"Siegrain-sama, I have traced the augmentation of Eternano to a source."

"The rest of the Council has not yet attended to it, yes?"

The woman tersely nodded. "They are currently focused on more pressing matters."

"Ever since they've been documented, Eternano levels have always been on a continuous, albeit marginal, decline – aside from that curious incident nearly eight decades ago – so this is quite the interesting occurrence."

"As I was saying, the man is–"

Siegrain suddenly roared with laughter. "A man, you say? A man is capable of producing quite possibly one billion Edeas of magical energy?"

"Where is this individual?" he asked impetuously.

"Clover Town."

"Very well. I shall meet you there tomorrow. Do be sure to make it."

Arashi no Ko

Chapter III: Deference

"Jiraiya had an ideal, a belief – that shinobi could look beyond hatred.

"He had no means, no answers. All he left me was his will.

"That was enough."
-Rokudaime Hokage of Konoha

When the shinobi spun away from her, Mirajane had spied the same pink shape on his back, but she said nothing. Instead, when she saw the small cloud of smoke that signaled the disappearance of his clothing, she muttered, "Definitely like Requip."

Naruto yawned. He was yawning a lot this morning. The girl he was walking beside stared curiously at him, wondering why he was so tired. "Don't tell me," a sly grin showed on her face, "that you were so nervous being with a girl that you couldn't sleep."

The male in question didn't budge; he was proud of his growing resistance to her flimsy implications. That wasn't to say that her insinuations were weak – no, quite the opposite: there were various forms to her innuendo. Currently, he was only able to resist her lowest level.

Naruto's mind picked at the reason for his exhaustion – his body felt much better since his arrival and he inferred that he could use some of his techniques by now, and, as far as he could tell, he had no physical fatigue. Regardless, he really just wanted to fall to the ground and sleep. He clasped his hands behind his neck and stretched, opening his mouth to release another loud exhale. "Sorry," he said with a groan, realizing that the mage was speaking, "what did you say?"

Mirajane glowered at him, shaking her head in displeasure. "I said," she stopped to make sure that he was listening, "that we're meeting Elfman and Lisanna to get lunch by the train station. I told her to collect the reward for the mission after she woke me up in the morning, so we're gonna meet up with them at the diner."

He covered his expanding mouth with a hand, letting out another wave of audible air. He rubbed his moistening eyes, stumbling through the road as he did. "Hey," Naruto heard her say, "are you really okay?"

He nodded his head a few times. "Yeah," he then grumbled, "but what is with the air around here? I just wanna sleep!"

Naruto and Mirajane arrived first at the quaint little diner, it was situated close enough to the station so that people would know when their train was in. They were welcomed in by a cheerful brunette waitress who took them to a small booth that could adequately seat two people per side.

Looking around, the shinobi saw that, of the few people inside, all of them were the business types. Most of them had leather black briefcases and papers strewn across their tables. He slid into the left side of the compartment, and was then quickly flanked by the mage. He figured they would have to squeeze Lisanna in their side so that Elfman could fit on the opposite bench.

The woman who seated them came again, but she was promptly dismissed until Mirajane's siblings came.

Naruto crossed his arms on the tabletop and dropped his head on them, turning his attention to the suddenly sighing mage. "I was wondering," she shyly said, mimicking his position and staring into his eyes, "how would you feel about joining Fairy Tail?"

"Your guild?" he asked with a raised brow. A contemplative thrum came from his throat as he scrutinized her discomfort. "It's not like I have anywhere else to go," he replied, grinning.

Mirajane smiled at that. "Then, as soon as we eat, you're coming straight to Magnolia Town with us!"

Her delight subsided once she noticed his serious mien. "I need to check out that place where I found myself," he bit his lip, "and I'll meet you right after that."

She frowned, asking, "Why can't we just come with you?"

"Because I can find it faster on my own," at her objecting look, he added, "and you have an obligation to your siblings before anyone else, they're probably still weak from yesterday."

Mirajane acquiesced with an unhappy frown and sighed. "From here, it takes about an hour to get to Kunugi Station, excluding the stop at Oshibana Town, and then another one to get to Magnolia from there."

Naruto laughed blithely. "I didn't realize it was that close. There's no to need to even consider hanging around."

"Mira-nee!" a feminine voice called. The approaching girl froze once she saw the blond beside her sister. "Y-you're the guy from yesterday!"

Naruto looked at the girl. She had a few shallow scratches littering her skin and was wearing a plain dark red dress that ended above her knees. Beside her was her sullen brother, wearing a navy pants and a high-collared shirt of the same color with gold buttons; he appeared to be mostly uninjured, aside from the small bandage over the right side of his face.

"Uzumaki Naruto." He offered them a smile as he sat up from his inclined position and, glancing at Elfman, winced. "Sorry about the face."

The giant bowed lowly to him, choking out, "I thank you for protecting my sisters and restraining me." He never rose to his length, and his shoulders began trembling.

Naruto stood and leaned over the table, extending his fist. "Oi," he called, "raise your head."

Elfman abided by the command and displayed his wet eyes. His eyes regarded Naruto's foreign gesture, but he was unsure of how to respond. Naruto realized and rattled his wrist.

The mage hesitantly brought his own fist to meet the extended one. "You must control yourself, not the beast, so accept who you are," the shinobi stated shrewdly, "and accept what you're capable of. Do that, and you'll never lose yourself again."

"Come on now," Naruto's tone was optimistic, "sit down and cheer up. You guys are still together, so everything's fine."

Elfman seated himself on the opposite site, but Naruto could see that he remained dismayed. Momentarily, the feeling of horror when he found out that he wounded Sakura with his own power resounded in his body; it reminded him that words meant nothing to someone who held himself accountable.

His eyes peeked at Mirajane, and he wondered, "Does she feel the same?" Right then, she shuffled closer to him as Lisanna was nudging onto to their side of the booth, and Naruto could feel the elder sister's prickling arm brush against his.

It wasn't cold in the building, and she hadn't been cold yesterday when they were in the forest. She was cold inside. "Naruto-san!" Roused by the summon, he turned to the younger girl, who was peering at him from over the table. Her face was concerned, and her eyes were innocently watching. She shifted nervously and asked, "Are you and my sister... t-together?"

"Lisanna!" Mirajane grimaced, "He just needed a–"

She was cut off by the returning waitress. "Are you ready to order?"

The elder sister glared at the interloper, who shrank away; but the three siblings ordered. It was finally Naruto's turn, but he hadn't been listening.

"Oh," he murmured, noting that the woman was eying him expectantly. "Ramen."

"We don't have that."

Naruto sighed, his head dipping a bit lower. "I'll have what she's having," he declared, indicating at the girl beside him. The woman quickly escaped once she wrote down their orders.

Once she left, another wave of drowsiness hit Naruto and he acted accordingly by yawning and rubbing his eyes.

"Why is Naruto-san so tired," the short-haired girl probed suspiciously, "Mira-nee?"

"Will you really join Fairy Tail, Naruto-san?" Lisanna asked, staring at him attentively.

With lips curving upwards, he nodded. "I told you that I would, and I always keep my word!"

The girl grinned at his statement, ran up to him, and gave him a tight hug. Her height barely reached his shoulders, so he patted her head with a laugh. "I'll be at Fairy Tail before you know it. Besides, from what you've guys told me, I'm sure it'll be fun." She released him and went back to the platform beside the waiting train.

Elfman, somewhat livelier since their lunch, spoke next, "You will be a manly addition to our guild." The giant offered his hand, and Naruto heartily shook it.

He stepped beside Lisanna, who quickly pulled him into the train with her. She peeked out from the side, eying both her sister and Naruto, before disappearing.

The shinobi's attention was on the remaining mage now. "Here," she said, handing him a small white envelope, "your cut of the mission."

She silenced his refusal with a glare, so he took it. Naruto could tell that Mirajane was uneasy, if her folded arms and hidden fidgeting were anything to go by. "I don't like goodbyes, so let's agree to meet up again." Smiling, he stretched out his clenched hand, the same way he had done for Elfman.

She reciprocated his smile, and her eyes even glimmered in appreciation. She reached out to Naruto's hand, brushing his knuckles against her own. The mage then turned around and slowly walked away.

"See ya soon, Mirajane," he called out to her retreating form.

Her progression stalled, and she sent him a fleeting look. "My friends call me Mira," she sounded back. As soon as she said those words, her pace restarted with sudden vitality, and she vanished into the train.

Naruto continued watching, even as the vehicle whistled loudly and started moving. He could have sworn that he saw Mira staring at him through one of the windows. The train was moving further and further away, and only once it vanished from his sight did he realize that his face was hot. Shaking his head, Naruto turned around, wondering why a kind girl hid herself behind such a strange persona.

He took a step forward, and the world around him darkened. The blue sky became pale, the cheerful people abruptly displayed their tire and stress, and the solitude he'd grown accustomed to returned. It was then that he remembered something.

Hailed as one of the strongest shinobi of his era, he was Uzumaki Naruto, former Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato, the man who lived only to establish peace.

The city that he began seeing, the very streets he had once walked through were different. The people he saw now, they were less desolate than the ones from his memories. Toil was, he learned, a constant in every person, but despite all of that, the smiles of the individuals here were untainted by wars, fear, or hatred.

It made him realize something: even if there were a way to do so, he didn't want to go home. He didn't want to see the faces that hid their pain. The war they won did not incite even a single step in the direction of Jiraiya's peace. It just made it all worse. In the end, nothing was gained; there were only losses.

This time wasn't one without belligerency. It was much simpler than that.

This was a time without the Bijuu – a time where struggle for power was not reliant on nine beings that could be forced to relentlessly destroy everything.

With a conflicted heart, the Rokudaime moved on, toward the forest that had hidden him for centuries. Now, the answers he sought only bore factual value.

But, no matter what... home was still home. It will always be.

The leaves and the trees were all a moving blur as he sped through the forest, searching for the trail of ruin. The only sound that reached his ears was that of the streaming wind.

His speed lessened as splintered trees were unveiled by the woodland. Then he saw the two thick logs that the beast had been swatting. This was the place.

Had it been possible to do so, the shinobi would have already found the remnants of any chakra, but the diffused energy he had noticed once he awakened in this time dulled his unexceptional sensory skills; he just couldn't find the chakra that indubitably existed. This was probably the Eternano that Mira had mentioned. He curiously wondered how it would look from a Byakugan's perspective.

His eyes met a spot with a piece of shabby dark material – that was likely the detached arm of his jacket. He strolled to the cloth with low expectation and nudged it with his foot. There was nothing here. With such a close proximity to the site, even Eternano couldn't dull all traces. If it could, there would be at least some sort of evident indication.

Naruto shut his eyes, deciding to reach out to nature.

What he found was irritating. This airborne disease was even obstructing his connection to natural energy. The life around him definitely had it, but the problem was linking to it. It was difficult to pull the natural energy through the present Eternano. His body lowered itself down to sit, and his legs crossed over.

He breathed slowly and listened to the rustling leaves and the crying birds. He cleared his mind of the traitorous thoughts that compelled him to just leave this repulsive forest and run to the place called Fairy Tail, where he heard that people simply didn't care. He could freely indulge in ignorance and forget everything that was wrong...

I am Jiraiya's pupil; I have inherited his will. For the sake of everyone who fought, I won't be selfish. I can't renounce my duty. If my answer wasn't good enough... then I'll find a new one! If... if there's such a thing as peace, I will find it! I won't give up!

His pull strengthened; the world in his heart was suddenly brighter, and his emptiness was just a bit less empty.

The tendrils of nature weakly responded and gradually traveled to him. He wasn't used to having to guide natural energy yet, but he would surely be able to eventually. Back home, all he had to do was concentrate and tug hard enough, and it would answer his call and enter him.

In just a moment of distraction, the advancing natural energy jerked far away. Naruto glared up at the individual who caused the sound of crunching twigs.

He was clothed in a strange black and white outfit; it was skin-tight and had a series of three holes on the sides of his hips and shoulders. His tousled, moderately-long hair was a flawless blue, and his light face had an eerie reddish marking that went vertically across his right eye.

The teen, who Naruto assumed was close to his age, had a dark smile behind his welcoming face. He kept walking forward, stopping just before the watchful shinobi.

He extended his hand down to Naruto, who cautiously accepted it and rose to his feet, stepping away.

"My name is Jellal," the newcomer paused as an unpleasant grin spread over his branded face, "and I wish to build a world of true freedom." Fingers spread, Jellal's hands rose to his sides. His dark brown eyes were wide and gleeful. "I would like you to join me!"

"Look," Naruto muttered, "I don't want any part in your little plans. I make it something of a habit to oppose madmen and their world domination schemes instead."

His fingers curled into fists, and he tipped his head to the side, proclaiming, "The Eternano hidden within your body is capable of advancing my plans, so I suppose I will force you to come with me."

"Are you not listening to me?" Naruto droned while his thoughts raced. This guy was probably after the fox's chakra – he must have detected it when it was used in the fight against Elfman, but was it that similar to Eternano?

"However, before I take you, you shall be tested. The numbers that were transcribed are unbelievable," Jellal paused, his body began emitting a yellow light. "Forgive my lack of fidelity, but you are just one man."

Naruto realized that the weight that crushed his shoulders was slightly mitigated. "Was it really that simple?" he asked himself. "Was it all just because I lost my faith?" He inhaled as much of the unexpectedly sweet air as his lungs permitted. Naruto's lips twitched into a smile. "I'm feeling pretty good," he said, "I hope you'll give me a grade once your little test is done. That is, if you're still conscious by the end."

I missed this.

His foe cackled loudly and flew at Naruto with his enhanced speed.

It doesn't matter where or when, but the nature of humans will always remain the same.

A fist was aimed at Naruto's cheek, but he parried it with a quick swipe of the hand, brushing off the residual stinging in his palm.

We'll always looks for ways to ease our pain or to erase that which caused it, and there will always be those of us who bring about strife.

Naruto leaned back and twisted, sending a side kick at Jellal's neck, but he disappeared before it contacted.

All that happened back home... I couldn't deal with it – I couldn't get rid of the misery.

Naruto heard a crazed laugh from behind him and twirled around, reclining his head to avoid a kick that left a current of nose-tickling air. Jellal's hard punch followed to his chest and Naruto's head surged forward from the force but was then diverted to the side by a hook to his jaw.

He fell to the side, halting his descent by a firm hand on the crunching ground. Springing backwards, Naruto landed a glancing blow to the mage's chin.

Sasuke's pain, Nagato's pain – I didn't have to imagine it anymore, because I experienced all of it first-hand.

"You're pretty fast," Naruto commented, wiping away the blood rolling from his lip. Glancing down at his chest, he found that his armor was cracked. "You hit hard, too. I guess I can't just play around with you." A dim blue light radiated from Naruto when a surge of chakra flooded through him.

I lost who I was; I didn't see a way that I could continue on.

Jellal sneered, "I'll make sure you don't get up next time." He took off once more, his body burning even brighter. He was before Naruto in an instant, flinging a strike at his shoulder.

Naruto shifted his hips and twisted before the attack landed. Jellal vanished and manifested mid-flight on the other side, sending a high kick at the back of Naruto's head. He quickly dropped down to avoid it, only to see his shadow darken once the glowing mage loomed above him with a powerful chop aimed at his neck.

Rolling out of the way, Naruto grabbed the wrist of the mage's slashing arm and jerked it down. He followed up by propelling his legs up and smashing a hard uppercut into the side of the mage's face with his other hand. Despite the ear-splitting crack, Jellal broke out of the hold and caught both of Naruto's arms in his hands and swiveled his airborne body, crushing a knee below Naruto's ear.

Much was sacrificed because of me... my response was natural...

Naruto lurched ahead, but Jellal didn't drop to the ground. He was already driving a spinning kick that was intended for breaking jaws. Naruto responded by falling forward, barely avoiding the attack, and caught the mage's other, curled leg in his hands.

Naruto launched his body up with a hard push from one leg and, displaying his impressive flexibility as he arced his back, stomped mage's face with the other.

But I won't let it hold me back any more. They trusted in me.

As Jellal careened backwards, Naruto hammered his gut with a fist, causing him to gasp loudly, drops of saliva spewing from his mouth. Once they hit the ground, Jellal's head bashed against a tree and cracked the wood, courtesy of the still-active Meteor.

So... I'll move forward...

Naruto rose, pulling himself off of Jellal, and shuffled away, his hand caressing his sore neck.

To convince myself... that I'm... that I'm still the one they all believed in!

"That hurt," the mage snarled, sitting up and rubbing his bleeding nose, "that fucking hurt!"

Jellal rocketed to his feet, wooden shrapnel falling about him. "Bind Snake!"

Naruto cried out once the spell was activated. Red marks emerged on his uncovered skin, following after a head; they traveled across his body, loosening his muscles and constricting his movement. His limbs were resisting his orders; it was difficult to breath. Naruto's knees were bent, his legs were barely sustaining him, his arms were monotonously swinging at his sides, and his head was dipped.

A sinister smile was on Jellal's face. "You accepted it, don't you remember? I offered you my hand and you took it." Jellal cocked his fist back, his middle and pointer fingers unbent, and stretched it to its full length behind him.

From the mage came a flaring blast, roughly the same height as its caster. Panting, Naruto raised his eyes to examine the incoming sphere. Fighting his contravening body, he thrust forth an open palm to collide with the ground-tearing projectile. He gathered chakra in his hand: spinning, adding power, and rotating.

Jellal's attack halted immediately when met the immeasurably smaller ball of blue in Naruto's trembling hand. Briefly fighting for dominance, the hastily-formed Rasengan prevailed, contorting the raw Heavenly Magic into a misshapen whorl. The unstable emulation, incapable of matching the shinobi's technique, started spreading from the back and then ruptured in quick succession, raising dirt and leaving a parabolic imprint on the earth.

The Rasengan in Naruto's palm whisked away as his ribs were squeezed by the creeping serpent. He labored to flood his depleted lungs with air, but the slithering encumbrance was obstructing his craving. His neck and head pulsed; it felt like his head would pop off – but his brain worked.

If this were anything like a real snake, the constriction over his chest would have been blocking off his veins and inducing a heart attack. What he was feeling now, it was merely the tension of his own muscles pressuring him. His heavy breathing must have accounted for most of his muscle usage once the spell was activated, drawing the brunt of the compression to his chest.

This was similar to the Jubaku Mandara, but, this time, it was not his power against that Fuma clan mutant's – it was his own against his own. The amount put in trying to break free would be the same amount that returned to press him.

There had to be limits – limits that Naruto wanted to expose: perhaps there was a time limit that depended upon the amount of energy placed into the snake, or it could possibly lose out against his muscles in a battle of attrition if the conversion from his resistance to its exertion was unequal.

Could all of the stress be redirected to, say, an arm if he managed to strain it enough? There was also the chance that the snake fed off of the additional heat that was produced when he struggled.

Each of those options was viable because this spell was never meant to be offensive. Eventually, it would be unable to sustain itself if he fell unconscious, so it was not life-threatening.

Cursing, Naruto dropped back, thumping against the earth: he had to be at rest to reclaim his body. From his recumbent position, he saw Jellal above him, grinning wildly.

It was meant to buy time, after all.

The choking force left him; Naruto purposed to get the hell out of the way. Jellal, however, spotted his attempt. The mage's brows wrinkled in a mixture of disgust and anger. "Ultear," he snarled, "hold him down!"

Naruto's eyes widened, and he swore again – he didn't even suspect the possibility of a second attacker; just because he couldn't feel anyone didn't mean that no one was there.

That was an error befitting of that hyperactive brat who got tied to a stump, not a Hokage.

The ground beneath him began crumbling. He started to sink into the dirt, but it wouldn't exactly hinder him... this wasn't something that he couldn't escape, but there was the chance that this insane fool had given up on "capturing" him.

Besides, if he were to subdue Jellal, then what? Who was this guy? He appeared to be a tyrannical psycho, but appearances had really been sucking lately. If he were some influential member of some upper ranks, then Naruto could have it all turned against him.

Becoming a criminal in this country was not the way he wanted to start out.

Looks like I'm not gonna get a grade.

To Naruto's surprise, suddenly sprouting vines wrapped around his arms and legs, preventing movement. They thickened at an absurd pace, growing darker and harder.

He brought his focus back to Jellal, eying him as he crossed his hands and raised them above his head. A sharp, whistling gust that unsettled branches erupted around the man. At the tips of his fingers was an expanding black vortex – it was drawing the shadows of the very forest toward it, the dark threads of which spun into the growing orb.

Naruto could tell that whatever that attack was, it was extremely powerful. It was dense: it was like a number of Rasengan crushed together. He didn't know what this attack was capable of, but he wouldn't find out.

Wind streamed to his tangled limbs; the currents flowed out and gyrated around the small stumps that shackled him. They ate nearly half of the wood until randomly disappearing.


Naruto's eyes widened as he saw blitzing sphere. It wasn't close to him, but he could feel how sheer gravity deterred his movements. This thing was a death blow. He couldn't allow Kurama to surface this late – Jellal obviously decided that he wasn't worth keeping alive.

His winds were somehow consumed – he wouldn't allow that a second time. Gritting his teeth, he sent his elemental affinity through every single one of his tenketsu.

A gale stormed around him, eviscerating both lumber and rock.

Naruto watched the round night sky beset him.

"Kaze no Yoroi."

"This was what I came for, Ultear?" Jellal inquired heatedly, inspecting the destroyed grounds. Hewn trees, severed branches, and shredded leaves all lay drawn to the depressed, round basin. A sparse layer of dust was carelessly hovering in the whole vicinity. "I'll overlook this blunder. Any more, and I will absolve you of your service."

He turned away from her. Haughtily, he said, "I expect you to be in Era by the morning."

Ultear bit the inside of her cheek, her eyebrows furrowing. An arrogant fool – just the way she wanted it. Her possession was still working perfectly.

Her eyes trailed to the crater: to the dent within it. Perhaps she exaggerated. The boy used wind magic, so it was potentially possible that he could manipulate the Eternano to compress and somehow affect her information; but such control was almost unheard of, especially with that branch of elemental make.

While it was a shame that he had died, she fulfilled her objective thanks to him.

Jellal was – and forever would be – her pawn.

Oshibana Station

"Mira-nee! There was just a Lacrima-Vision broadcast from Clover!"

Mirajane raised her eyes curiously and was about to speak, but she was cut off by her sister's cry, "They say something hit deep in the forest: some think it's a meteor, but no one saw it fall!"

"Hey – isn't that where..." Elfman uttered, nervously glancing at his shocked elder sister.

"T-the forest...?" she whispered. "It hasn't even been an hour – I'm sure he's okay; he probably didn't even get that far in yet."

"Elf-nii and I are fine now; we can get home on our own," Lisanna said with a strained smile, "so you should go help Naruto-san find what he's looking for."

Mirajane nodded idly and took off in a search for a returning train.

"We'll wait for you and Naruto-san at Fairy Tail!"

Mirajane growled; it was taking too long. She wasn't fast enough without her Take Over.

A partially translucent, purple vein stretched from the right side of her forehead, over her eye, and down to her jaw line. Besides being covered by a dull green tinge, the skin on her forearms also solidified; and her formerly flowing white hair lost some of its pliancy.

Her speed increased significantly; the very grass beneath her feet was razed as she approached the forest.

There were no traces of Naruto anywhere. She told herself that he wasn't involved with whatever that 'meteor' was, but deep down, she knew.

It definitely wasn't a coincidence.

Mirajane froze. She finally found the site...it was chaotic. There was a massive bowl in the terrain; the upper rim was above the original level of ground.

Reluctantly, she stepped into the perfect circle. In the center – and she trembled when she saw it – was a further indentation. It was big enough to fit a man.

She went the whole distance, to the very ditch. It about two feet deep; inside was a mixture of soil and cobblestones. Dirty fingernails and fingers jutted from the middle of the various trashes. Mirajane never noticed her loud gasp or labored breathing.

She slumped down to ground, her bare stomach flat on the curving earth. Her shaking hands reached down to grip the subdued man's fingers.

They were warm.

Her eyes widened and an almost-laugh rose from her throat. Her fierce features regressed, and she carefully slid down the hole and cautiously began to extract the arms. They came easily enough and she tugged harder. Shoulders; and blonde locks, engorged with filth; and a nose; and a head; and a chest; and he was warm and alive.

She snickered as she seated herself on the moist dirt above where his lap or legs would've been. One arm was around his back, holding up his torso. The other worked to wipe away the grime over his eyes and face.

"You're doing weird things to me..." Naruto mumbled, revealing his blue irises. Quickly, he cocked his head to side and spat, trying to get rid of whatever got crammed into his mouth.

He looked around him, scoping the earthly walls. His attention returned to the girl inches in front of him.

She was crying.

"I thought you were dead," she whispered as her second arm circled his back. She then hid her face in his neck.

Naruto figured that the filth didn't matter at this point. He leaned forward and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. His free hand stroked the back of her head in an effort to appease her. "Please," he breathed, "it takes more than that to kill me."

"Are you okay?" she asked, breaking free and staring into his similar blue eyes.

"Second time you've asked me that today. Same answer now." His hand came up, and his unclean thumb – almost – stretched to erase her tears. She didn't care and leaned into his palm anyway, ignorantly smudging her pale skin. "Don't cry," he murmured.

Her tears ceasing, Mirajane stood shakily, bidding Naruto to take her hands. He obliged and with a combined effort, they managed to unearth the rest of him.

Combined effort corresponded with additional momentum.

Naruto whisked into her, jostling her against the short wall, which only served to trip her – it didn't even reach up to the hem of her skirt. Tumbling back, they landed with a merged groan.

Before either of them could comprehend anything – namely, his knee between her legs, her palms against his chest, his hands on either side of her head, and their lips uncomfortably close – Naruto rolled to the side, dropping beside Mirajane.

Turning her head to him, she laughed. "I can't be that frightening."

He glanced at her, sheepishly grinning. "It's not you, it's me."

"Y-you're breaking up with me?"

His reaction was mute.

A soft whirlwind whirred around them, brushing away specks of grime. It began revolving faster and tore away more. Blonde and white hair stirred within the small tornado; clothes gently rippled under the current; and shrapnel from an armored chest flaked onto the ground.

Just as swiftly as they came, the winds dispersed. All that was left was the two much-cleaner people who stood in the midst of the disturbance.

Naruto eyed his attire. His orange pants were ragged shorts. Again. His customized breastplate? Not so much a plate anymore. The tough, black lining – on both sides – was only specked with seamed orange shards. "Gear," he whined, "ruined again!"

He turned to the girl beside him and instantly stepped away in a frenzy of shock. Her luscious tresses, harassed by his impromptu storm, hardly concealed an almost-twitching eye.

"So, 'Demon' Mirajane, huh?" he asked rhetorically. "I sort of see why."

She huffed. "They were shutting down the trains because of fog? Fog! There are tracks for a reason!"

"They called it a hurricane..."

"Yeah, a random hurricane? Bullshit!"

Sighing, Naruto rubbed his eyes. "Okay, okay, but did you have to go that far? I'm sure that guy has a family."

"Then he won't need more kids."

In the mist, they trod alongside the moist tracks. Mira managed to convince – force – the train's engineer to take to them and the other empty cars to Magnolia. When he didn't take them the whole way to the predetermined destination, the guy took a hit to the jewels – not the ones in his wallet. It was both horrifying and morbidly fascinating to Naruto, who tried his best not to wince every time he looked at the girl.

As they neared the town, the haze thickened and it was getting extremely hard to see ahead. Naruto didn't voice his concerns, but he was wary of the air. It didn't feel strange.

That in itself was the problem.

"And we're here!" Mirajane chimed, stepping into an exceptionally dense wall of white. Naruto wordlessly followed her, silently questioning how she could tell.

Circular droplets of water mounted into the sky, up into dark clouds that swirled around a point. The scene in front of them was not Magnolia.

It was nothing. Jagged mountains were visible on the far sides, but the whole ground was covered in a white chalky sand. There was no one here; there was nothing here.

"Wh-what happened...? T-this isn't..." Eyes wide, she was hectically scrutinizing the land.

His words came out in a whisper: "The Eternano's all gone."


Jubaku Mandara – Curse Mandala
Kaze no Yoroi – Wind Armor

Beta-read by Lanky Nathan

Published: 5/01/2012

AN: Yokoso. I've been wanting to say that. I hope you read through this whole thing..

Enter the first arc.

Do remember that this is two years before canon. There's no Gajeel, no Wendy. I had a reviewer comment about me killing off Erza Knightwalker in the last chapter – that's not the case. Assuming her age is the same as Earthland Erza, then I feel she would have been too young to be a captain. The death of the previous one was to set up Knightwalker's position.

I really meant to get this out like three weeks ago, but life has gotten more troublesome: I'll be starting college in fall, you see. That's gonna suck and will probably stunt my writing (assuming I manage to continue writing; hopefully I will). Next... Guild Wars 2! I'll probably be getting it soon and...urhh... hopefully I don't like it too much so I can limit my playing.

The most important factor in all of this is my creativity. I have the general direction of the story mapped out until the current arc. My creativity was probably sapped by a few issues dealing with this arc and some annoying points that will hopefully be revealed before I reach them. Plus, I've never watched more than like ten episodes of Fairy Tail and I started reading in the 220's, so I have to go back and read the chapters to make this arc. Reviews can probably help me, guys, so... as you will.

Huge thank you to FoxboroSalts. He helped me out quite a bit with my fight scene, and our conversing is/was pretty fun. I seriously suggest you check out his Naruto x Fairy Tail crossover – it's top tier. Review him, too. Then he'll write more and release more chapters, and we'll all be happy.

Distance between Clover Town and Hargeon: I believe it's about three hours. You can read the rest of this to see why, but if you're not interested in my thinking and planning, then... yeah. These are parts copied from my convo with Foxboro – I'd say Fiore is definitely no bigger than Spain. It looks like the distance from Valencia to Lerida is about the same as Hargeon to Clover. The distance is probably about 300km(~190miles) without any curving around. If the train's going at 100km/h(~60mph), then it only takes three hours without stops.

Deleted Scene:

"Are you ready to order?"

The elder sister glared at the interloper, who shrank away, but the three siblings ordered. It was finally Naruto's turn, but he hadn't been listening.

"Sake," he stated and released a self-deafening yawn.

The siblings looked at him curiously, and the elder inquired, "You drink?"

"It depends on the situation. The way I see it, two things can happen, both of which are acceptable. Either I finally wake up or I end up getting knocked out." Naruto then noticed the woman still waiting. "And ramen," he added.

"We don't have that."

He looked at her dully. "Screw staying awake," he grumbled, "another sake."

"We don't have that."

"Then how am I gonna get the first one!" he exclaimed, exasperated.

"I told you that we didn't have it the first time," she shot back darkly.

Naruto sighed and just shook his head. "I'll have what she's having," he declared, indicating at the girl beside him. The woman quickly escaped once she wrote down their orders.

"Why is Naruto-san so tired," the short-haired girl probed suspiciously, "Mira-nee?"