Desperately speeding towards the now repaired mountain, the blond teen almost clawed through the air to try and make himself go faster. His tattered clothes were more holes than fabric, but thankfully his block had managed to spare a few pockets in his pants, namely the one that held his scroll.
Breathing deeply as he rounded the mountain, Naruto spotted a large group situated in an artificial clearing. Cutting his chakra, he dropped abruptly to the ground and landed heavily. Grunting in effort, the ninja winced as he took a few deep breaths. Now that the adrenalin was starting to wear off, he was feeling really tired. That wasn't enough to deter him though so with a huff he started dashing through the trees.
Nearing a clamour, Naruto let himself slow down into a light jog. Coming up behind a fairly wide tree, he flattened himself up against it and wiped the sweat from his brow. Hearing the deeper voice of Hades over the general noise, Naruto's lips thinned and he crept around a bit to try and see the mage. "Keep your eyes open. I don't want any more interruptions like before. Meredy!"
Finally moving far enough around to see them, Naruto surveyed the area. Guards spotted the perimeter, some standing, others sitting on the various stumps that covered the clearing but all highly attentive. Mingling between them was three of those powerful mages he had to fight earlier; the fat one with that thick black matt of unwashed hair, the goat-man and that poncy one who could transform his arms; Rustyrose if Naruto remembered correctly. The blond couldn't help the smirk when he saw how stiffly that last guy was moving about though. It was actually surprising he was even able to stand after catching a Rasengan (Spiralling Sphere) to the middle of his back. Grimoire Heart must have had some good medics in their ranks. A rustle over the other side of the clearing then caught his attention and he watched as the afore mentioned girl ran over. "Yes, sir?"
"How is the retrieval of the keys progressing?"
Frowning and glancing off to the side, Meredy hesitated a moment. "Well… Ultear seemed to be having a hard time repairing the ones deep in the cave for some reason. From what she told me, I think that attack Uzumaki unleashed on them somehow broke them down into their individual atoms." Her voice hissed angrily at the mention of Naruto's name and the blond could see her fists shaking in irritation. "She said it could still take quite a bit of time. Good riddance to him."
Grunting, Hades dismissed her with a wave. "No matter, just tell her to get on with the job. We must get those keys back."
Nodding, the girl bowed slightly before running off into the trees and disappearing from sight. Letting out a breath, Naruto wrinkled his nose. They were a persistent bunch. Hades' focus on the keys though was a good thing as even if he demanded security, his attention was elsewhere and the rest of the Grimoire Heart possie wasn't as hard to sneak past. From here though, Naruto needed a plan. He was low on energy as it was and another fight was the last thing he desired. So it was more a question of how he could get the keys back without anyone noticing.
Closing his eyes, the weary blond allowed himself a moment to rest. The knowledge Ultear was struggling with reconstructing those keys was a welcome chance to recoup somewhat and plan a bit more. Naruto jumped though as a tremor suddenly passed through the ground under him as moments later a deep rumble echoed throughout the expanse, birds screaming incessantly as they were disturbed from their roosts.
Peeking around the tree, Naruto looked in the direction of the noise and saw a massive, slowly heaving lump of earth in what looked like writhing pain beginning to stand up over the trees.
Frowning, the ninja lowered himself and began slinking towards the growing mountain. Looks like he'd have to work out a way to get the keys on foot.
Sadly the trip there was hampered by Grimoire Heart grunts combing the land. Despite not having any trouble avoiding them, it was like trying to not step on any ants in the middle of their nest so reaching his destination was somewhat time consuming. By the time Naruto did make it, the mountain was half formed and with every heave grew a little taller. It was one crazy ability Ultear had, that much Naruto had to admit.
Still, how to get the keys hidden away inside, that's the million ryo question. There was no way of just running up the side without being seen and besides, the blond would probably get kicked off whenever the mountain gave a shudder. A shadow passing over him had the blond scrambling for shelter as the goat humanoid passed overhead. Growling in frustration, Naruto ticked off even considering flying up there.
Crouching here wasn't doing anything though so keeping low to the ground, Naruto began circumventing the mountain base. It took longer than he would have liked but eventually Ultear came into view, her eyes closed in stressful focus, her toned arms palm out towards the mountain. Meredy stood protectively close as expected, the stoic teen looking even more dangerous than usual. Her deadly glare was even pinned on a grunt that wandered too close for her liking.
He wasn't expecting to be able to snatch the woman away, but Naruto was still a little disappointed it couldn't be that easy. Fatigue was really starting to wear on him and he didn't know how much he had left in him.
A shadow passed overhead again and Naruto pulled himself in a bit closer to the trees hiding his position as the goat flew over again. Eyes surveyed the land once more as the airborne mage stopped above the duo Naruto was currently stalking. A barely perceivable nod confirmed he saw nothing suspicious as he dropped down over the girl.
He then had to hold his hands up quickly as Meredy instantly materialised a sword in preparation to attack. "No need to be so hasty young one. It's just me."
Her predatory glare didn't soften as she straightened up. "Do not sneak up on us again Zoldeo. I will not hesitate to strike."
"Even though you already knew I was there?" The large humanoid raised an eyebrow as the sword disappeared. Meredy looked at him evenly, her voice betraying no emotion. "Perhaps, but I will take no threats from anyone, even members of the guild. Have you found anything yet?"
Zoldeo shook his head. "There has been no sight of any intruders, though I would not put it past this Uzumaki fellow to somehow be within earshot of us. His tenacity is somewhat… frustrating."
Meredy took a moment to steady herself as the ground shook again, several stones shooting past her as they were summoned back to the main structure. "Do not underestimate him. You were already outsmarted by him once."
The barest of twitches betrayed Zoldeo's displeasure at the jab. "That mistake will not be made again. I trust you will be able to handle yourself too?"
Breaking eye contact, Meredy began looking over the landscape, effectively finishing the conversation. "He will not survive should we meet."
Grunting, the massive humanoid rose into the air and continued on his way.
During all this, Naruto continued to try come up with a plan as to how he'd reach the cave that had begun to form on the top of the still growing mountain. He had a bit of an idea as to what he could do, but it was going to hurt. He didn't really want to inflict anymore pain on himself for today but time was running out and there weren't too many other options.
The ground lurched again and the blond dodged a few more rocks that shot past him. Bringing his fingers together, he created a clone and sighed. Donning the ram seal, the original suddenly went up in a puff of smoke; the clone waving away any of the cloud that came near it.
In Naruto's place lay a small stone which the clone picked up and flicked it in the air a few times, gauging its weight. Finding a good hold, it then waited.
It didn't take long for the ground to heave again and anchoring itself to the floor, the clone charged its arm with chakra as keen eyes gauged the distance to the cave. Feeling the kiss of a stone as it shot past its whiskered cheek, the clone reared back and grunted as it pegged the Naruto-turned-stone into the air at a blistering pace. Watching the throw for a moment, the clone then dispelled itself, job done.
Hurtling through the air, Naruto watched as the cliff face rapidly approached him. Bracing, the stone collided with a large crunch and a groan of pain. Wincing inside his transformation, Naruto took a moment to breathe before gauging his surroundings.
The throw wasn't too bad, he was only a short leap from the entrance. Waiting until Zoldeo passed by again, Naruto steadied himself. From a third person's perspective, a rock suddenly flung itself across a small gap to land in the cave entrance before rolling inside it.
Once hidden from view, Naruto dispelled the technique and placed a hand on the wall to steady himself. The inside of the cave was churning and writhing slowly, much like how he remembered being inside the frog's intestine that time Itachi and Kisame attacked him as a kid. It was disturbing. Still, the blond began moving into the cave, searching out the keys.
The light within the cave was consistently moving as the walls grew and shrank with the mighty power conducting their reconstruction. Several times Naruto nearly toppled over as the earth bucked and a few more times than that he had to dive out of the way of falling rocks. Frowning as he looked around, Naruto tried to spot anything unusual. "Come on, where are you? Ultear should have started reconstructing them by now."
Crouching, he lent a hand against the wall to steady himself as he waited. Rocks were falling less frequently and the churning of the cave was gradually easing. Keen eyes surveyed the area as things shifted unnaturally. The rest this was giving him was well received too as Naruto wasn't sure how he was going to escape after this.
As things continued to calm down, a soft purple light finally began to appear in the peripherals of Naruto's vision. Looking directly at it made it vanish, but the soft light was definitely beginning to reappear. Grinning, Naruto stood up. It was nearly time to get out of here.
The keys themselves started appearing from the edges in as tiny dots of light began pulling in from the walls and wherever else their molecules had been obliterated to. As they slowly became more whole, Naruto grabbed a few pieces of them and stuffed them into one of the few pockets that remained in his pants.
Grabbing the whole key would just make them realise he'd pinched them again. Grabbing a piece should hopefully make them think reconstruction hadn't worked properly. That would probably create quite a bit of hell for Ultear but at this point Naruto wasn't too bothered by that.
The cave gave a smaller heave and almost sighed as the walls began to still. Realising his time was very close to being up, Naruto tightened the ragged ends of his forehead protector and jogged to the entrance of the cave. Flattening himself up against the wall, his keen blue eyes peered out into the light.
Making sure no flying mages were around, the blond then peered over the edge. Far below stood Ultear, hands still outstretched as she finished her work. Meredy however was absent from her post. That made Naruto pause for a moment. That girl wouldn't have moved for anyone. The possibility she had left to announce the completion of the mountain was probable, but that would be pretty plain to anyone within one hundred clicks of the place. That put a bit of worry within the blonds gut and he knew better than to ignore that.
Whispering to himself as a small amount of chakra flowed through him, the now invisible teen slipped out the entrance and scaled the cliff face. Shimmying around to the blind side of the stilling alp, Naruto began lowering himself slowly, making sure to keep a very sharp eye out for any flying goat men.
Descending as evenly as possible, Naruto let out an exhausted grunt as his hand slipped and all his weight dangled by one arm. Finding purchase again, he continued on his climb. Fatigue was becoming a real threat after everything that had happened so far. Slipping again, he skidded down the rocks a few feet before he grabbed another hand hold. Cursing himself, Naruto flinched as the tiny avalanche of rocks and stones ran down to the ground, the soft clattering sounding more like a roaring cascade.
Holding still for a while longer in case someone came looking, Naruto let out a sigh as silence returned. Thankfully no one had heard it seemed. Reaching down and lowering himself further, a thought suddenly struck him. Where was everyone exactly? Come to think of it, he hadn't seen any grunts around either. It was too quiet actually.
Realising his folly, the blond abandoned stealth for speed as he began sliding down the vertical wall. He'd been found.
Not too much further into the drop his neck hairs pricked. Abandoning his purchase on the wall, Naruto jumped away from the rocks as a sudden explosion of black ignited in his former position.
Readying himself to land heavy, the blond stretched out his legs.
"You persistent bug."
A gravelly voice whispered by his ear before a blow to the middle of his back ruined his equilibrium and sent him face first into the earth. Groaning in pain as the ground gave way around him, the ninja tried to pull himself up but an iron hand wrapped itself around his throat and lifted him into the air.
"You believe we wouldn't have found you?"
Clawing at the fingers to let him breathe, Naruto gagged desperately as the grip tightened. It suddenly let go and a staccato of mind numbingly powerful hits drilled into his body. A wrist snapped deep into his torso and the teen was blasted back into a smooth rock face with a crunch. Crying out, a foot embedded itself into his gut and held him up against the wall.
"You think I wasn't ready?"
A double hammer hit across the back of Naruto's head smashed his face into the floor; following that a sharp stomp to bury his crown further. Something in his face gave way as the earth protested his entrance, a tooth loosening in the process as well. Not given a moment to breathe, fingers of iron wrapped themselves around Naruto's ankle and dragged him from the broken soil.
"You foolish creature, daring to defy me so many times in such a short period."
The arm attached to the fingers whipped around and slammed Naruto's limp body into the earth repeatedly. Finally letting him lie stomach down, Naruto's bloodied mouth opened partially as drool and other substances ran from his chipped teeth.
"Your fatigued state is nothing to me. Once I have extracted my pound of flesh from you, I will kill you."
Merciless toes embedded themselves into Naruto's side and rolled him over. Coughing in pain, the blond heaved in a breath as his foggy eyes gazed up at the absolutely livid mage standing over him. Thick swirls of black and purple energy were whipping violently around his frame, one glowing red eye staring down at him, captivating Naruto's gaze and pinning him to where he lay.
"I might have been amused by your persistence earlier, but now it is just a thorn in my side I have endured for too long." A foot raised over Naruto's head. "Die."
Bringing it down in a mammoth crunch, the earth gave way like tissue paper around the stomp. The mage's nose twitched as he realised that where Naruto's head had been moments earlier was now the remnants of a rock. "Dirty trick."
Not far away Naruto was clawing through the trees as rapidly as possible. This insanely pissed off Hades was unbelievably dangerous. At full strength Naruto would have been more than happy to tangle with him but right now his wearied body felt more like it had the consistency of wet cardboard than that of a seasoned ninja. A foot dug in deeply to his stomach as he stumbled and then a kick rocketed him high into the sky.
He tumbled bonelessly for a moment as he struggled to maintain composure. Holding out shaky hands, a short burst of chakra righted him and then held him level at a height that hopefully would keep him safe.
The poor blond panted as he tried to gather himself. This was bad, very bad. He didn't have the energy to fight back and every moment that passed he could feel himself growing closer to his limit. He could see Hades glaring up at him, the wicked aura surrounding the mage lashing about violently.
No, it was time to get out of here. Pushing a conservative amount of energy into his limbs, Naruto began to move away as quickly as he could manage.
"It would not do me well to let you go while the Master is so angry." A dark shadow fell across him though and the blond stifled a frustrated yell. Of course that guy was up here.
There was no arguing with Zoldeo this time though as the large humanoid reared an arm back. Desperately trying to avoid the blow, Naruto squirmed out of the way of the first punch thrown. Sadly the things legs were of disproportionate length so with a roundhouse kick only a hybrid like that could manage, he sent the teen plummeting to the ground with a cry of pain and a blossoming bruise in the middle of his back.
'Come on, come on! You must escape!'
Sluggishly reading himself for impact, Naruto braced. He didn't hit the ground however as an unexpected attack from Hades intercepted his fall, catching his torso across an outstretched arm. Pulling him up into a bone crushing hug, Hades leaned into Naruto's ear as he began squeezing the life out of him.
"You believe Ultear wouldn't notice when someone interrupted the reconstruction of the keys? That was your downfall and I plan to take a great deal of care in making sure you do not ruin our plans again."
Joints popping and bones creaking, Naruto let out a gasp as he kicked around. Black circles began filling his vision as everything began turning black and white.
'This can't be it! Come on Kyuubi where are you?'
Dredging up the last of his energy, Naruto focused it into his foot. Raising his leg high in the air, he swung down backwards and connected his heel solidly with the man's groin. A squeal pierced his ears and Naruto was unceremoniously dropped to the floor as Hades doubled up. Under any other circumstance it would have been hilarious but nothing was further from Naruto's mind as he sluggishly rolled over.
Digging his fingers into the dirt, the blond began dragging himself away from the groaning mage. It didn't matter where to, just so long as it was away from here. Pulling himself up onto all fours, he managed to crawl a few meters before he was slowly pushed back down onto his belly. While his mind screamed for him to get up, his body gave up and sank down without much resistance.
Hades' cold, slightly pained voice whispered from above him, the malevolence palpable. "Such a cowardly attack, even at the end. You will not survive this day Uzumaki, I shall make sure of it." A toe rolled him onto his back and the teen's blurry eyes looked up at the imposing figure. "Watch as you meet your end."
Raising his arm high in the air, a purple rune circle shot out from Hades hand as thick black flames began gathering in the palm of his hand. Refusing to give up though, Naruto gripped Hades ankle.
"Hmm, defiant until the last breath."
Stamping into Naruto's chest, the mage allowed himself a smile. Rearing back, the flames roared as they readied themselves for their meal.
Before anything more could happen though, a thunderous crashing sound rocked the forest. Looking up wildly, Hades glared at the source of the noise. "What no-"
He was cut off as a boulder twice the side of them combined slammed into his body and blasted him away through the trees with a deafening boom.
Staring up in confusion, Naruto's foggy head picked up the sound of someone landing heavily beside his head. "Whoops, didn't mean to throw it that hard. Crap, you're an absolute mess aren't you? Better get you out of here before you really are killed."
A pair of firm hand wrapped themselves around his middle and lifted him onto a broad shoulder, Naruto's limp head hanging down the man's back. A furious shout followed by a boom made the blonde's rescuer flinch. "Yup, he's pissed. What did you manage to do to him?"
Unable to form a coherent sentence, Naruto just shook his head weakly. Try as he might he couldn't get a good look at whoever this person was that was saving him for whatever reason. Still, he couldn't help but thank his lucky stars for the timely intervention. Shuffling Naruto around momentarily, his saviour began running through the trees at a brisk pace. It didn't last for long though as they were promptly confronted by some of the guild.
"S-stop! We m-must have Naruto and I w-will fight you!"
A worried voice from in front of them slowed their pace for a second. This didn't seem to worry whoever it was carrying Naruto too much though. "Sorry, I'll have to fight you another time. I need to get this kid some medical attention."
There was a sharp crack and Naruto could see from his position the grossly overweight member of Grimoire Heart flying off into the distance, his dirty black hair and chubby limbs all flapping in every direction. Blinking in surprise, Naruto then looked down at the back he was draped across. Whoever this was was outrageously strong.
As they continued on their path a few grunts tried to stop them with whatever spells they had, but they were batted away with ease, their flapping forms following close behind.
"Drop Naruto at once! We will have him!" The voice alerted Naruto to the presence of Meredy. There was movement off to her side too indicating someone a bit heavier.
"Come now, let him down. He's just trash! What are you trying to save him for? Why are you even here?"
"Look I really need to give him medical attention and I know whatever you wish to do with him isn't going to help him." Picking Naruto up, the man whispered into his ear, "Just hold tight for a moment."
Strong arms then catapulted Naruto into the sky giving him a bird's eye view of the fight. You couldn't really call it a fight though as it was over in a flash. The man dashed forward at an incredible speed with his arms out stretched. His fingers were curled up and as he reached Meredy, he flicked the girl in the middle of the chest.
The effect was instantaneous as she was knocked into the trees with a sharp scream of pain from the blow. Foliage and dust went up in a sizeable cloud as the girl bounced through the forest. That was all but ignored by Naruto's hero though as he turned and rushed Rustyrose. The poncy male wasn't even given a chance to contemplate what happened as he caught a solid punch to the stomach as the brown cloud rolled in. This was followed up with an iron grip latching onto his collar and the larger male heaving him into the trees like a sack of potatoes.
The stranger than dashed back to where he tossed Naruto into the air, catching him gently as if he weighed nothing. Placing the comparatively small teen back on his shoulder, Naruto realised he could do nothing to help or hinder this man. "Who… are you…?"
His soft question went unanswered though as whoever this person was ran straight through a massive tree, the thing exploding before him. As his hearing cleared from the boom, angry shouts rang out from all around him as they were pursued back to wherever the stranger came from. Mind well-worn and exhaustion overcoming him, Naruto just shook his head weakly before resting against the wide back of his rescuer and letting darkness overcome him.
Groaning gently, the snapping and crackling sounds of fire were the first things that broke through the blackness that was Naruto's consciousness. There was a soft chirping not far from him either, crickets and other small insects singing their soft love tunes. Next came the sweet smell of roasting meat over said fire which quickly made his lips wet. Attempting to move, Naruto let out a grunt. His whole body was rigid with pain, some of the sharper areas feeling like large gashes were still yet to heal.
Grunting again, the blond relaxed and instead tried to open his eyes. While his eyelids may have pulled up, he continued to stare into blackness puzzledly until his eyes focused and the soft twinkling of stars appeared. Closing his eyes again, the teen brought a hand up to his face and wiped down over it in resigned acceptance. He'd been asleep that long huh?
Tasting old blood between his chipped teeth, Naruto welled his tongue around in his mouth for a moment as he struggled to sit up. It took a lot more effort than desirable but he made it in the end. Snorting up some fuel, he leant away and hocked out a sizable wad of blood and mucus. He then reached into his mouth and grabbed a molar that felt lose. Wriggling it, the tooth came away without too much issue. He then flicked it into the trees, already knowing a replacement tooth was on the way.
"Oh, you're awake! I should have expected it though, you have quite the healing ability my friend."
Turning to face the voice, Naruto finally got a look at the man who saved him. Thought he was sitting, it didn't do much to hide the size of the massive human. Slicked back, dark, wonderfully orange hair grew down to his shoulders, scratchy stubble meeting with a bit of excess growth around his sideburns. Sharp eyes peered down at the lump of flesh that he was rotating over the open fire, a tongue occasionally poking through his lips in concentration.
A long, dark brown cape was draped about his shoulders, mostly covering what he was wearing beneath, a single arm poking out from it to tend to their dinner. Three shoulder plates were attached to both sides of his cape, the thick pieces of metal running up and over from his chest to his back.
Scars ran all over his chest and one visible arm, mementos of battles past. A deep blue Fairy Tail emblem on his left pectoral peeked out from underneath the swathe of bandages wrapping up his chest. Below all that two crossed legs poked out from under him, deep blue baggy pants covering the lengthy limbs. To top it all off, it seemed like both his left arm and leg were prosthetics whittled out of wood.
Resting on an arm, Naruto nodded. Looking over himself, the teen noticed he too was covered in bandages and patches, all of them tinged red from the cuts and abrasions beneath. His shirt was long gone but his messy pants still resolutely hung onto his form. Lifting a hand to his head, the blond ran a hand through his hair and dusted out the scabs and dirt from the altercation. That triggered his memory and adrenalin surged through his body. "Where's Grimoire Heart?"
The strange man held out a hand and spoke gently in a soothing, bass voice. "Calm down, you'll just hurt yourself more. That group is gone. I ran for a long while to escape them. Hades sure is persistent, but we lost him eventually." He chuckled sheepishly. "You may have caught a few knocks from some of the things the guild launched at us sorry, but I think I stopped most of them. So now that you know, lie back down and rest. You're safe."
Grimacing as something pulled, the teen gently eased his arm back down to the ground. Breathing evenly, the teen slowed his heart down to a more normal pace. Once calm again, he turned his head to address his rescuer. "Thank you. Uh, for helping me out back there, I probably wouldn't have made it out as easily without you."
A laidback smile was Naruto's first answer as the man shrugged. "That's ok, I saw you were looking a bit worse for ware and when a fellow Fairy Tail mage is in trouble, it'd be on my head if anything happened to them. Gotta say though, you were holding on pretty well for tackling Hades. He's not an easy man to fight."
Pausing, the teen looked down at his palm that held the Fairy Tail emblem. "Tell me about it. My exhaustion didn't really help though. But aside from that, you honestly saw my mark from all that distance away?"
Laughing, the man shook his head. "As much as I'd love sight like that, no. It was more the whole Wizard of the Ten Saints position coupled with your prestigious title of Fairy Tail's Orange Rocket. It'd be tough to miss your tell-tale features, even for someone as isolated as myself."
Naruto choked on air as that wretched name reared its head again. He wasn't about to growl at the man who just saved his life but that issue had to be addressed. "That wasn't my title and never will be. I'm Naruto, Uzumaki Naruto."
Shrugging nonchalantly, the larger male conceded. "Eh, that's fine. I guess you should know my name then too. Gildarts Clive, and it's a pleasure to meet such a powerful Fairy Tail recruit. Oh!"
Reaching into his bag beside him, the newly named Gildarts shuffled through a few things before pulling out a small pin and a metal plate and tossed them to Naruto. "Almost forgot, you'll probably want these. I had to take them off you when dressing those injuries."
Realising it was his Saints pin and forehead protector, Naruto smiled widely. "This is great! Thanks so much for holding onto them!"
The teen then stretched out an extremely gracious hand. Taking it, Gildarts shook once and Naruto nearly cried. The unbelievable pressure exerted by this mage very nearly crippled him hadn't he pumped a whole lot of chakra into his bones.
Letting go, Naruto fought the urge to cradle his hand while Gildarts laughed cheerfully as he shook out his own. "Wow! That's a crazy handshake you have there, can't say I can remember too many people who've been able to make my hand tingle. And that is perfectly ok."
Whimpering softly as his hand recovered, Naruto just nodded in case his voice broke.
Silence returned to the duo as Gildarts patiently rotated their meal over the fire, small drops of fat falling into the flames making them hiss and dance around greedily. Moths began circling around as shadows and light played on the ground, the insects trying to find a place to hide in the heat. Crickets continued to sing and a certain amount of peace seemed to settle over the area.
A rustling caught Naruto's ear and his hand flicked up to catch the water skin that was thrown at him. "Here, drink up. I bet you're exhausted after the day. The food won't be much longer either so wet those lips."
Nodding thankfully, Naruto tilted his head back as the cool liquid slid down his throat. Drinking his fill, he tossed the skin back and wiped his mouth. "So what brings you out here Gildarts? I can't imagine you were out here just to help me."
Gildarts poked the meat with a stick to test its progress. Happy with where it was at, he pulled the splint off the fire and stuck it end in the dirt to let it cool down. "I was just happening to pass through luckily. I'm coming home from a Century Quest."
Blinking curiously, Naruto frowned slightly. "Century Quest?"
Eyeing off the meat as he nodded, the tall man grunted affirmingly. "I'm not surprised you haven't heard of them. I assume you know of S-Rank Quests?"
"Yeah I have been involved in one."
Gildarts nodded once and continued. "So after that there's SS-Rank Quests. They're a bit harder. Then Decade Quests. Harder again. And finally you come up to Century Quests. Now those missions, that's a challenge!"
As he started laughing at himself, Naruto frowned as he tried to work it out. "So, what makes a Decade and Century Quest that? Is that how long it's meant to take to complete?"
Wiping an eye, Gildarts shook his head. "Nah, it's how long it's been since the job was posted. So my task was posted a century ago and no one's been able to complete it."
Eyes widening as realisation sunk in, Naruto pointed at the man. "So you completed something no one else has been able to for a whole hundred years?"
An embarrassed laugh greeted him in answer as Gildarts broke eye contact. "Ah, not exactly. I got destroyed."
"YOU got destroyed?"
Naruto leant back in surprise as his companion laughed sheepishly again. This guy seemed way too overpowered, yet something like this was enough to break him? What kind of a quest was it?
Changing subject without answering, Gildarts pointed over into the distance as he grabbed a chunk of meat off the finally ready to eat spit. "So what were you trying to ruffle Grimoire Heart's feathers for? No one in their right mind tackles them by choice."
Catching the spit as it was tossed to him, Naruto tore off his own piece as he planted the spit in the ground. Taking a bite, he blinked in surprise. It was really, really good. "To be honest there were a few reasons. The biggest was to stop them from gathering all these thing called keys to resurrecting this dead mage called Zeref."
"Hmmm?" Swallowing a chunk, Gildarts rested his elbow on his knee as he leant forward. "So that's what they were doing?"
Naruto took another bite as he replied. "Yer, thur wers a big scrermble –" Naruto swallowed "– to reconstruct them. I destroyed them once but they have this mage, Ultear, who can rewind time and fix broken things. I think. I got back a part of the keys before she fixed them completely but then everything went pear shaped."
As Gildarts hummed and mulled over that, Naruto frowned slightly. "What happened to the rest of the guild anyway? Everything got fuzzy after that tree exploded."
"A tree?" The rusty man paused for a moment as he tried to remember. "Oh yeah, that one. Well, we were attacked by more of the guild but since their attack plans weren't in sync it wasn't too hard to avoid them. Usually they're a tough opponent, not just for their power but for how organised they are. They were surprisingly uncoordinated. You must have dealt them a real curve ball to throw them out of align so badly."
Breathing in through his nose, Naruto nodded as he asked, "So, was there anyone who attacked you who had long, waist length black hair?"
Gildarts nodded. "Yeah, he was really fat too. He wasn't too much of a challenge since he was so nervous."
The blond shook his head. "No, not that one, I'm talking about a girl, Ultear. Long black hair, fairly good looking, big bust? Though that's not too much of a distinguishing feature in this world…"
That last bit Naruto mumbled more to himself than his new friend as he sifted through his memory. "Hmmm… yeah I think I saw her actually. She didn't attack me though for some reason, more just stared at us with almost a look of relief on her face? I can't imagine why though."
Smiling internally, Naruto breathed a sigh of relief. Though she deserved a good thumping for all her stupidity, the teen was happy she wasn't trounced by Gildarts the way everyone else in her guild was. Said male must have noticed though as he interrupted Naruto's thoughts. "Why's that, you got a thing for her? I couldn't blame you, if I was a decade younger I'd have given it a shot."
Blinking in surprise, the ninja stared at the mage. He got a seedy smile and thumbs up in return. Unsure where to go from here, Naruto shook his head. "Uh, nah it's more she's just doing something really dumb right now that I need to drag her out of." The blond paused for a moment. "She does have a really nice ass though."
The cloaked man nodded sagely. "Extremely so. If anything does happen between you and her in the future, I say do your best and don't do anything I wouldn't."
"What wouldn't you do?"
"Not a lot."
As he trailed off laughing, Naruto shook his head and mumbled, "Stupid Ero-Sennin."
Catching himself in surprise, the blond paused as Gildarts asked, "What was that?"
"N-nothing, don't worry about it."
Grabbing another piece of meat, the blond chucked the spit back to his company and took a bite to save having to say anything else. Unbidden memories of his perverted old teacher came floating back into his mind and Naruto let out a sad sigh as his eyes trailed back to watching the fire.
Observing the blond withdraw, Gildarts knew better than to push something like this. He'd seen that look before in other people's eyes who'd lost family. Changing the subject, the elder male motioned at Naruto. "So what do you plan to do with the keys you grabbed?"
Breaking out of his flashback, Naruto shrugged and reached into his pocket. A soft purple glow from within his closed fist lit up his person as he withdrew them. "To be honest I'm not sure. Dig a hole and hide them? I haven't really thought that far ahead."
"May I have a look?"
Shrugging, the blond handed them over. Gently fingering the few pieces, Gildarts took in the sharp edges and soft aura. It wouldn't matter if he destroyed them again since Naruto had already tried that. His lady friend would have that problem covered. "What if they were just really far away? Would that stall them enough for you?"
Thinking the suggestion over, Naruto nodded. "Possibly. How far are we talking though? Cause I can't really go anywhere too far at the moment."
Flicking one of the pieces in the air, the taller man looked over at the horizon. "How about the other side of the earth?"
Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, if we had a couple of months spare, sure."
Chuckling at the typical response, Gildarts stood up. "We won't be going anywhere. I'll just throw them."
That statement had the teen blowing pieces of meat over the ground. "You'll what?"
Scratching his cheek, Gildarts scrunched up his nose in thought. "I'm not too sure how to explain it, Levy does a much better job. Something about my strength coupled with my magic equalling me being able to throw something hard enough to make a projectile reach escape velocity for a few minutes? That's all the technical stuff I can explain, but it just means I can throw stuff really far."
"Uh…ha." Not sure if he was willing to believe that statement, Naruto digested the information. Even if that was an exaggerated amount, a quarter of the way around the earth would be plenty far enough. "Well, just throw it in the other direction to Grimoire Heart then so they don't catch it."
Nodding, the large male grinned and stretched his arm a bit. Loosening up his collar, Gildarts palmed the key fragments and whirled his arm around. "Sure thing. Though if they could catch this they deserve to keep them."
Rearing his arm back, muscles bulged all the way down the limb as a short burst of power sent dust flying everywhere. Next thing Gildarts was in the finished position of a throw, the actual action happening so fast Naruto barely could keep track of it. His keen eyes however caught the tail end of the keys blazing trail as they shot off into the distance with a sonic boom.
Rubbing his shoulder, Gildarts sat down again. Looking at the blond, he stifled a laugh at the boggle eyed expression he was being given. "What? I told you so."
Swallowing, Naruto nodded slowly. "Yeah… you sure did."
Grinning, the mage turned away, point proven. Grabbing another log, he plopped it on the dying fire. Ripping off another chunk of meat, Gildarts stuffed it in his mouth. He then chucked the rest of it at Naruto. "Eat that and then sleep. We're going back home tomorrow."
Looking at the lump, Naruto frowned. He still wanted to go back to Ultear but there was no way he'd be getting anywhere near her with Hades so furious. Not to mention he was no closer to working out why the Kyuubi's power was leaking out and changing colour. Sighing, Naruto looked over at Gildarts. The man had dug a hole out for himself in the space of about thirty seconds.
Shaking his head, the teen just accepted that fact and leant back. He was still feeling sore but a lot of the aches and pains had faded to dull throbs by this stage. That wonderful meal coupled with hopefully a good night's sleep should fix everything up.
Rolling over, the teen crossed his arms under his head and after a little shuffling slowly drifted off to sleep.
Three hours into their walk the next day and Naruto could happily say that nothing uneventful had happened. He'd been expecting a visit from Grimoire Heart the whole time but true to his word, Gildarts had given them the flick. The mage himself was pretty quiet once all obvious topics had been touched on, preferring to simply stroll along in silence and absorb nature. This suited Naruto just fine since he was still feeling weary from the last few days' worth of effort.
Breathing in deeply through his nose, Naruto sighed as his mind ran over the last week. A lot had changed in that time and he hadn't had much of a chance to process it until now. His thoughts did rather frequently involve Ultear and how to extract her from the guild. It was one thorn in his side that was extremely difficult to ignore. Deciding to leave that for another time, the blond looked up at his ginger counterpart. "So what can you do?"
Broken from his musings, the mage looked down. "Sorry?"
Naruto waved his hands around a bit. "Magic wise. What is your style? I didn't get to see much other than a few things explode near you."
"Oh." Looking down at a clenched fist, the powerful man grinned. "I use something called Crash. It's pretty self-explanatory. I destroy things. Here."
Reaching down, he picked up a small stone in the palm of his hands. What looked like a whole lot of bright lines criss-crossed it's surface before the stone simply spit along those lines and fell apart. Dusting his hands off, Gildarts thrust them back into his pockets. "It gets me in trouble from time to time, bit of a tricky ability to control."
Naruto snorted in agreement. "I can feel you on that."
"Oh?" The mage looked over. "What do you use then?"
Naruto chuckled as he remembered his Senjutsu (Sage Techniques) training. "I happened to learn a very old style of fighting that utilises natural energy. If you don't control it correctly you turn into a toad statue."
"Huh, well that's not something you hear of every day." Taking it in his stride, Gildarts raised a hand a thumped Naruto on the back. Solidly. "Good effort then for mastering it!"
Coughing as he replied, Naruto looked up through the slight watering of his eyes. "How did you know I mastered it?"
The man grinned. "Well you're still alive with no ill effects of it. I'd think that's proof for anyone observant enough."
That made the blond feel a bit dumb. Of course something like that would be evident to a top level mage like him. He covered his mouth as he coughed to cover his embarrassment and expertly switched topic. "So where are you going now? Back to Fairy Tail or did you have any other business to attend to?"
A shrug answered him. "Not too sure. It'd be nice to go home but I'm in no rush. Did you have anything in mind?"
Truth be told, he didn't. No real questions had been answered about his current condition and going back to Fairy Tail now wouldn't really accomplish much. The only thing he really discovered though was that the keys wasn't the cause on his strange transformation issues going on. Or so Hades stated. "Well, not really, but I do have a personal issue I need to deal with. I'm not sure how yet though."
Gildarts hummed sympathetically. "Anything I can help with?"
Naruto shook his head. "Not really something to be shared, ya know?"
This brought a chuckle from his companion. "Oh don't I know. Every mage I know that's worth half of an S-Rank has their own skeleton closet."
Thinking back to his own village, the friends he met and the issues they all had, Naruto couldn't help but snort in agreement. "You can say that again."
Silence then fell for a few moments before Gildarts spoke. "Have you spoken to any elders or council members that could help? They have seen a lot in their time you know."
On mentioning that, Naruto's eyes lit up as he remembered old Yajima on his way to setting up his new shop. "Now that you mention it, I do have someone I could talk with!"
"Oh?" Curiosity laced Gildarts voice.
"Yajima-san, the old council member, I can talk with him. He might be able to help. He's down in Hargeon though…"
"Great!" Naruto looked up at his now grinning friend. "I haven't been down there in years and I know there are a few damn good pubs there that are in desperate need of my patronage."
The smaller teen blinked. "Wouldn't you want to go back and see everyone again though?"
A shrug once again answered him. Gildarts seemed like he enjoyed the motion. "Eh, they don't know I'm coming and besides, a bit of time off after the mission is well earned. Not to mention Akane Resort is there." A sly grin crept onto the mage's face as he rubbed his hands together. "It's the perfect bikini weather down there this time of year so that's something I can't afford to miss." He then poked Naruto in the chest. "And after that ass kicking you received from Grimoire Heart, I think you need some time to heal too. Don't talk back either, doctors' orders."
"You're a doctor?"
"No, but if there was one here that's what they'd say. It's all they've ever told me when I've come to them looking like you."
Tsunade was much the same with her incessant nagging at him to rest so Naruto was quick to agree. The possibility of a bit of eye candy wasn't something that could be dismissed either.
So copying Gildarts, Naruto gave a shrug and replied, "Sure, a bit of company would be good. I'm liking the idea of Akane resort too, last time was good fun."
"Oh-ho, so you've already been there!" Gildarts grinned widely. "I bet that was something."
Naruto nodded, a smirk creeping onto his face. "Going with Cana and Erza created quite a few memories."
The insinuation sunk in quickly and Gildarts gave him a solid slap to the back. "My boy, I think we are going to get on just fine."
It took the day and a large portion of the night, but finally Naruto and Gildarts wandered into Clover Town. The outlook that the pair entered in from gave them a beautiful look down over the peaceful village. Soft, homely lights dimly lit up the large mountain faces that surrounded the valley.
It was a peaceful night too, calm and cool with a few insects chirping in the trees surrounding the houses. Breathing in deeply through his nose, Gildarts sighed and rubbed a tight muscle in his shoulder. "We finally made it, in good time too."
Walking over the edge of the lookout, both mage and ninja skipped the long path down the side of the mountain trail and just jumped. Several surprised squawks and rushed rustling in the undergrowth greeted them as they landed heavily before walking into the town.
On the way in, they passed the location of the enormous hole the Fairy Tail members had managed to open up in the fight against Lullaby. Peering over through the darkness, Naruto was pleased to see it had been closed up and a new building in its place sat nearly completed.
Finally reaching the town center, Gildarts dropped his duffle bag and patted his stomach. "So I'm starving. Food then sleep?"
Looking forward to both luxuries, the blond nodded sharply as he lifted his nose high. "Something smells awesome over this way."
The teen didn't wait for a reply as he unwaveringly followed his nose leaving his partner to grab his bag and hurry after him.
Dinner was loud, messy and expensive with an inhuman amount of food and alcohol consumed between the both of them. Gildarts' tab was also a bit longer than Naruto's as the excited mage managed to destroy a few cups, plates and a table with his magic in his haste.
The night finished off with Naruto following Gildarts out of a freshly destroyed wall, courtesy of one careless mage.
So with that large repair bill now tucked into his sack, Gildarts and Naruto stood before a hotel door, the taller man with his hands firmly stuffed in his pockets. "You knock, I don't want another charge like that to deal with tonight."
Chuckling, the blond rapped the doorhandle and stood back. Not a few seconds passed before the door opened to a tiny, frail looking old lady with light purple hair, squinting up at them through glasses that thick they could have been the bottom of a beer glass. "Evening?"
"Uh, yes we're looking for a bed for the night?"
A pair of bony fingers adjusted the focal length of her glasses as the lady tried to identify them in the poor light. "You two mages?"
Naruto raised an eyebrow. This wasn't twenty question. "Yeah we are, did you have a place or not?"
The teen rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'd say we are. Now do you have a bed?"
Opening the door, the old lady turned and began shuffling down the dark hallway. "Follow me, I have a room for you two."
It turned out to be nothing more than a solid concrete room with two mattresses on the floor and a few blankets. A towel and a bar of soap were at the foot of each along with a small key to the lockable wardrobe that was built into the wall. A dull light hung from the ceiling with a basic but still pleasant enough cover focusing the light down. Towards the back there was an ensuite but neither male could it imagine being much more posh than what greeted them here. Naruto for one felt rather let down. "You have got to be joking. And it was how many Jewels a night?"
Three fingers in the air, almost pushed up his nose greeted him. "Three Thousand Jewels a night, plus a Five Hundred Thousand Jewel bond."
Nearly falling over themselves, Gildarts managed to splutter out, "What on earth is it that expensive for?"
Clasping her hands behind her back, the inn keeper grunted disapprovingly. "We've had problems with ultra-powerful mages before and word reached me that the wall of a favourite restaurant had just been blown out. Not to mention not that long ago the Building of Meetings was destroyed by a careless bunch so we've come to take no nonsense from you lot."
Naruto looked away sheepishly and scratched his cheek as Gildarts peered at him suspiciously.
Despite the bond being so high, the actual room price wasn't too bad at all and the mattresses did look pretty comfortable despite lying on the ground. Yet, though it seemed like she might have had a good reason for her prices and so on, Naruto still felt compelled to grumble as he signed over the bond as a final sign of defiance. "This better not be gone by the morning."
Confirming the funds transferred, the keeper squinted up at him. "That depends if the room is still there in the morning. If you need me I'm in the room farthest from this one. Have a good sleep."
Leaving them to their business, the old lady then shuffled off down the hallway. Sighing dejectedly, Naruto heard Gildarts thump onto one of the beds. "Hey, for how cranky she was these are actually pretty good!"
Dropping onto his own, Naruto had to agree. There must have been magic applied to the mattresses because this was heavenly. Forcing himself to stand, Naruto grabbed his towel and walked into the ensuite. "You sleep if you want. I'm gonna clean myself off and then join you."
A voice floated in as he started undressing. "Mind you don't get your bandages too wet."
Naruto looked down at his chest and the blood stained bandages. "Don't worry about me, I'm probably healed by now anyway."
A grunt answered him. "Suit yourself then. 'Night."
Not bothering to reply, the blond jumped in the shower and washed himself down. The bandages themselves came away easily and sure enough there wasn't much left under them save for some pink lines of freshly healed skin. As he pressed them a sharp dig of pain still made him wince. Best be careful for another day.
Leaning back against the wall, Naruto finally found himself some time to think. The biggest things on his mind were the things Hades stated, obviously, and Ultear.
As for what that deranged old man claimed, what did that mean for him? He was controlling these outpourings of the Kyuubi's power better as time went on, but the fact they were still happening was a worry. In one way the ninja was pleased that his captive's power wasn't dependant upon a few keys, but on the other hand that just left him with however many other alternatives there were out there. Problem was Naruto didn't have a clue what most of them could be.
Leaning his head up against the wall, he closed his eyes as the soothing beating of water on his back relaxed his muscles. His mind emptied of all troubles for the time being as he slipped into a light trance, allowing the gentle caress of natural energy to slowly probe into him. That brought with it a calmness of mind that was not normal of the usually hyperactive ninja and with a relaxed sigh, sunk to the floor.
Clasping his hands together, the wet blond became one with his surroundings as his consciousness sunk into the recesses of his mind.
Time never felt like it existed when meditating like this so it could have been seconds or hours when Naruto opened his eyes. A bright floating light like a firefly on high beam drifted past his nose, whiting out the room for a moment until it was far enough away that it didn't overwhelm his sense.
The luminance of it didn't drop by much though as Naruto's calm eyes looked around his mindscape and saw a great horde of these lights. It lit up his usually dank sewer of a mind beautifully, shadows slowly crawling across the walls as lights passed by.
Easing himself to his feet, the blond let his senses stretch out and he felt himself fill the room with his mind, seeing himself from third perspective standing down in the middle of it. A smile tugged at his lips as he opened his eyes. Turning to face the corridor that led to the Kyuubi's cage, Naruto found himself walking there without thought. He wasn't sure what he was going to find but to be honest at the moment he wasn't too worried.
It's a funny thing how when you least expect it the most surprising of events usually happen, as which was the case as Naruto walked into the Kyuubi's lair. His mouth slowly dropped open as he stared up at the monstrous being, its usually imposing sight now more like a wonder of the world.
It had gone from being a deep red in colour to now being almost sunlight gold. It was sat up, piercing eyes glaring down on him as power and majesty filled its cage. Light poured from its being, lashes of golden flares slowly writhing in an invisible wind as they seeped into the walls of the prison, illuminating the room like it contained its own star.
Coming to a stop before his captive, Naruto stood still for a moment, simply absorbing the awe-inspiring sight. The spectacle was now so imposing that if one didn't know it was the Kyuubi that sat there, they could have mistaken it for a heavenly being.
"Why are you here?"
The deep, resonating bass of the enormous fox broke through Naruto's trance and brought him back to his senses. "I… what happened to you? You look… wow."
A sort of haughty, smug raising of the eyebrows was Naruto's answer as the teen looked it over. Once done, the fox spoke slowly. "It is good to see you finally paying me the respect and awe I deserve, though sadly far too late for my liking. As for this –" The Kyuubi swept an arm across itself, "– I am still not 100% sure. However, I believe I may have come up with the answer."
Shaking his head a bit to focus, Naruto made eye contact with the animal. "What is it? Why have you changed so much? Also, does it have anything to do with your power unexpectedly draining into me?"
"So many questions without even thinking about possible causes. Typical, stupid human. I'm not going to spell this out to you because I am still irritated over how you dared to address me previously. I will give you a hint though, the respect you are displaying now deserves that at least."
Naruto had all but forgotten about him barging in and screaming at the fox in his anger. He regretted it a bit since this meant he was only getting a small piece of what the Kyuubi could tell him.
"This golden change in me; in your fox cloak, it is all to do with that Eternano substance so prevalent in this world."
Naruto blinked. It couldn't be that simple could it? The majestic new look the fox sported certainly had the colouring of Eternano. "How can that be? I can see how that's effected the colour of my fox cloak then, but how is it responsible for the random occurrences of it appearing?"
The Kyuubi snorted. "That is for you to work out. Like I said, I would give you a hint. That is all. Now leave me be, I wish to rest."
Frowning at the revelation, Naruto sighed unhappily before simply accepting the fox wasn't going to give up any more information. Taking one last look at the strange sight, Naruto closed his eyes and faded out.
Opening his orange eyes, the young sage sighed. "Eternano, huh?"
That at least was a massive relief. No malevolent power or entity trying to drag up his inner demon for the sake of destroying the world. That was a nice thought.
Tilting his head back, the blond closed his eyes and let the water run over his face for a few moments longer. Eventually deciding to get out, he got to his feet and dropped the towel out the front of the shower. Stepping onto it, he brought up to fingers. "Fuuton: Fuku Ha Kansou no Jutsu(Wind Release: Clothes Drying Technique)."
Stepping from the now saturated room, Naruto looked down at the sleeping form of Gildarts. He chuckled as he remembered the mages shock when he unsealed a new set of clothes that morning. Depositing the dirty ones on the floor, he pulled himself out his sleepers before sealing up the old ones. Placing his Saints Badge and forehead protector beside his bed, Naruto reached out and flicked off the light.
Strange thing was though that the light didn't turn off. Trying a few more times, the blond frowned as he looked up at the light. It was turning off, but light continued to fill the room. It twigged after a moment and Naruto looked down at himself.
Sure enough the fox cloak was wrapped around his form, the usually bubbling mass now more similar to how Kyuubi looked with flares of light slowly reaching up to the ceiling.
Raising an arm, Naruto looked himself over as he pondered the cause. He wasn't scared of it anymore and the negative mindset that usually came with it was all but gone. A small smile graced his lips at the potential of that. Battle wouldn't be the same again. Still, it was something he needed to get under control.
Climbing into bed, the teen wrapped himself up as tightly as he could to try and blot out the light. Weary after a long day of travelling though, it didn't take him long before he fell into a dreamless sleep.
A/N – Well I'll be, an update. Over a year later, an update. And what a year it has been.
I won't bore you with massive detail, but my life has been so unbelievably busy I don't even know where to start. For a few months I went overseas with my bike to hit up a few international contests so that took me away, but the main culprit is this new part time business venture I jumped into.
It's pretty much the best thing I have ever done and I threw myself into it to get it rolling. I could go on and on about it, but I won't because we're here about the story, not about business. If you are curious though, just direct message me and I'll be happy to update you.
Just please don't hug my inbox to death too fast.
Anyway, the time off has helped give me a good view of what I want to do with the story and where I want to take it, along with Naruto's little problem he's got going on at the moment.
Please forgive me if it reads a bit rusty, a year off tends to dull the sword a bit. I may end up going back and changing things as I realise I mucked up. Hopefully not but we'll see.
Fingers crossed I should be able to start getting some more chapters rolling now so we just might see an end to this thing yet!
Thanks to all who are still reading this hahaha, your patience is admirable.
Until the next update,