadows and cold.
Gray had left the group shortly before then, not wanting to chill them any further as they prepared to rest. Erza, Robin, and Brook, the only ones still wide awake, accompanied him as he made his way back to Tuirehal. He was their guide for it was too dark for them to see the dangers of the frozen path.
The four wordlessly approached the demon who gazed upon them with eyes that were neither fierce nor hostile. Armoured in thick frost, Tuirehal had not moved all night long. It had been quietly observing from afar and had fallen surprisingly mellow; a stark contrast to its normally demonic demeanor.
"What have you decided, Gray?" Erza quietly asked the instant they stopped before the serpent. She crossed her furry, plated arms and faced the ice mage, hardening her gaze as if to draw out the answer she wanted to hear.
Gray avoided her stare.
When he didn't answer right away, the warrioress continued, "Have you thought hard on any possible alternatives to your situation?"
There was hardly any other solution but the options he had in the first place. He slowly shook his head.
"I wonder, do demons sleep?" Robin suddenly questioned out of the blue, drawing the mages' attentions. Wearing her usual set of clothes, she, along with Brook, did not need to properly dress to ward off the low temperature. She closely observed the bony serpent lying in front of them with a small inquisitive smile on her lips.
Gray wasn't sure if the archaeologist was asking the demon directly, but Tuirehal chose to answer, speaking directly to the group of four only; I do not sleep. Only weaklings require the need for it.
Robin folded her arms and brought one hand to her chin, rather intrigued. "Even if you do not require it, is it possible for you to sleep?" she restated.
Brook hummed in thought as he brushed away the frost that was starting to accumulate on his tattered clothes. "He's more skeleton than demon. Maybe he's like me where sleep sometimes doesn't come." He lightly chuckled.
Gray perked an eyebrow at the undead musician, silently pondering over why Brook would need any sleep at all.
"What are you getting at, Robin?" Erza inquired, suspecting the female pirate had some sort of plan.
The archaeologist looked at Gray, her smile still the same. "An eternal sleep. One that could possibly seal the demon and its power. I have read in a fictional story once where an evil creature that could not be destroyed by the heroes had to be put into a deep sleep in order to protect the world." She quietly laughed. "I understand it is only based on a children's story. However, with the magic in your world, can a similar thing be done? Or should I ask first if such magic even exists?"
An eternal slumber… where I will never awaken… the serpent mused, mulling over the thought. The concept piqued its interest, but it was also uncertain about the idea.
"It would simulate death in a way. Where you will no longer be aware of anything nor will you feel anything. You will be free of pain and misery."
"There are different types of sealing spells that exist. However, I don't know of anyone capable of casting a sleep spell that could last an eternity," Erza informed. She frowned at the Ice-Make mage, showing her concern. "But even if I did, we have no clue what will happen to Gray."
If I am cast under a deep sleep, the portion of my soul will slumber as well. The power he has gained will fall dormant and will remain as such so long as I sleep undisturbed.
"But that's only in theory," Gray added, knowing Tuirehal lacked the knowledge. The limitations and potentials of the Blood Pact were still new to the demon since Gray was the first and only human it could ever bind its soul with. It did not truly know the outcome.
In theory, yes.
"It doesn't hurt to prove it right or wrong," Brook encouraged.
"It might solve both of your problems if the task is feasible," stated Robin.
"I believe it is the best option." Erza nodded in agreement. "All we have to do is find someone who can do it."
"No, that's not necessary," said Gray, making his superior frown once more. "It will take too long to search for someone who can." And Tuirehal was very untrusting of others, especially if they were powerful mages, not that Gray could blame the demon. There were many factors and risks involved as well that required a lot of careful planning. Moving the demon would be a problem. Exposing the island's location would be another. Tuirehal wasn't willing to waste any more time trying to resolve their situation either.
"What do you propose then?" Erza asked, clearly frustrated.
An idea came to Gray when he quickly pondered over Robin's suggestion. When he relayed his thoughts to Tuirehal, the demon silently conceded to his plan without any ill contempt or hesitation. He smiled confidently at his superior and answered with; "I know just what I have to do."
Gathered by the crescent-shaped shore of the black island were the Straw Hat Pirates and Team Natsu of Fairy Tail. Bobbing with the waves close by in the rounded basin was Thousand Sunny, her sunny, lion-like face smiling brighter than the cloudy afternoon sky.
Icy sea water sprayed against their faces as the two groups got everything ready. All of Fairy Tail's belongings had been unloaded from the pirates' ship as well as a few packages of goods the pirates wanted to give their new friends. This was their final moment together before they had to say goodbye forever.
"You sure you don't want this back?" Sanji asked as he held out the water-absorbing bangle for Gray to take. "You did specifically say not to lose this thing since it was important."
The Ice-Make mage grinned and nodded. "Keep it. It'll be like a reminder of your journey with us." Juvia would probably unsuspectingly attach a new one on him anyway. Wearing his long, white, unbuttoned coat that was stiff from the cold, he stood a little farther away from the shoreline to avoid accidentally freezing the water that could potentially cause damage to the pirates' vessel. He didn't think to bring any extra footwear with his luggage, so he had to remain barefooted.
"What about your ring?" Chopper asked, pointing at the accessory still stuck on one of the horns of his antlers.
"It's yours, little guy. I got four new ones anyway so it's all good."
The doctor beamed with happiness. "Thank you! Oh… I don't really have anything to give you!"
Gray shrugged. "I don't need anything in return. You and your crew have done more than enough for me and my team." And Usopp had given him a mini replica of the Straw Hats' Jolly Roger so he was pretty happy about that.
Sanji lightly smirked before biting onto the butt of his burning cigarette. "Same goes for us. We wouldn't have found our way back home if wasn't for your team's help. I cooked you guys a little lunch," he pointed a thumb at the large paper bag sitting by the mages' pile of backpacks and other stuff, "Enjoy it. When you can, I mean."
"If Natsu doesn't eat it first," the ice mage grumbled, glancing over at the Dragon Slayer.
Natsu and Happy were with Usopp, Franky, and Luffy. The five of them were sharing one last laugh together.
"I really want you guys on my crew," said the captain with a wide grin. "It'll be fun, Natsu!"
The fire-user snorted and crossed his arms. On his right hand, he wore a new gauntlet that was adorned with red-painted metal plating, fiery motifs, and a golden sigil of Fairy Tail on the back of the palm. It was a gift from Usopp, a special gauntlet that could ignite with fire without the use of magic but with a unique shell the sharpshooter had called a 'Flame Dial'. "Sorry, Captain, but I'd rather stay on land than on a ship for days on end," said Natsu. He started to look ill. "Ugh… I'm already seasick just thinking about it…"
Franky took pity on the pink-haired mage. "Geez, I knew it was bad. Didn't think it was this bad."
"Natsu! I gave you a few extra bottles of medicine! Quickly take some!" said Chopper, running over to join the group.
"See? Chopper's the best doctor. You don't have worry about getting sick again!" Luffy added.
The reindeer brightened from his captain's praise. He sparkled with pride and wriggled in place, unable to hide his glee. "What are you talking about, asshole! Shut up! Bastard!"
Happy giggled while Natsu laughed. "Your medicine does work like magic, doc. It's the best. Thanks for the ten extra bottles."
Chopper's smile grew even wider. "Oh! Shut up! You're a bastard too! Go to hell!"
To Luffy, the Dragon Slayer said, "I'd love to go, but Earthland is our home. Can't leave our guild behind."
The captain was disappointed. He bit his lower, trembling lip as big fat tears started to well in the corner of his eyes. "Then… this is goodbye, Natsu Dragoneel," he choked out. "I-I'm not going to miss you or anything!"
"Oh, Luffy…" Usopp uttered, shaking his head. However, the sharpshooter couldn't hold back his tears either. "Why is it so sad to say goodbye?!" he cried.
Natsu was next to break. "Goddamn it, you guys. You're making this so hard!"
"Stop crying! We're supposed to be men!" demanded Franky, but he had water streaming down his face too.
And then the four embraced, sobbing and sniffling and wailing about how much they'll miss each other. Happy and Chopper were next to follow, bawling in each other's arms as they too said their tearful goodbyes.
Meanwhile, Gray, Sanji, Lucy, Erza, Nami, Robin, Brook, and Zoro either rolled their eyes at the drama or smiled fondly at the heartfelt moment.
Lucy politely bowed her head in thanks at Robin as she clutched a large, old book to her chest. "Thank you so much for this tome, Robin!"
The older woman smiled. "I hope it will help you with your literature, miss Lucy. And thank you for this magazine," she said, holding up an issue of Sorcerer Lucy had packed with her. "I will enjoy learning more about your world and your guild."
"Hey, wait a minute," said Gray, noticing the cover was full of half-naked girls, "Which issue is that?"
"It's the latest one. The swimsuit edition." Lucy looked sideways at the scarlet-haired mage beside her and giggled. "Erza's on page 10."
Sanji was suddenly excited. "Erza? In swimsuit?!" He rushed over, grabbed the magazine out of Robin's hands, and hastily flipped to the page. Wide-eyed and mouth agape, his cigarette was forgotten on the ground. His face was as red as a tomato as a lecherous smile slowly twisted on his lips. "Oh. My. God."
Brook and Zoro peeked over the cook's shoulders for a quick look. The swordsman noticeably raised an eyebrow while the skeleton's jaw literally dropped to the floor at the image inside.
Hands shaking, Sanji turned his heart-throbbing eye on Erza. "So many gorgeous girls on this page but none stand out as much as you, Madame Scarlet! I must have this wondrous picture! I will cut this out and frame it and hang it in the kitchen!"
"Hey… I'm in there too…" Lucy quietly grumbled with a little pout.
Robin snatched the magazine back only to have it plucked out of her hands by a curious Nami. "You will do no such thing, Mr. Cook," stated the archaeologist. "We will treasure this magazine. There will be no damage done to it."
Sanji frowned in disappointment, his elation completely deflated. "Yes, Robin…"
Erza soundly smirked at that. "Sanji, let me give you one last gift. Behold, my strongest armour against the male species." In a blink of an eye, her Snow Empress armour was replaced with her extremely revealing Seduction Armour composed of a thin white apron that only covered her front, thigh-high black, netted stockings, bright pink panties, a white maid's bonnet atop her head, and a pair of steel-plated gauntlets on her arms. To further add to the appeal of her 'armour', she wielded a simple sword that had the words 'Come on Boy' etched onto the silver length of the blade. She turned sideways so Sanji could get a better view of her bare skin and lack of bra. "What do you think?" she asked in a sweet, tempting voice all the while shivering from the exposure.
"P-P-P-Panties!" Brook exclaimed right after reattaching his jaw. Somehow tears were streaming out of his empty sockets. "You have fulfilled this dying man's dream! I can now die a happy man!"
"You're already dead," Zoro and Nami reminded the musician, lightly backhanding the skeleton in the face at the same time.
"Oh! You're right! Yohohoho!"
Sanji was red hot as he gawked at Erza. Gray was certain he could see steam coming out of the blond man's ears. The cook tried to say something but ended up fumbling his words. Blood started to gush out of his nose and his visible eye rolled to the back of his head. He fainted from the extreme rush of euphoria, falling onto his back with an audible thud.
"Wow, a little over-kill, Erza," commented Nami, nudging an unconscious but broadly grinning Sanji with her foot.
"Damn, get a hold of yourself, stupid cook," Zoro grumbled, looking at the fallen pirate to avoid staring at Erza.
The warrioress shifted back to her Snow Empress Armour and laughed in amusement.
"The image of the half-naked goddess, Erza Scarlet, will forever be burned in my head until the day I die," sighed the blond-haired pirate as he came to.
Zoro stepped up to the scarlet-haired mage and gestured to the fourth katana by his waist. "You're sure about giving me this? It's valuable, ain't it?" he asked.
Erza nodded. "I have over two hundred weapons, Roronoa. And I can always obtain more. You have impressed me more times than I can count with your mastery over the katana so I would like you to have one of mine. In fact, it would be an honour if you keep it and a greater honour if you use it on your next adventures."
The swordsman slid Erza's sword a quarter out of its sheath to admire the gleaming blade. He smirked in admiration. "It is a pretty nice sword. Would hate to part with it so soon now that I got the hang of it. Thanks. That sake I gave you, that stuff's the best on the Grand Line and hard to come by so don't go drinking it all in one go."
"I'll only break it out on special occasions."
"Better make sure Cana doesn't find it first," said Gray with a knowing smile.
"She won't find it where I'm going to hide it," Erza replied, sneering.
The katana wasn't the only item the warrioress wanted to give away. The magic earrings she had lent to Robin were now the archaeologist's to cherish and keep. Lucy and Happy had followed suit, allowing the pirates to keep the magical items they had lent them. Luffy was ecstatic to have the spirit mage's Light Pen while Franky commented on how he wasn't going to be too worried about losing money in bets with her curse-warding pendant. (The necklace didn't actually work like that and when Lucy had tried to explain to him, he was too occupied to listen.)
Even though Happy's feather charm was meant for Carla, he had claimed to Brook that he would find something much better to give her. And there was no more use for his compass, so he was more than happy to give Nami the little tool as a souvenir.
In return, the pirates gave Fairy Tail a few gifts of their own for the whole group to share: a bag full of tangerines, individual boxed lunches, a barrel of rum, extra ointments, medicine, and first-aid supplies, and most precious of all, a Tone Dial and Vision Dial; two special shells that had recorded the songs, laughter, and images from last night's final gathering. The pirates had made two copies of each, so they too could look back and remember the fun they had with their friends from Earthland.
Once everything was set, the two groups exchanged their last goodbyes in the form of hugs, tears, and words before the Straw Hats boarded their ship.
"It's been fun, Fairy Tail!" shouted Luffy over the rail as his ship began to paddle away. Grinning wide, he waved at the mages with hands that were fully bound in bandages. "You guys were amazing! Maybe someday we'll see each other again!"
"If that day ever comes, let's have a rematch!" Natsu yelled, pumping his fists into the air.
"Yeah! Let's fight again the next time we meet, Natsu Dragoneel!"
"It's Drag-neel, Captain!"
Luffy only laughed. He and his crew stood on deck where Franky's Frozen Launcher still remained intact. The Straw Hat Pirates gave the mages one final wave and shout of farewell.
As Thousand Sunny made her way to the center of the basin, Team Natsu climbed to the top of the black tower overlooking the slope to the shore. The top of the open tower was empty and flat with the exception of a small black, pyramidal-shaped pedestal that was as high as Gray's knees. It wasn't visible at first until his ever-growing frost started to spread over the structure. He stood at the back while the rest of his team gathered around the pedestal where a hole was visible in the center.
Staring out at sea, Gray could see the six huge, towering statues carved out of the island's shadowless stone, each one made into the image of Tuirehal. They gazed at the center of the enormous pool with lifeless eyes, their jaws wide open as if ready to devour the ship floating within their black waters.
Erza moved to stand before the pedestal with Anguis Zhan materializing into her right hand. She held it in front, with the sharp, pointed end hovering above the hole. "This is where this goes?" she asked the Ice-Make mage.
Gray nodded and she plunged the staff into the opening as far as it would go where a loud click could be heard. The crystal eyes of the ivory serpent flared to life, making the ice mage instinctively fall into the defensive in fear of being ensnared by electrifying chains. But nothing like that happened, much to his relief. In fact, nothing happened with the exception of the staff's eyes shining with a white light.
"Now what?" Erza asked after a minute had passed.
Gray shrugged. He didn't have an answer and neither did Tuirehal since the demon had been on the opposite end when the event occurred so long ago.
Lucy however, started to look closely at the engravings marking the stone around the pedestal that was visible beneath the thin layer of frost. She traced one of the symbols with a gloved finger. "I think… Try turning it, Erza. Point it towards… the 'Black… Ocean…' I think this last word is 'Gate'," she murmured, managing to decipher some of the glyphs. She pointed out at sea where Thousand Sunny was waiting. "Turn it towards the ocean."
Erza grasped the serpent's neck and carefully twisted it around, hearing the heavy grind of stone against stone as some sort of mechanism moved along with the staff within the pedestal. There was a resounding thud when the head of Anguis Zhan stared at the dark pool below and would no longer turn.
Everyone gasped when each crystal adorning the staff, including the black orb in its maw, glowed a bright blue. Then the light spread out like electricity running through a line, quickly passing down the staff and moving through each and every marking left in the stone of the tower, lighting up all the symbols that had been previously hidden.
It didn't stop there; the bright blue energy traveled down into the rock of the island and seemingly shot out in every direction, traversing every crack and fissure lining the ground, brightening the dismal black rocks and making every frozen surface shine as far as Gray could see.
The light traced up the intricate patterns carved on each of the six demon statues surrounding the ocean basin and lit up the eyes, bringing life to each stone serpent. The basin of water grew bright as well for the rocks below started to glow, turning the sea from black to a clear blue. Energy steadily pulsed from the staff, sending waves of light all throughout the island and creating a spectacular sight.
It was magic energy that powered the staff; absorbed from the five mages who stood atop the tower. Lucy was astonished by the magical display, her eyes glued to the six statues that fluctuated with power. "So this is why they needed an island made completely of Amphorite," she began, "it takes so much magic energy to open the portal."
"What? So, does that mean it's not going to work?" Natsu asked, frowning.
The spirit mage shook her head and smiled. "No. This will definitely work. Our magic is amplified by the entire island. If it weren't for all this Amphorite, a thousand or more mages would be needed to open the portal." She reached out and touched the head of the ivory staff. "Let's put everything we have into this to make sure the Straw Hats can finally get back to their home world."
"Aye!" said Happy and Natsu as they both placed a hand on Anguis Zhan to join with Erza and Lucy.
Gray couldn't participate, however, since he was unable to touch the holy staff. He stood by and watched, feeling the magic of his friends grow rapidly to an immeasurable godly level as their combined power flowed into the ivory serpent and into every part of the black island. Brighter the light grew, almost blinding. At that moment, Gray noticed something flickering in the glowing pool.
It looked like yellow lightning was crackling beneath the waves, changing the blue water into a pool of gold. Then everything became still; the wind ceased to blow, the clouds above froze in place, and the waves of the ocean completely stopped, making it look like Thousand Sunny was floating in stagnant water. The world was oddly quiet as each mage held their breath. The eyes of the serpent statues flashed white just as the basin transformed from a golden pool and into a silvery, reflective body of water.
It was as if Gray was gazing down on a giant mirror. He could see the frozen sky, another Thousand Sunny, and each of the demon statues' reflection upon the flawless surface.
The moment lasted for only a second before a ripple originating from the middle distorted the entire mirror. And then, without a sound, Thousand Sunny vanished along with every drop of water that was contained within the basin.
A gaping black, bowl-shaped hole was all that was left. It was starting to fill with the sea rushing through the basin's only opening. The light from each statue, the island, the tower, and Anguis Zhan gradually faded as time resumed around Fairy Tail.
Natsu moved to stand at the very edge of the tower and looked out into the empty ocean. "They're gone…" he said in awe. "We did it."
"I hope they got back safely," said Happy, a little worried.
"I'm sure they're fine," assured Erza, wearing a knowing smile. "Nothing can stop them from reaching their dreams."
"That's right. They're a hardy bunch," added Lucy.
"Do you think we'll ever be able to see them again?" the Exceed wondered.
No one had an answer, but they truly hoped for such a day to come.
The five mages remained on the tower one minute more, watching as the sea began to slowly rise where their new friends had once been. When they were ready, they left the tower and returned inland where one charred, bony sea demon was lying in wait.
"You're sure about this?" Natsu asked, giving the Ice-Make mage a slightly concerned look.
Gray nodded and crossed his arms, feeling the stiff, frozen fabric of his coat's sleeves softly crunch together. "It's the only alternative otherwise… Well, you know."
The Dragon Slayer's gaze flickered towards the demon and back at Gray. He still wasn't convinced nor was he trusting of the demon impatiently glowering at the small group. "You really sure?"
The ice-mage sighed. "Yes, flame-brain. For the last time. You can trust him as much as you can trust me."
Natsu scoffed at that, turning a wary eye towards the living pile of bones.
Puny, little vermin, Tuirehal sharply addressed the Dragon Slayer, making the pink-haired mage growl in indignation, You are wasting my time. If you and your pathetic lot do not leave at once, then I shall drown you worthless beings beneath my tides!
Natsu cursed at the voice screaming in his head while the others cringed in pain. Gray on the other hand, loudly groaned and shot the demon a disapproving scowl. What tides? We're in the middle of an island, he wanted to say, but said instead to his teammates; "Better get going. He's not going to wait any longer."
Gray reached into the inner pocket of his coat and pulled out the half-frozen Anima Stone that steadily pulsed with dark energy. He looked it over one final time before handing it to Erza.
She gave him a meaningful nod, holding the crystal as if it was a delicate treasure. With a firm, determined expression, she faced Tuirehal. "The Anima Stone and Anguis Zhan will be safe with our master, demon. Never will they ever be used again. This island's location and your existence will be our guild's greatest secret. You have Fairy Tail's word."
"We will look more into Pandora's Box as well," said Lucy, tentatively moving closer to the great beast, her brown eyes wavering slightly from the fiend's intent gaze. "We will not allow that organization to harm you or manipulate you in any way. We promise you."
"Guess we have no choice but to protect you from now on," Natsu grumbled only to sneer as he boldly approached the serpent. "You can count on us, bone-face. We don't want anything to happen to Gray so we won't let anything happen to you. It's a promise that will never be broken."
"Aye! We never break promises!" Happy bravely added atop his perch over Natsu's shoulder.
Tuirehal's eyes dimmed slightly. It was amused but didn't show it. Promises are only useless words, it spat. However… if you humans can fulfill what you have spoken… then you puny creatures will not be as worthless as I have assumed.
Gray smirked at the demon's change in attitude. "That's the best compliment you're ever going to get out of him. Are you guys all set?" the ice mage asked his team.
Natsu adjusted the backpack he carried and picked up Gray's bag. "Yeah. We're good to go. So… How long did you say?"
"One week. By then, this island should be completely frozen over and impassable. No one will ever want to step foot here ever again."
The Dragon Slayer cocked his head and furrowed his brow. "If you do that, how are we gonna find you?"
Gray molded a small, sharp piece of ice in his right hand and used it to slash open the palm of his left, much to the surprise of his friends. "I know you'll find me," he said to Natsu, holding up his wounded hand and clenching it into a tight fist to draw out more blood before the gash could freeze entirely shut. Deep scarlet crystals dropped to the ground, smashing to little pieces upon impact.
The Dragon Slayer nodded in understanding, imprinting the scent of Gray's blood into his memory.
To Tuirehal, Gray said, "Summon Zifur. Brace yourselves, guys."
Happy cowered and uselessly covered his ears while everyone else gritted their teeth or clenched their jaws.
Inferior one of the sky! Show yourself before me at once!
"Ugh! Damn it to hell. That really hurts!" Natsu outright complained, rubbing his temples.
It wasn't before long until they could hear the flapping of giant wings. A huge shadow belonging to a gray-scaled, wyvern-like demon quickly descended upon them. Instead of landing like any ordinary flying beast, the big beast crashed into the ground and tumbled past the startled mages and rather annoyed serpent before skidding to a stop in a jumbled heap of limbs.
Loudly groaning in pain, the large creature slowly untangled itself before clumsily climbing onto to its hind feet where it stood as tall as the tip of Tuirehal's longest horns. Zifur, the former slave of Garron the demon tamer, was a half-blind, nearly four-hundred year old, ancient, elderly demon. It would have ended up being the main course in last night's dinner if it hadn't woken up seconds before Zoro could start hacking at its meat.
When Zifur had realized it was free of its binds, the winged demon became indebted to Gray and Tuirehal upon its own insistence. Having served as Garron's slave for nearly twenty years, the wyvern was overwhelmingly grateful for its freedom even after being nearly electrocuted to death. Despite its outward appearance, the flying beast had a temperate, senile personality, which was highly unexpected from a demon of its caliber.
Zifur turned its back to them. "Lord of the Sea, I have come as you have requested," it said humbly, its voice sounding like the ragged tone of an elderly man to match its old age. "I can sense you yet I do not see you."
I am here, fool.
The wyvern turned its head sharply to the side, its five eyes squinting at Erza. It twisted around, hobbled forward and leaned on its clawed hands for a closer view at the mage. "My, you look smaller and more human-like than I remember…" it said.
"Seriously? How can you mistake me for a giant sea demon?" Erza muttered, crossing her arms, not the least bit intimidated by the winged beast's close proximity. Zifur's reptilian jaws were big enough to swallow her whole if it dared to try. Knowing that didn't faze her at all.
Here, you blind wretch.
The wyvern turned the wrong way yet again. "Is that you?" it asked a pile of ice-covered rocks.
"Zifur," Gray called before Tuirehal could berate the old demon. He approached Zifur, his presence easily detected by the giant reptilian beast.
The winged creature visibly shuddered from the cold and faced the mage, its three red eyes gleaming bright while the other two blind eyes remained pale and milky. "Half-Lord," it greeted with a slight bow of its head. "I am at your service. Ask and I will deliver."
Gray disregarded the demon's title for him since he had already tried to get the demon to address him by his name but to no avail. "My request is for you to take my friends back to the mainland of Fiore. After one week has passed, you are to bring them back here at this very same spot."
The demon deepened its bow, nearly touching its snout to the icy ground. "If you so desire, Half-Lord," Zifur complied without a second thought. It lowered onto its knees and elbows, its joints soundly popping and cracking. It bared its browning teeth in an ugly, vicious smile. "I do not miss the chains, but I do miss having a set of good eyes to guide me in flight. Mountains and earth are always getting in my way."
"Should really get those eyes checked, old man. I don't wanna end up in the ocean on our way home," commented Natsu as he and the others started to round the giant winged demon with all their stuff. Zifur was big enough to carry more than ten people on its back so a handful of mages and a cat were not going to be a big problem.
"I can remedy that," informed Erza with a devilish sneer. She produced two sets of familiar rope out of thin air, tied one end on each into a lasso and then secured them both around the base of Zifur's two great horns. She then tied the other ends of the rope together to make temporary reins.
Zifur didn't mind too much for it was used to having someone else lead him. It was better for its health, the demon openly admitted with a raspy laugh.
"Hey, Natsu. Make sure you take some of Chopper's medicine!" Happy advised.
"Yeah, yeah," the Dragon Slayer murmured, popping a few brown pills into his mouth.
As Lucy passed Gray, she said with a smile, "I'll make sure Natsu doesn't eat your lunch."
"It'll probably go bad before I can eat it. Share it with the others back home. I'm sure they'll love what Sanji made," Gray replied.
Natsu brightened at that idea. "Hey, I wonder if Mirajane can replicate the taste. It'd be awesome to eat Sanji's quality of food everyday!" He stepped up to Gray and held up his raised right fist that was swallowed in fire. "We'll be back for you in one week. Promise."
The Ice-Make mage lightly smacked the back of his frosted arm against the other's and smirked. "I'll be waiting."
Gray watched as Zifur took to the air with Erza, Natsu, Lucy, and Happy riding on its back with all their gear and gifts tied together. Each flap of the demon's massive webbed wings created a strong wind that blew back his hair and the ends of his long coat. He could overhear the last bits of their conversation before they were nothing but a big white speck in the cloudy sky:
"Now which way is your mainland, humans? Across the ocean, is it not? I would not mind stopping for a drink to wash out my mouth. I devoured a foul-tasting animal late at night and the sour taste still lingers."
"Eh? I don't remember seeing any animals. And I think it's that way."
"No, Natsu! That's south. Nami said we have to head east to get back to Karuu Island. So Fiore must be east too."
"I knew that."
"Sure you did, Natsu…"
One hour was how long Gray needed to wait to make sure his friends were far enough from the island. He spent the time securing the island by blocking the cave entrance that led to the underground laboratory with thick, barbed ice. After that, he sealed up the massive hole that was an entranceway to Tuirehal's prison cavern that Lucy's spirit, Virgo, had dug up in order to squeeze an enormous demonic serpent through. Such an amazing feat was manageable with Aquarius's angry water torrents flushing the big snake out of the cavern. It had been Lucy's and Robin's strategy to bring the serpent to the surface without the enemies noticing and it had effectively worked.
Once the job was done, he was free to do whatever he wanted. With the incredible power at his disposal, he let loose with his creativity and created massive walls of ice that encircled a wide range around Tuirehal. Taller than the nearby mountains, nearly twenty meters thick, with the tops curved and pointed inwards like giant claws, and every icy surface covered in sharp, gleaming edges and prickly spines, his protective, fortified barrier was impenetrable from the ground.
Around the demon itself, Gray couldn't decide if he wanted to design a castle or a temple, so he merged both ideas into one. Massive walls stretched as far as Tuirehal's long, coiled body, each half as thick as the outer barrier. He added rows of columns, archways, and one massive domed ceiling in the main, grand hall where the demon's head resided. To the best of his ability, the mage added fine details on everything; carving ornate patterns and intricate lines – something he had picked up from watching Franky work on the Frozen Launcher – as well as a few stylized images of Tuirehal on some of the walls in the grand hall to appeal the demon. Since it was the serpent's 'temple' and final resting ground, Gray went all out to make the palace-sized sanctuary befitting for one mighty, fearsome demon who once ruled the ocean.
On the outside of the fortress, Gray included decorative buttresses and numerous towers along the perimeter of the ice structure, each shaped like the tall coiled statues of the demon serpents that guarded the island's entranceway. There were twenty-five giant serpent towers in total and each one faced the outer barricade with clear, glassy eyes and open maws full of pointy crystal teeth.
To finish it off, he formed an arced, enclosed gateway that was the only path into the fortress. The doors of the gate were shaped like the doors of Fairy Tail, only five times bigger and twice as thick. On the front of each door, he added his guild's sigil, each one a vibrant crimson against a field of bluish-white. It would surely aid Natsu in finding the temple's entrance.
Gray stood back and admired his work. The palace-temple was his grandest creation yet and it didn't feel like he expended any energy at all making it. Granted, it was more intimidating in appearance than what he had in mind with all the jagged edges and sharp protrusions covering every surface, but he couldn't remedy that no matter how much he tried.
"So what do you think?" he asked the demon after closing the crystal door behind him. His voiced echoed within the grand hall, sounding as if he were back in the underground cavern. He strolled towards the looming pair of wicked green orbs, his bare feet softly padding against the frozen floor. Barely did the light pass through the thick layers of ice so the inside was almost pitch black. However, that wasn't a problem for the Ice-Make mage.
If Tuirehal had eyeballs, the serpent would be rolling them within the dark chamber. Large green eyes flickered in slight annoyance. This defeats the purpose of hiding my location, Tuirehal scoffed.
"It won't be recognizable once the entire island is frozen over anyway."
The plan was to merge their powers together and summon a massive storm that would ravage and freeze the island's surface for at least one week straight. Depending on the magnitude of their combined magic, the storm had the potential to alter the climate within this uncharted part of the ocean, creating an extremely cold, uninhabitable environment on the island and surrounding region.
Their ultimate goal was to deplete their power down to absolutely nothing where Tuirehal would eventually fall into a deep sleep from exhaustion. But shortly before then, before Gray would lose consciousness as well, he would seal the demon within ice infused with his blood so no one but him could ever free and awaken the great sea serpent.
Gray took one slow, deep breath as he slipped on the four black rings that amplified his power immensely. "Are you ready?" It was a question that didn't need to be asked. Tuirehal had been ready long ago.
The serpent's eyes dimmed within the darkness, reflecting a hint of weariness. At last, the time has come. This is farewell, child. Si sassawrl sa-Rho kas shi-ka.
"Yeah," Gray said quietly, managing a small, sullen smile. "Si sassawrl sa-Rho kas shi-ka." Until we meet again in Hell.
A/N: To all who have read this far, thank you so much for taking the time to read this story. I know it's not the greatest. There are some parts I'm rather disappointed in myself for and there were other things I wish I touched more on such as the development of the strong relationship between Fairy Tail and the Straw Hats. It doesn't feel like I've established it at all but instead forced it upon the characters. In spite of those issues, I do hope you have all enjoyed this story more so than I actually enjoyed writing it.
I would like to thank brave kid for providing me with the Japanese-translated lyrics for Bink's Sake and sharing a few ideas that I have used in past chapters. Your help has been greatly appreciated! I've never heard Bink's Sake until I looked it up on Youtube to get a grasp its melody. Ended up bawling my eyes out at the scene and I also had a good cry at Lyra's song too. Reading a song in a manga is so different compared to hearing it sung in anime.
Now I can say that I'm finally done! IT'S COMPLETE! And it only took over two years! This is a great achievement for me. I couldn't have done it without all of your support. Thank you all again.
This story had turned into something far from what I had originally planned. I only wanted to write a short, light-hearted story that had a similar feel to those (often awful) filler arcs you see in a long-running anime series. Somehow it evolved into a more serious project. I never did intend to have Dragon-Natsu or Demon-Gray mixed in, but I'm happy that I did otherwise it would have been a boring, typical story plot. Wouldn't you agree?
I wonder, has anyone ever picked up on why Juvia gave Gray the water-absorbing bangle? It's so he could absorb her love!
That is all I have to say. Farewell, everyone! I shall be moving on to work on my other story.
Thanks for reading one last time!