'Bliss' was a good way to describe the freedom Naruto felt having been set free for a time from his insane travelling companion. The first thing on the to-do list was get to work on some much needed personal hygiene and cleaning.
It had been hard trying to pinpoint exactly where the washrooms were in a giant desert town like this, but Naruto was delighted to find they came with showers included in the wash package. The dust managed to dig its way into every nook and cranny your body had, so from the large arrow pointing towards the showers Naruto guessed this was one of the most frequented travellers locations around. And where there were travellers, there was intel.
Having changed his hair from blond to a more earthy brown to match the locals, Naruto decided to keep his striking female features in place as that would help a worn tourist relax his tongue a bit further. Dipping into the showers, the only thing Naruto kept on him was an oversized shirt he picked up at some point that was long enough to cover everything, but only just.
Wandering out a little while later, the blond turned brunette flicked all his hair over one shoulder and began pat drying it down with a towel. No one was in the communal showers so Naruto headed out to check on his washing.
There was still thirty minutes left on it. Plenty of time to do some recon.
Throwing on some indifferent sexy confidence, Naruto strolled around to the other side of the room and spotted a young male looking bored. Slowly making his way over, Naruto sized him up. His eyes were glazed, hair was brown and a quick glance at his washing basket showed clothing used by the locals. Interesting, but not really what the ninja was looking for. Shielding his face a bit so he didn't attract his attention, Naruto moved on past and looked up the rows of seats. Down the end of the row though, Naruto had to double take to make sure he saw what he saw.
The attire wasn't anything quite like the normal around here. He was clothed in a deep navy suit, red tie, dress shoes and a stylish matching fedora sat atop a puffy afro. Keen eyes peered down at the notebook in his hands through spectacles, his brow furrowed in concentration as he flicked through pages. Along each ear ran several metallic studs but as for the rest of his face, it was clear of piercings. Despite that, this person at the end of the bench was one hundred percent, undeniably Gajeel!
"No way! Ga –" Slapping a hand over his mouth, Naruto quickly silenced himself. Despite his outburst, thankfully it seemed like the metal using dragonslayer hadn't noticed. Reprimanding himself as foolish, the teen again looked over and let his senses expand. Reaching out, searching his being, Naruto frowned as he found nothing but emptiness. Looks like this guy was the Edolas version.
With how intently he was studying his notes though it certainly made the ninja curious. Letting his pretty complexion slide into something much less striking, Naruto got up and wandered over, taking his time and making sure to direct his attention to anything else along the way. Eventually coming to stand at the window off to Gajeel's right, Naruto leant against it and stared out.
Finally having a good reason to thank Iruka-sensei for those mind-numbingly boring lessons in reading backwards, Naruto focused on the faint reflection in the window and began browsing the notes.
- The king seems to have really scammed another world. See statement by anonymous 4. Could this mean he will drain this 'Earthland' (critique of name needed) of its magic?
- Royal guards everywhere seem to be quite anxious about something. I need to delve into that more. Maybe in regards to the giant lacrima?
- Is that new super mage of FT connected? I MUST get more info. See Sycca references anonymous 3 and 6.
- Rumours of the Royal Captain Knightwalker having been beaten seem unsubstantiated. Not sure how long I will chase this thread. Anonymous 8 didn't seem reliable. Maybe see what any Royal Guards know.
Reading on, Naruto's eyes widened as he realised this was a building hit list against everything the King was doing. Allowing himself to focus more on Gajeel, he was surprised when the deep voice stated, "So are you going to stand there and read my notes over my shoulder, or would you rather help me?"
Taken aback by Edolas Gajeel being so perceptive, Naruto fumbled a bit and stepped back. "Hang on, help you? Do I know who you are?"
Sighing, the man crossed his legs and looked over in irritation. "That has to be the worst excuse I have ever heard, and I've heard some really dumb ones. You're actually saying you don't know me, Gajeel the reporter? Pull the other leg young lady."
Ok so his name really was Gajeel, this was helpful. Deciding to roll with it, Naruto adopted a sheepish expression and clasped his hands. "Y-yeah, I guess that was pretty bad. I have just always liked your reports on the King and how you try tell both sides of the story." This was a stab in the dark, but somewhat of a calculated risk if what he read was anything to go by.
Eyes stretching wide in surprise, the man sat up straighter and actually looked at Naruto. "So why didn't you just say? I'd be happy to show you what I'm working on!"
"Uh… it's just that… um…" Using his persona's awkwardness to his advantage, he stumbled for time as he thought up a reason.
"Oh, do you fear for your reputation too?" Pausing, the ninja looked at Gajeel questioningly. Smirking, the reporter pushed his glasses up his nose with a finger and closed his eyes. "That is understandable then. Not everyone can do what I do and cast aside their social standing in pursuit of the truth. I won't hold that against you young lady."
Realising that speaking out against the King could be quite unfavourable after the reactions of the locals, Naruto actually felt his respect rise for this guy. That took a lot of guts to do. Dropping onto the chair beside him, Naruto nodded and dropped his head to look down at his hands. "You got me. I'm not as brave as you, I don't even have the bravery to buy your reports from the shops! The best I can do is grab the used ones off empty tables so I don't get to read them much…"
Chuckling, Gajeel reached out and gently massaged Naruto's shoulder. "That's fine, I understand it all. Still, it's good to know I have a fan."
Hearing his laundry 'ping' to signal the end of the cycle, Gajeel broke eye contact. "Well, that's me done. Tell you what, I haven't finished writing up my next batch of notes, so if you'd like, I'll finish cleaning up here and afterwards, we can catch up the café just down the road and we'll be sure to have a good chat!"
His cheeks stretched into a wide smile as Naruto clasped his hands in front of his chest in thankfulness. "Oh really, you'd let me do that? Thank you so much! I wouldn't miss it! Though…" he let his sentence hang for a moment, "Could you wear something different? J-just so m-my parents don't know…"
Chuckling, Gajeel shook his head in amusement and stood up. "Fine, I guess I can for your sake. Meet you there in thirty minutes?"
Nodding brightly, Naruto jumped to his feet too. "Sure! That sounds great, I'll see you there!"
Smiling the taller man gave him a wave and turned to his washing. "I'll see you there."
Bowing quickly, Naruto then quickly making his way around to his own clothing. It still had 15 minutes left on the cycle. Pulling the door open anyway, the ninja emptied the damp clothing pieces into a basket and briskly walked into a private room to seal them all. Time to get ready.
Naruto had just arrived when he spotted Gajeel strolling over to him in a vastly different attire. Gone was the smart navy suit and in its place was a much drabber get-up, far more in line with the earthy, sun smart clothing of the locals.
"Yo, good timing."
Naruto returned the wave and nodded. The taller man drew alongside and they both slipped into an empty table.
"Right, so first thing is first, I don't think I ever caught your name miss…"
"Sue, I'm Sue. It's a pleasure!"
Shaking the outstretched hand, Gajeel chuckled and shook his fingers out. "Wow, you sure have some grip strength for a small thing like you."
He hadn't really put that much force into the shake. He may be a dead ringer for Gajeel but he was considerably weaker. Chuckling awkwardly, Naruto scratched his head sheepishly and stuck his tongue out. "Yeah, working in the dirt most of my life has given me sturdy hands. Sorry about that."
The reporter dismissed it easily. "Hardly something to be worried about. I'm a journalist so physical strength isn't my greatest quality." He then took his notepad out and opened it on the table. Several lose sheets of paper rustled about and he organised them around the book into a semicircle.
Checking them over once more, Gajeel nodded and motioned to the spare seat beside him. "If you'd like to come over, I'll show you what I've got so far."
Jumping around, Naruto looked down at the notes keenly as Gajeel began talking. "So this has been something I've been tackling for quite a few years now. It all started way back at the first mention of low magic reserved throughout the kingdom." He pointed to the oldest piece of paper. "Back then, the King issued the decree that all magic guilds and shops were to be shut down indefinitely. At face value that makes some sense, despite the fact our entire culture had been built around it."
Naruto snorted along with Gajeel, that last sentence being pure sarcasm.
"Anyway, most people accepted it begrudgingly and I at first swallowed it too. However, it wasn't long before word got out it was still legal in the capital." Naruto's eyebrows raised as Gajeel moved the next page over. "Not only was it legal, the trade was positively thriving. They didn't have a care in the world about how much power they were using. If anything, their consumption has steadily increased. Completely contradictory to everything the King had commanded."
"So what's going on then? How can he defy himself?"
Smirking, the reporter pulled over a piece of paper that was referenced on the first. "I have extensive information veins that run near and far throughout the kingdom. I pulled a few strings and managed to find out the King had developed a new machine that was somehow creating magic!" He pointed to a very rough diagram of a strange antenna looking thing. "Somehow, this was creating lacrima for everyone in the city to use. You can imagine the influx of people from more rural communities swarming the capital to get a piece of this."
There was then a gap in the dates and Gajeel pointed to a much fresher looking piece of paper. "That lead then went stale for a few years. Frustrating as it was, there was no one who was willing to talk about the machine, the lacrima creation or the development of other such projects. There weren't any big moves or otherwise. The King just kept the lacrima production at a steady pace and everything quietened down." Moving a finger down his notes though, the reporter grinned. "However, a month or two ago I got wind that a big mission was underway. The levels of magic were getting so low that something drastic was needed to be done. I was a bit ahead of the ball and came to the knowledge that they were trying to create a lacrima so large it could power the entire nation for over one hundred years! The amount of preparation they'd have needed to do to accomplish this was insane and I must credit them on their ability to keep things a secret. They must have been working on this for months beforehand if not years, and yet I had only just heard of it."
Motioning to a waiter, Gajeel quickly ordered a jug of water. Turning back to his paper, his eyes darkened and his smile dropped. "However, this is where it started getting a bit unnerving. Rumours began to spread that this machine wasn't actually creating the lacrima. No, it was actually stealing it from, get this, another dimension that runs in parallel with this one!"
Openly displaying shock, Naruto slapped his hands down onto the table. "Bull crap! You're actually telling me that there is another world out there?"
Nodding sagely, Gajeel crossed his arms and closed his eyes. "It turns out that may very well be the case. Magic is an incredible thing, don't you suppose? That it could have created something else or been created elsewhere outside our 3 dimensions of space isn't entirely impossible. But whatever the case, that's the majority consensus and I'm willing to bet that it probably isn't too far from the truth. And for all the study I've done, that sounds exactly like something the King would stoop to." Raising a hand, he began ticking off his fingers. "It gives him absolute dominance over the magic supply, essentially holding it ransom. He can then use it to bottleneck trade deals and hold it as a blackmail of sorts against those who would defy him. Knowing him too, only his most trusted friends are privy to the workings of it so it would discourage anyone from trying to usurp him because there would be mass riots if the new King was unable to do what the previous was doing."
Allowing himself to sit back in apparent awe, Naruto's mind was whirring as he processed the information. This went back way further than before when Naruto had even landed in Earthland. Mystogan had been running around patching up these things for years and years so it really showed just how long this King had been planning everything. If it wasn't so galling it would actually be impressive.
"So, what happens now?"
Sitting back in thought, Gajeel cupped his chin and frowned. "To be honest, I'm not sure. Firstly, it would be to establish that the lacrima was indeed stolen from a parallel dimension. My gut tells me that there's more to it though. If it was just an empty world then fine, steal away, it's not like there's anything there. However, I have heard rumours that there are actually people over there. What they're like I have zero idea, but if there is even a hint of a chance that there are people suffering because of this King's greed, I WILL expose him and I WILL do it as honestly and truthfully as I can, reputation be damned!" He punctuated that last exclamation by slamming his fist down on the table.
Genuinely impressed with his resolve, Naruto nodded vigorously along with Gajeel's enthusiasm. "That's amazing, I'm really grateful to you! Please make sure you get all the facts together and show his true colours to everyone."
Gajeel inclined his head with a grin. "That you can be sure I will little miss. I stake my life on it."
"So how long do you think it will take you to get all this together?" Switching topics slightly, Naruto glanced over at the clock. He was running out of time.
Scratching his head at this comment, Gajeel shrugged. "Honestly, that I don't know. It could take only a few hours if I get a solid lead. That's a bit of a pipe dream so I'm expecting it to take much longer than that." He sighed. "That being said, my ideal time is one week, because in roughly five days' time that's when they plan to dissolve the lacrima and let it assimilate into the atmosphere."
That last sentence hit Naruto as hard as if he'd just had a bat taken to his skull. Anything else Gajeel said drowned out as the blond began obsessing over that one crucial detail. 'Five days, five days to get there and save everyone! How the hell will I get there that fast? I'll be damned if L will slow me down, I'll carry the old bastard on my shoulders if I need to make time, dattebayo!'
"…Sue! Earth to Sue, where did you go?"
Coming back, Naruto blinked and looked up. Gajeel was staring at him curiously, fingers having drawn his glasses down his nose slightly. "Oh! Haha sorry, I do have a habit of getting lost in thought. So only five days? That really doesn't leave you with a lot of time!"
Gajeel shook his head, but a fiery determination shone in his eyes. "Maybe, but I'll be giving it my all to get it done. That way I can't criticise myself for not having tried harder."
Eyes glowing in admiration, Naruto stood up and bowed politely. "Well, that sounds just amazing! On that note then, I do need to go. I apologise, but this is one relative that I can't leave to themselves and if I'm late I'll be sure to have my ear chewed off."
Laughing casually, the reporter waved it off. "No need to be so formal! I understand, life happens so don't think you have to stay. It was a pleasure talking Sue, it's not often that I get to have a talk with a fan of all things about my work!"
"Well, thanks for taking the time out to explain to me your work! I'll be sure to buy your next report when I see it, other people's opinion be damned!" Naruto really meant that last part too. Not that he cared about reputation, that was just part of his character, but he would definitely be buying Gajeel's publishing's. He'd impressed him enough that Naruto was happy to support his work. "Well, I'll hopefully see you around! Thanks again!"
Nodding cheerily, waved to the back of Naruto's head as he lightly jogged away.
Growling as he arrived at the entrance late, Naruto cursed the Royal Army. There had been an obscene number of them around for some reason and it had really stalled his progress. They had started setting up check points at every major walkway and Naruto had needed to wait in a frustratingly slow queue several times. He didn't know exactly what was going on, but it didn't bode well for him. Seeing that L hadn't arrived yet either, Naruto frowned. L not turning up actually sounded like real trouble. Being a little bit late for someone could be understandable, but L? His eccentric tendencies would rather have him dead than late without a damn good reason.
Resisting the urge to go and start hopping across the town in search of him, the blond instead decided it was time to calm down. Dropping back into the bench, he made himself comfortable and let his mind clear. The Ethernano was still very sparse, but being that they were closer to the city it made things a bit easier to draw in. Steadying himself for Senjutsu (Sage Techniques), the blond began reaching out for L's very odd personal signature. It was very helpful that he was the only person in the whole city who had even the remotest of energy within him. That being said though, Naruto frowned as his senses expanded. Why was there another five people who were blazing beacons of energy? Reaching out, he tried to see who they were.
"Why are you sleeping? GET UP!"
"Gyah!" Naruto very nearly jumped out of his skin as L grabbed his arm. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" How had the old coot managed to sneak up on him like that?
"I should be asking you that!" Came the angry retort. "How can you be so lazy that in the midst of this crisis you decide to take a nap?"
Stilling his beating heart, Naruto took a deep breath before replying with, "That was hardly a nap! It was… meditating! I was trying to gather my thoughts since you hadn't arrived yet. Come to mention it, where were you?"
L almost looked surprised under his ragged hood when he heard that. "You were actually capable of something like that? Colour me impressed. As for my delay…" He growled and motioned around them at the Royal Guards running around. "I was up to my armpits in these plebs and it was tricky to navigate. Clearly there is something amuck here that we do not want any part in."
Could it have had anything to do with those 4 energy signatures he'd nearly identified? Naruto wasn't about to mention his ability to sense people to his cantankerous companion though so stayed silent.
Just at that moment across the town an almighty tornado sprung up clear out of nowhere and roared through the streets. Both men snapped their heads over as they watched a few people get whisked away by the mighty, spiralling gust.
Gaping in surprise, Naruto pointed over at it and exclaimed, "Where did that come from? There's not a cloud in the sky!"
"That looks to be like a magic weapon was unleashed, of the wind based nature." L turned around to watch ten or so Royal Guards dash past, each screaming at the other battle plans. "It seems that is why our friends here are crawling around everywhere. They're chasing someone and I do not wish to have any attention drawn. I pity the fools who have garnered their affections but that is our blessing. Come, let us escape this miserable place."
Jumping to his feet, Naruto quickly dashed after L as the old man briskly disappeared out the gates in an impressive display of speed. Winding their way around to the back of a large rock crop, they then banked and began traversing the boundaries of the city, screams and shouts echoing out from the roads below.
"So where are we going?"
"Around." Came the blunt reply. "I was planning to buy a few last minute supplies on the way out. Since that's no longer an option, we go around."
That made sense. Next topic. "So I have just got wind of some information that really begs my attention at the capital in five days. How far away do you think it is?"
It took a moment for L to respond. "At our current pace, we may reach the next town by sun down. From there, as the Legion flies, it may only be another day and a half. For us though, it will take longer having to avoid all this mess. You may make it in time, you may not."
Dropping back slightly, Naruto nibbled his lip as he pondered the situation. Getting there late was simply not an option.
"Horse drawn cart, coming up on your right, we will hitch a lift on that."
Looking right as L instructed, Naruto indeed saw a horse cart racing out of a fork between two large rocks and racing off in the direction they were heading. Sprinting up behind it, they both grabbed a hold of the hand holds and pulled themselves up onto the step. Dropping down, chest heaving, L fished a bottle of water out from somewhere within his tunic and took a big drink. Putting it away, he noticed Naruto staring at him curiously. "Before you ask any dense questions, let me answer them preemptively. This is the medical cart that runs between cities. Since magic carts no longer exist, they went back to the old way of using thorough bred horses for these runs. There are cold materials in there that need to be moved quickly. Yes what we are doing is illegal, yes you need to stay quiet and out of sight, no, there is no faster, more efficient way to travel, yes you may sleep and I will wake you when we're near and yes, I meticulously detail my plans."
Naruto may have rolled his eyes in irritation, but he did get all questions answered. That was fine by him, he didn't want to talk to L anyway. Sleep wasn't really something that was going to come, but some gentle meditation wouldn't go astray with how much was running around inside his mind. Fixing himself to his seat with chakra adhesion, the blond curled his hands up in his lap and let the rocking of the cart lull him off into emptiness.
A finger embedded itself into Naruto's temple, disrupting his meditation.
"This discolouration really is intriguing. What is its purpose?"
Naruto slapped the finger away irritably. "What gives? Stop poking me you creep!"
A hand was cupping an invisible chin deep within the cloak as L hummed to himself, completely ignoring Naruto's protest. "I had thought I was merely seeing things, but as our trip progressed I realised my eyes were not deceiving me. What is that orange colouring? How did you manifest it?"
"Huh?" Glancing up, what the teen wasn't expecting was for L to gasp in astonishment. "Your eyes also! Elongated pupils, like that of an amphibian! Is this another by product of Earthland magic?"
Suddenly realising what was happening, Naruto had a moment of brilliance and rolled with the answer already half given. "Uh, yeah this happens to all of us. When we are meditating, we get this physical appearance as the Ethernano collects within us. Once interrupted though," Naruto pointedly looked at L to directly imply his fault, "it fades."
This was a very interesting piece of information though, reassuring as well to know that Naruto could indeed activate Senjutsu. "For curiosities sake, how long has the colour been changed anyway? There's not much magic here so I didn't think this would happen."
Not twittering as much as the blond was expecting, L just continued to stare a moment longer before shrugging. "Not really an issue. I got to study everything about it that interested me. As for length of time, we've been travelling for a few hours, but I'd say the colour properly solidified after the first fifteen minutes. Now more importantly," He gestured off to the left, "we are coming up on our next town. Welcome to Sycca."
Eye's snapping wide open, Naruto clambered over the top of L and stared at the town. "Are you SERIOUS? This was the first place I landed! You mean to tell me I just ran a big circle?"
"Would you DESIST?" Pushing the teen off of his person, L dusted himself down. "That sounds like exactly something you would do. I cannot say I'm surprised." Waving a dismissive hand at Naruto's angry retort, he continued. "We eat here and rest here for the night then continue. I imagine you have no objections considering your previous mention of haste?"
Glowering to himself, the ninja grunted and shook his head. There really was something about L that was starting to rub him up the wrong way, and it wasn't just his greater-than-thou attitude. Looking up at the sky, Naruto realised it was getting late in the day and the sun was rapidly creeping over the horizon. Ten minutes and it would be pitch black.
The cart wobbled slightly as L stepped off with a thump. Following suit, the duo then tensely made their way inside. It didn't seem like L had much regard for their living quarters as he spotted the most run down, cheapest looking building and headed straight for it. "You wait outside, I won't be a minute. After this, we eat."
Flicking L the finger as he walked inside, the teen then slouched against the wall and began thinking. He didn't want to waste more time here, but L must have had a good reason for wanting to do this. He might be a dick, but he always had reasons. However, his observation of the amount of time it took for Senjutsu to activate was greatly helpful. Firstly, it confirmed it was even possible and that if Naruto had enough time to prepare, he could tap into it and fight whoever comes their way. Actually…
Crossing his fingers, Naruto glanced around quickly and created two clones. Immediately they dashed off into the backstreets. Just as they vanished, L walked out of the hotel and brushed past him, pushing a key into his chest. "This is your room. They had no spare two bedroom apartments so you get a room to yourself."
Naruto very nearly cheered out loud. Grinning widely, this made these last few hours much easier to deal with.
"Don't smile too wide, you might give me the impression you don't appreciate my help."
At this point, Naruto didn't care and quipped, "Well let's clear that up and I'll let you know that me being alone tonight will be the best time I've spent with you."
Growling softly, a jingle somewhere within L's cloak was backed up with, "Don't forget who's paying for all this. I could just as easily order you bread for dinner."
That was hardly enough to break Naruto's spirits though and with a skip in his step, the blond tripped along into a restaurant after L.
Dinner went off without a hitch and it wasn't long before the duo found themselves back at the hotel. Pulling the door half open, L turned slightly and began speaking. "I'd try impose a curfew but I doubt you'd listen, so hear this instead. We will be up early tomorrow whether you sleep or not. So it would be to your benefit that you go to bed early." Moving to step through the door, he finished with, "Or not, I don't care how you feel tomorrow. Just be ready to run."
Blowing a raspberry at L, Naruto waited until he disappeared into the hotel before making his move. Running into the dark alleyway his clones did, the ninja quickly found them nestled motionless in a dark corner. Walking up to them, he knelt and stared at them. Bright orange rings around their closed eyes gave away their current state and the crafty ninja grinned. "Ok guys, time to wake up. Stage two of the plan."
Both sighing, the clones came to and grimaced. "Man I hope this works. I mean, what if we get stuck in there forever?"
Rolling out a sheet of paper, Naruto began working. "You're chakra constructs. I dunno what will happen exactly but your self-awareness is tied to you being a clone. If you pop, nothing happens. If this succeeds though," Naruto looked up and have them a toothy grin, "then this could be the most awesome thing I've thought of since Kyuubi crash landed us here. I just have to make sure I give you the right symbols, then we'll have a crack at this."
Instincts kicked in and Naruto's leg lashed out, landing a solid blow to someone's chest. Kunai was pulled from the pillow and following the attack, he rolled smoothly onto the floor, landing on top of his assailant and slammed the blade up hard against their throat. "What the HELL do you want?"
In his foggy state of mind, it took Naruto a moment before he realised he was actually pinning L down to the floor. Hands were fearfully clawing the carpet as he tried to inch away from the blade, muffled grunts coming from within his hood. The ninja's eyes narrowed slightly, but still he pulled the blade away and stood up. Wiping it down as L held his throat, Naruto glanced over and questioned him as he pocketed the knife. "What were you doing in my room?"
L took a moment to reply, gauging his position. "I was coming to wake you up as I have potentially found us a faster way to get to the capital."
The blond crossed his arms. "So why didn't you knock?"
At that L fell silent and didn't reply. Eye's narrowing further, Naruto stepped around him and opened the door to his room. "Don't ever do that again or next time I might not stop where I stopped. Clear?"
There was a soft swallowing before L's steady voice replied, "Clear."
He didn't move and Naruto realised this was the first time in their journey where he was in a position of absolute power. L clearly appeared lost in this new flip of power and Naruto recognised he may have just jumped up a few dozen ranks in L's respect. He studied him for a second; Naruto may not like the man for a few reasons, but he was still helping him. So swallowing his desire to just walk out of the room, he took the gracious route and extended a hand to pull L back up to his feet. There was no apology though.
"So what was this thing you've found?"
Taking a moment to smooth his wrinkled clothes, L took a deep breath and tired his best to move on from that last scare. "I have discovered that there is in fact an airship that has docked nearby. On foot, it is a three to four day trip to the capital from here. Aboard that craft, it wouldn't take us a day and a half. It will however be full of Royal Guards so I've yet to determine if boarding it is even possible."
"Show me where it is." Naruto said as he quickly scanned the room to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. "This sort of thing is my speciality. If there's a way on board, I'll find it."
Inclining his head slightly, L silently stepped out of the room with Naruto in tow.
Kneeling behind a wall, Naruto peered over at the airship and all those around it.
It was a monstrous great thing, made entirely out of grey metal panels. A dozen spears twice the length of a person jutted out from the base of it, their sharp heads pointed out defensively against any aggressors. Enormous great engines supported on wings hummed deeply as they supported its weight, their powerful thrusters kicking up dust everywhere. Above the main belly of it sat what looked like the cabins and cockpit, that being made out of a more rubbery substance. It was large too, appearing almost double the volume of the base. 'And that could be used as another form of buoyancy,' Naruto mused.
Turning his attention down to the guards, he spied about fifteen of them all spread out strategically around the dock. Between them all, there was about three sets of eyes on any one point of the courtyard at any given moment. Very thorough. The one opening that Naruto could spot though were that there were guards who came and went sporadically, loading cargo onto it. The door and ramp seemed to open and close without anything done from the labourers so Naruto hazard a guess someone inside was working the controls.
Now, it was a simple task for the ninja to just use Henge (Transform) and walk right on in but how was L meant to get on? Pulling back down beside L, the blond considered these few things before offering his plan. "So, they have that wrapped up tighter than Sugarboy's jocks. Our only option is to sneak on dressed as guards. There are some guards labouring though and every now and then they bring back cargo to be loaded. If we could intercept them, we could relieve them of their freight and load it for them."
L's sharp mind whirred and quickly pointed out, "But what about us not walking back out? They will surely be suspicious if we simply don't return."
Naruto poked his head over the wall as he watched two more guards load more materials. "Don't worry about that detail, I can cover us. Remember the clone? Well, I can make more than one."
There was a subtle nod of approval from L as Naruto slowly began to creep down the wall. "So what do you propose we do now?"
Clenching a fist, Naruto crouched. "You stay here. I'll go get us some clothes."
Silent as a cat, Naruto then disappeared around the corner to slink after the guards. Tempting as it was to knock them out right here, it was better to track them and find out where they were getting the cargo from. So sticking to the shadows, the blond carefully made his way after them.
It didn't take too long to reach the storage area which surprised Naruto, but once sliding inside he could see why the guards were coming at awkward times. Most of them were lazing around, a few playing cards in one corner, a pair drinking in another. Frowning disapprovingly, the blond shook his head. If he'd been caught doing anything like this on duty he would have had his head ripped off. That made for easy pickings though and all he had to do was wait until two guards finally pulled themselves up from their cards and wandered over to grab another box. Watching them walk around the back to reach a lower stacked box, the ninja snuck up and wrapped his hand around the mouth of one guard. Squeezing tight, he pushed his finger into the man's neck and instantly felt him go limp. Resting him to the ground, Naruto then snuck off after the next guard. That didn't take a moment either and before long, two bound, gagged and scantily clad guards silently rested on the floor.
A previously noticed, dusty mezzanine floor with an equally dusty office block above him made for an easy place to hide them. They were dropped in the room and left to sleep.
Collecting the outfits and boxes, Naruto opened up a seal on the floor. Timing himself with a door closing below, Naruto's soft bang as the clothes and parcels were sealed went unnoticed. Making sure to stick to the shadows, not a soul noticed as a dark form slipped out the front door and ran down the street.
Coming to a stop before L, Naruto carefully unwrapped the seal before them. "Ok, this should be a bit more familiar. If you have magic tools here, then this is our equivalent."
Gently pushing some chakra into the seal, L gasped as suddenly two sets of armour and parcels appeared beneath Naruto's hand. "How is this accomplished? What a stunningly practical way to transport things!"
"It creates an artificial dimension where the items are stored," Naruto said offhandedly as he organised the clothes. "Varying the amount of chakra you push into it enables you to select what you want to retrieve."
Naruto froze. He'd just recited what Jiraiya-sensei had drilled into him without thinking. That was exceptionally careless. "Oh, that's what we call magic over in Earthland sometimes. Isn't that in your book?"
To Naruto's immense surprise, L actually began nodding slowly. "Yes… apologies, it must have slipped my memory. Don't pay my absentmindedness any heed."
But pay it heed Naruto did. Either L was just trying to cover up his own apparent mistake, or he wasn't telling Naruto something very important. Something within Naruto was really beginning to tell him something wasn't right here and that was a voice he had learnt not to ignore long ago. He wasn't about to let his suspicion show so the blond continued with the task at hand.
"Here, you take this one. We get changed and then board." L then picked up his gear and began walking away. Naruto quickly gathered his stuff up and made to follow. "Hey, where are you going?"
"I do not wish to reveal myself to you until the time is right. I will change in private and be right back. You wait here." He then entered a building and pulled the door closed behind him.
Slowly putting the things back on the ground, Naruto took a deep breath and closed his eyes. 'There is definitely something wrong with him. Don't let it get to you. Stay focused and alert but don't let him know you know.'
Letting the air gush back out his nostrils, Naruto stripped and got on with it.
Standing at the gate to the courtyard, Naruto and L exchanged glances as their boxes were scanned. It was extremely helpful so much of their faces were covered in the uniforms. They became just another anonymous member so easily that Naruto was surprised more people hadn't taken advantage of it.
As they waited for the check, Naruto glanced over at L once more and discretely studied the very first part of L's face he had seen. Sharp blue eyes stared straight ahead, absolute focus radiating from them. There was something distinctly familiar about them, but for the life of him Naruto could not place where he had seen them. A beep broke his focus and so pulling his eyes away, he looked at the guard.
Checking his scanner, the gate guard nodded and motioned them through. "You know the drill, in, drop the package, out."
Nodding lazily as Naruto expected the guard's he robbed to do, he sighed as he walked past with, "Yeah, yeah, same as last time."
The gate guard mumbled something obscene under his breath as they entered and Naruto chuckled to himself. Sounds like this group had a bit of a poor reputation.
Moving between the guards, Naruto and L came to a stop beneath the aircraft. Looking around, they couldn't see any entrance into it.
"Well come on, open the cargo hold, we don't have all day!"
Hearing an irritable call from one of the guards on duty, Naruto quipped back, "Our hands are full, can't you see?"
Growling, the guard turned. "It's voice activated dumbass! Even drunks like you lot from the twelfth division should be able to remember it!"
'Oh crap.' That possibility hadn't even entered Naruto's mind.
"For the glory of the King and Kingdom!"
Barely containing himself, Naruto shot L a look as his companion loudly spoke out. Not a second later though, a deep whirring from within the ship indicated activation and a ramp slid out of it as a door smoothly opened. Coming to rest at their feet, Naruto spared that last aggro guard a glance as he huffed and turned away. Following L up the ramp, the blond looked over his shoulder and watched as the ramp closed behind them.
Dropping his package, Naruto pulled his head gear off with a grunt. "How did you know that password?"
Placing his package down far more gently, L began removing pieces of his armour as he headed for the bathroom. "I am aware much of the King's equipment was password protected. So while you were obtaining us garments, I endeavoured to uncover this."
"Oh. Right." Unsure what to say next, Naruto scratched his head and offered a weak, "Thanks."
Stopping at the door, L ignored that and stated, "Don't forget our need to leave this place in a timely fashion. Have your clones ready to leave in a minute."
He then closed the door and left Naruto to his duties. Sighing, the blond shook his head and got back to stripping off his clothing. Laying his scroll out on the floor, he unsealed both sets of clothing and resealed the armour. Grabbing L's cloak, he chucked it at the bathroom door. A hand whipped out from inside and snatched it in before it even hit the floor. A ball of clothing was returned and Naruto caught and sealed that also. Rolling it up, he quickly pocketed it before moving onto his next task.
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu (Shadow Clone Technique)."
The two summoned clones appeared already in guard attire and without a word, turned around and with a quick mention of the password wandered down the ramp and back towards the warehouse.
Hearing a rustling, Naruto turned to see L pulling the hem of his sack down over his knees. "With that issue dealt with, let us head up and see when the ship is scheduled to leave. I assume your clones got away with no interruptions?"
"Good. Follow me."
Making their way over to a ladder, Naruto made sure to give L plenty of time to climb it before he started. He didn't see any underpants in L's sack when he threw it back to him and the thought of looking up and seeing something like that made the blond physically ill.
Having surveyed the cockpit, it was established no one had been in here for a few hours. The half drank cup of coffee was cold which was a dead giveaway so that gave the pair time to explore the rest of the cabins. Poking his head into a room, Naruto perused what looked to be a basic lounge room. There were a few couches and some small windows that allowed viewing from the seats. More importantly though, there were quite a number of large lockers, each easily big enough to hide a person in if it came to it. Tucking that valuable piece of info away, Naruto closed the door and stretched.
They had been exploring for a while now and there had still been no indication they would be leaving soon. Trundling back into the cockpit, Naruto looked around and spotted the ship's logs. Flicking them open, it only took looking over the past week's entries to see that the ship never left before mid-afternoon. Glancing at the clock on the wall, the blond groaned. It had only just ticked over midday.
"Naruto, come. We must eat and I found the pantry."
L disappeared as quickly as he arrived, shuffling back down the hall. Following, they came to a stop in front of a large indiscriminate cupboard that when opened, revealed a large number of non-perishable food items wrapped up in airtight bags. Grabbing two, L flicked Naruto a sausage looking thing that was green in colour and began to tear into his own. Giving the item a disgusted face, the blond sniffed it experimentally before shrugging and following suit. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't inedible.
L grabbed a few more things and kicked the cupboard closed before making his way down the hall to a table. Dropping into it, he pushed a few more things towards Naruto as he took a seat. "Once flying, who knows how long it will be until our next meal. Try and get some form of sustenance into you now."
Reluctantly opening the next bag, the teen made a face as something as equally distasteful as the sausage was revealed. Still, beggars can't be choosers so lunch was served.
They ate in relative silence, both not really enjoying the meal but enduring it for the sake of the journey ahead. Moving onto his final piece, Naruto looked around. "Is there any water?"
"In the kitchen, back down the hall. If you're going to get some, get me some too."
Rolling his eyes, Naruto couldn't understand the lack of manners this guy had. "Once I'm done with this I'll get some, your majesty."
L grunted as Naruto began eating and they fell into quiet again. All of a sudden, Naruto's eyes snapped open and he exhaled vigorously, spraying L all over with bits of chewed up food.
Hissing in disgust, L sprang up and shook himself out. "You FILTHY little no good –"
Naruto dismissed his complaints with a furious wave. "Shut up! We've been discovered, we need to leave NOW!"
That question went unanswered as Naruto barrelled down the hall to the cockpit.
L followed closely behind and yet when he arrived Naruto was already half way setting the ship up for departure. Rapidly moving across the knobs and leavers he could identify, Naruto snapped, "Hurry up and help me! We have about 5 minutes until they arrive here and I can't fly this thing! You have to take the wheel!"
Getting no reply, L growled but complied. Quickly looking over what Naruto had already set up, he adjusted a few things and then got to task on the things Naruto didn't understand.
Having completed everything he could, Naruto dashed towards the door, but caught himself just before he left. "How long until we can leave?"
Hands fluttering across the controls with ease, L murmured, "Maybe another ten minutes? The engines will take time to warm up and that will most certainly attract attention."
"Damn it! Alright, I'll go and hold the grunts off. Don't wait for me, as soon as you're ready, take off. Just leave that back door open, clear?"
"Clear," came the reply and with that Naruto vanished.
Crouching behind a few boxes, Naruto sat in wait. That door was going to open soon and he needed to be ready to kick whoever was trying to get in off.
It didn't take long before some loud shouts from outside started rousing the guards and the password was screamed. Hearing the motors whirr, Naruto readied himself. As the door raised, several guards began squeezing underneath it in an attempt to rush in. What they didn't expect was for several rather heavy boxes of cargo to smash into them with considerable force and push them right back down the ramp. One guard who managed to dodge the boxes looked back down at his fallen comrades in surprise. That was a poor decision as from behind, a monstrous punch slammed into the small of his back, folding him nearly in half and blowing him clear across the courtyard with a pained scream. He landed heavily and rolled to a stop before what looked like the head guard for the area. All eyes first looked at the incapacitated man and then turned to look up at the cargo door.
Standing tall, filling the doorway was Naruto, eyes burning and hair swaying in the breeze. His lips were pulled thin and his glared at every guard present. "One warning. If you attack, I will not hold back. Understood?"
A mighty roar from the guards followed by them charging was his answer. Steeling himself for the onslaught, Naruto's eyes narrowed and he crouched. Grabbing a discarded lance, he twirled it around like a Bo staff before slapping it to the floor. "Alright, let's do this."
The guards may have been fast, but Naruto was faster. Flashing forward, the ninja began dancing through the volley of attacks and thrusts. As he rapidly made his way through them, mighty blows from the end of his lance sent guard after guard flying across the courtyard.
Sweeping his lance low, Naruto swung it around in a full circle and knocked ten men off their feet. Time seemed to slow down and the blond blurred into motion as he attacked. It appeared like there had been an explosion beneath the guards as all ten of them were thrown high into the air, arcing lazily over the others before slamming back down into the ground.
Jumping back to quickly catch his breath, a quick parry followed by two palm strikes to the chest of a man who tried to sneak up on him guaranteed Naruto a few moments. By this stage he wasn't being rushed carelessly and a few had gathered down near the courtyard entrance, looking intently at a sheet of paper. It looked like they were comparing things as they pointed back and forth, nodding as they did so. Finally reaching a conclusion, the tallest of the group pointed at Naruto and shouted out, "Mage of Fairy Tail! You have officially been deemed by the capital a danger to Edolas and its occupants. You have two choices, submit quietly and await transport to the royal city, chaperoned by the Royal Army Captains, or you are sentenced to death here and now!"
Hearing the engines starting to scale up in pitch, the blond used this moment to stall for time. Pointing back, he shouted, "Oh yeah, great options there! Did that come word for word on my wanted page or did you have to think them up yourself?"
The guard bristled but Naruto was too quick for him to intervene. "So I have the choice of waiting for Knightwalker or Sugarboy or any of them to come and take me to be executed at the capital, or face you guys and be 'executed' here." Naruto snorted loudly as he grossly exaggerated that last part. "It's almost like you gave me a way out by offering me that second option! You lot couldn't even manage a nick in my clothes, hell, you're practically begging me to kick your collective asses!" He yawned obnoxiously and made a scene about placing both hands behind his back. "Tell you what, here's my handicap, get it? I'll take you all on no hands! Come and do your worst, please, for my sake!"
By this stage the whole courtyard was filled with furious men and all of them were beaming laser focused killing intent at him. "TAKE HIS HEAD!"
A mighty roar rose from the crowd and Naruto suddenly had to dive out of the way of a thrusting lance, intent on skewering him to the wall. Rolling under the legs of another, Naruto kicked out into his lower back and blasted the man through a wave of a dozen more charging at him. Flipping to his feet, his graceful dance with death began as he flowed like water between the countless attacks being thrown at him from every direction. Guards were getting flung around less often, but those who were sent flying this time hit the ground and stayed down.
All the while, Naruto kept a close eye on the airship as it began to gather power. Seeing the anchor still firmly attached, the blond made his way over to it, careful to make it seem like that was the direction all the attacks were taking him. Gently guiding one over extended thrust into the couplings, he lashed out and folded a guard in half over his leg before kicking him into the lance now embedded in the couplings. A mighty crack rang out as the sturdy lance shattered the links and freed the airship from its mooring.
Finally it began to rise into the air and to Naruto's pleasure, he had taunted all the guards so fiercely that none of them even noticed the departing ship. When it eventually got high enough out of reach of even the tallest guard, Naruto suddenly changed from defensive to offensive and blurred into motion. Belting back an entire division of guards, he capitalised on the space and ran into the middle of the courtyard.
Grinning widely, the maddening blond gave them all a cheery wave as he pointed upwards. "Well, thanks for being oblivious you chumps! It's time for me to love and leave you, except I don't love you and it's more of an excellent escape than a mere running away."
"GRAB HIM!" Came the frenzied scream as the guards suddenly realised what was happening. Unfortunately for them though, Naruto crouched, charged his legs and cracked the ground beneath his feet as he shot high up into the air to alight on the ramp still poking out from the back of the airship.
Incomprehensible screams of rage filled the town as all sorts of obscenities were cursed upon his life, friends and most specifically, his mother. Taunting them one last time, he dropped the back of his pants and slapped his pale backside at the group. Looking over his own ass, he gave them a wide grin and the peace sign before pulling his pants up and walking inside, closing the door behind him to the song of murderous shrieks.
Sliding into the co-pilot's seat, L barely spared him a glance but asked, "Was it truly necessary to aggravate them so? You do realise it will just make the captains all the more vehement in their pursuit of us."
The blond shrugged. "They were coming regardless and I've managed to piss off Knightwalker that much already she practically has a stroke whenever she looks at me. You can't get much better than that. Besides, I had a lot of pent up emotions I needed to get out of me." He looked at L pointedly. "So I needed it."
Sighing deeply, L just shook his head and made a few minor adjustments with the navigation. "So, would you mind telling me how you managed to ascertain their discovery of our plan? Despite the disgusting circumstances with which you first alerted me, I can forgive that if you'd explain yourself."
The blond considered it a bit before deciding he'd come too far to really try fib it away. "Ok, so pretty much what happened was the two guards I robbed were discovered after a guy on lookout duty noticed them banging on the inside of this office I'd thrown them into. They attacked my clones and well, basically when they're destroyed I get to see what they see at their moment of death." Ok, so maybe there was room for a bit of discretionary omission at least.
Even that though was enough to make L gasp in wonder. "You can actually see what your clones saw? Irrespective of distance? That is staggering! Oh the uses I could make of such an ability if only I could use magic like you."
He the groaned forlornly, cursing his birthplace being here and not Earthland. Deciding to leave L to his moping, Naruto got up and stretched. Knightwalker, Sugarboy and who knows what else would be coming soon. That play around with the guards was a good warm up, but now it was time to get ready. "Tell me when you see any of the captains," Naruto called over his shoulder, "I'm gonna get ready for the fight. They won't know what hit them."
A/N – So… a year and a half since my last proper story upload hey? Well, I guess this proves my word on getting this damn thing done, if ever so slowly.
Apologies if it doesn't read quite as smoothly as previous chapters, 18 months break can do that to you.
As for this latest instalment, you can thank my appendix, or lack-there-of. It got infected, I got it removed and by doctor's orders I wasn't allowed to move for minimum 4 weeks. So finally with some time to myself, I finished this beast off. I wanted to make it longer, but I was dissuaded from that as it might make it a bit too hard to read.
Anywho, thanks to those who are loyal enough to stick around my now appalling upload schedule and hello to anyone new who's picked it up.
I'll see you next chapter for the end of the Edolas arc and the beginning of the S Rank challenges!