Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Fairy Tail.


Chapter 23: Insurgence (X784)

The blond man stood to the side, watching as dozens of uniformed men scurried around, making final tweaks to the large machine standing at the very edge of the floating island they were atop. It was a massive funnel-shaped structure with a dome-shaped mechanism at its base, a tube extending out from the side of the dome. At the end of the tube's opening was a small lacrima, no more larger than the ones used to power a small vehicle.

Stroking his cleft chin, the knight turned to the shorter individual beside him, a middle-aged woman with an oversized lab coat covering her entire body. Before he could speak however, she clucked her tongue in annoyance, glaring at him through her tiny frameless spectacles.

"As much as I appreciate the presence of the Edolas Royal Army to protect us," the freckled woman sniffed haughtily. "I don't need your ignorance disrupting my concentration. Edolas' future depends on the Research Institute's work."

He grinned, unfazed by the insult as he puffed his chest out, pink armour gleaming in the bright midday sun. "I know quite well what's happening here, Alda-san! After all, it is much easier to create lacrimas when we are closer to the source, where the Ethernano is much denser."

"Well, if you know that much," the scientist snapped, her bun of grey-streaked black hair bouncing atop her head. "Maybe you should just shut up and let me do my work in peace!"

The cerulean-eyed knight raised his armoured hands in mock surrender, but his grin refused to fade at Alda's abrasiveness. "Sorry, can't do that! The big boss wants me to check on progress. He's got big plans for all this magic we're collecting!"

"I know very well what Faust-sama wants, Sugarboy," Alda scowled, glaring at the flamboyant captain. "I don't need you to remind me of my own job, thank you very much!"

Before Sugarboy could continue teasing the irate scientist, one of her subordinates ran up to the pair, his afro matte with sweat. He panted heavily as he came to a stop before the lead scientist, holding out a sheaf of papers. Alda snatched it off his hands, waving him away as she clipped the documents to her clipboard, and started flipping through the pages.

"Everything a-okay?" Sugarboy queried.

The scientist shot him a virulent glare, but answered his question. "Yes, it appears everything is working as per normal. We just need to wait for the Anima to stabilise and start absorbing magic. But given the projected size of this Anima, we might need to evacuate people off this island at some point."

"Hmm? Isn't the size of the Anima adjustable? Can't you make it, you know, smaller?" the blond captain asked, scratching his long sideburns as he gazed across the massive floating island. "And this is a pretty big island too…"

"And we all know just how patient Faust-sama is when it comes to his project," Alda lampooned, sneering at the swathes of men that surrounded them.

Choosing to ignore her nigh treasonous words, the pink-clad man stared up at the cloudless sky, the clement weather only disturbed by the large, swirling portal that was Anima. As the portal began to bear fruit, vomiting out thick strands of magic from its bowels, Sugarboy watched as the Ethernano was drawn towards the machine, which was swiftly condensed, building on the small lacrima that acted as a seed. To his knowledge, the machine could even convert people filled with magic into a lacrima. Shuddering, he pushed the disturbing thoughts aside to focus on the massive lacrima that was forming.

Then, the magic that poured forth from the sky began to thin as the lacrima's growth slowed to a standstill. Sugarboy silently admired the bounciness of Alda's subordinate's afro as he ran up to her once more.

"Ma'am, the Anima is closing on its own accord again!"

"I can see that for myself, Helmut," she rolled her eyes, as she began to scrawl illegibly on her clipboard. "Damn it! That's the sixth time this month!"

Now I see why Faust-sama was so anxious for me to come down and see how things were progressing, Sugarboy mused. "Is the problem with the Anima generator? Or is there some foul play involved?"

"We initially attributed Anima failures to early teething problems. But in recent years, we've seen Animas working perfectly fine, then closing themselves without any apparent cause," Alda replied, her voice steeped in frustration.

Before Sugarboy could offer any theories, a dark blob fell through the shrinking Anima. Straining his eyes to identify the fast-moving object, he was thus slow to react as five serrated chains smashed into various crates and boxes of equipment with unerring accuracy. Shouts and hollers filled the air as soldiers scrambled to deal with the unknown threat, almost trampling over the frightened scientists in the process. But no matter how well trained his troops were, Sugarboy felt a sinking sensation as a rapidly spinning disc white and blue energies tore through the sky, and cleaved the lacrima machine summarily.

The pink-clad captain winced as Alda screeched in anger, losing all decorum. Then it was his turn to lose whatever calm he possessed as the disc sang a threnody of death and destruction, painting the ground russet with entrails of unfortunate men and women standing in its path. Then, it swelled into a sphere of slicing winds, and Sugarboy felt queasy as screams filled the air. In an instant, he had lost an entire platoon's worth of men as the sudden attack left a trail of corpses in its wake.

But the insensate attack wasn't over, as the person controlling the chains made landfall, using his chains as anchors to redirect his flight and haul himself to the floating island. Other than being a fellow blond, Sugarboy noted that he had nothing else in common with the man standing in the midst of ruined machinery. Dressed in utilitarian black clothes, he couldn't be more different from the captain of the 4th Magic War Division. The attacker looked wholly unconcerned by the scores of men charging towards him with weapons, and dread filled the armoured man's veins.

The black-clad man moved like quicksilver, his appendages a hypnotic blur as he tore through the elite soldiers like a scythe through wheat. All the weapons and close combat training in the world couldn't help his men against the assaulter as he conducted an orchestra of violence with only fists and feet. With terse instructions for Alda to take civilians off the island, Sugarboy dived into battle with his usual panache.

Throwing himself forwards and gliding along the ground, he let out a whoop that immediately drew the enemy's attention. It failed to distract him enough though, as he jerked his head out of the way of a soldier's lance tip, before smashing his elbow into the chest of the offender. Sugarboy drew Rosa Espada as he slid past his fellow blond, but his iaijutsu was subpar and the attacker was almost prescient as he slapped the flat of his sword away from him with insulting ease. Undeterred, Sugarboy made a sharp turn and leapt into the sky, Rosa Espada raised above his head like a falling guillotine.

A tiny dagger appeared in his opponent's hand out of nowhere, and Sugarboy grinned triumphantly as the two blades made contact, the kunai warping around the edge of his lacrima-imbued sword. Before Rosa Espada could turn it into liquid though, the blade was gone in a close-ranged blast of smoke that blinded Sugarboy temporarily. A hand burst out of the smoke and slammed into his face, powerful fingers digging into his flesh. A wild swing of Rosa Espada was dealt with by a sharp tap to his wrist that sent the blade flying out of his hand and stabbing into the ground.

Vertigo scrambled Sugarboy's senses as the pink-clad captain's head was smashed unceremoniously into the ground. Mental acuity fled the man as his opponent stood over his aching body, and the blond knight wondered if it was the end of the road for him.

Then, his enemy's shadow was replaced by a blinding light that scorched Sugarboy's blond pompadour as it past overhead, the ensuing explosion leaving his ears ringing. Indistinct sounds were all that made up Sugarboy's world until the spots in his vision cleared. Blinking rapidly, Sugarboy wondered what Erza Knightwalker was doing there, but before he could formulate a question, she dragged him to his shaky feet. Shaking his head in an attempt to clear his tinnitus, he watched as his men scrabbled away from a battlefield far beyond their league.

"Thanks for the save, Erza!" Sugarboy grinned widely.

The scarlet-haired lancer scoffed. "Pathetic. You got trashed by some unarmed man in less than a minute. You're lucky I was already coming here to collect you for a hunt."

"Oh? Is the lead time sensitive?" the pink-clad captain asked, keeping an eye on their opponent. He seemed unperturbed by Erza's arrival, casually brushing the dust off his shirt and pants.

"Any lead involving Fairy Tail is time sensitive. But judging by the mark on that man's hand, we might just be able to get new leads," Erza smiled viciously.

Their opponent raised an eyebrow, before flipping his right palm to face them. "You mean this?"

The upside down insignia of Fairy Tail was unmistakable, but Sugarboy felt even more uneasy. "Erza, I don't think this man belongs to the Fairy Tail that we know of. He…he came through the Anima. And with his kind of fighting ability, there's no way we wouldn't have seen or fought him before."

"I don't believe in coincidences," Erza narrowed her eyes as she studied her unmoving target. "Fairy Tail might have established communications with the other world and called for help."

"An Erza hunting Fairy Tail…how unexpected," their enemy remarked nonchalantly, as if he wasn't staring down two captains of the Royal Edolas Army. "But I guess he wouldn't have met anyone here that he's since met, so he probably had no idea too."

"Who are you talking about?" the spearwoman demanded, raising her Ten Commandments into an attacking stance. Her mind worked quickly as she sorted through the possibilities. "Your spy?"

The blond man chuckled softly. "I speak of your prince, Jellal."

"Prince Jellal has been missing for the past seven years…" Sugarboy murmured, before he narrowed his eyes in newfound ire. "You scoundrel! Are you here to negotiate a ransom for our prince? Why now? What motives do you have?"

The alleged kidnapper choked back a laugh, but before he could respond to the pink-armoured knight's questioning, Erza moved. The blond man seemed taken aback by the speed of the crimson-haired warrior, but as the scantily dressed woman stabbed forwards with her wicked lance, he grasped the weapon at the base of the blades. His fist lashed out, a hammer blow to her sternum that drove all the air from her lungs. The blond assailant frowned as her spear glowed white, kicking her in her unprotected abdomen and using the recoil to launch himself away from her and her weapon.

The small explosion did nothing more than ruffle the cerulean-eyed man's hair as Erza snarled, her breath coming in short gasps. A quick glance at her torso showed the signs of their quick skirmish. The sight of her flawless skin marred by red marks seemed to incense the woman, as she transformed the blades of her spear into a large arrowhead, with a thick golden spiral at the base of the blade.

"Let's see you live with this!" she roared, stepping into a mazy run.

Her speed drastically rose with the activation of Silfarion, and the blond seemed unable to track her movements, eyes darting about wildly. She ceased zigzagging for an instant, allowing her opponent's gaze to land squarely on her form before she leapt forward suddenly, her jump boosted by the power of her spear. Twisting her wrist to add power to her thrust, she howled triumphantly as the tip of the lance brushed the thin material of his shirt. Then, he somehow slithered out of harm's way, her attack merely splitting his shirt as he rotated on his heels indolently.

Throwing his right arm out, he continued his spin, rapping Erza on the back of her head as her momentum threw her forwards. Stumbling, she quickly steadied her footing and jerked her arm backwards, heaving the butt end of Ten Commandments at his face. To her annoyance, the man caught the base of her lance in his right palm with no discernible pain, before ducking under Sugarboy's swing of Rosa Espada. He snapped his foot out, tagging Erza's fellow captain on the shin, and followed up with a kick to the side of his torso as Sugarboy lost his footing.

Erza ripped her spear out of their enemy's hand with a rough spin that she aimed low on the return swing, but he casually stepped into her guard with a pirouette, kneeing her in the base of her spine. She continued her swing, hoping to catch his legs, but the blond stepped over her lance like he was merely crossing a puddle of mud. Stomping on the golden spiral, the man smashed Silfarion into the ground, before slamming his heel into her chin, sending her careening into Sugarboy, who ended his attack prematurely to catch his comrade.

Wind howled as the blond intruder threw his palm forwards, a veritable tornado erupting from his hand. Off-balance, the two captains gritted their teeth as they dug their heels in to no avail. Tumbling away from the force of the small gale, they came to a stop a short distance away, disheveled but relatively unharmed. As they got up to their feet, the dimensional trespasser stuck his foot beneath Silfarion, flicking it into his hand. Whistling appreciatively as he scrutinised the craftsmanship, he then tossed Erza her weapon, before slouching in a casual pose.

The crimson-haired lancer snatched the spear out of the air, grinding her teeth as she tried to control her fury. Blood pounding in her ears, it took a lot of effort for the woman to push aside the humiliation and bruised ego to analyse the situation. "You had chances to kill me. Why didn't you?"

The man smiled plaintively. "I've been warned to be less…permanent in the way I deal with opponents."

"Say that to the dozen bodies around us," Sugarboy retorted, as he slowly moved away from Erza.

Erza quickly realised that the pink-armoured man was trying to draw their opponent's attention away from her, the stronger combatant. It was a valid tactic in any scenario, but by doing so it felt as if they were acknowledging the enemy's superiority. That stung her pride, but she swallowed the negative thoughts and surreptitiously dipped into a crouch.

"I was careless," the azure-eyed man replied matter-of-factly, as if they were merely discussing the weather.

"You're a monster," Sugarboy continued to speak, to distract.

"I've been called that many times in life, for various reasons. But you of all people have no right to call me a monster. After all, I'm not the one taking people from another world and turning them into magic for your use," Naruto castigated. "Is death on a battlefield more cruel than death by turning into a power source for an appliance or a car?"

The moment Erza was certain she was out of his peripheral vision, she blasted forwards. Sugarboy followed suit, gliding forwards at speed. But the infuriating man only stuffed his hands into his pockets, spurring Erza on. It was not to be, however, as a growing shadow forced her to skid to a stop before leaping out of the way as something crashed into the ground, sending plumes of dust and smoke into the air.

Seizing the opportunity, the spearwoman quickly transformed the Ten Commandants. A yellow glow enveloped the weapon as it morphed into a turquoise tri-pronged spearhead, an aquamarine orb embedded in the centre. A white orb connected the spearhead to the shaft, twelve poise diamonds surrounding it. Erza thrusted forward, a brilliant white glow heralding the large vacuum wave that launched from the tip of Mel Force.

All the smoke was dispersed instantly, but before her attack could hit whatever had impeded her, the blond man stepped in the way and waved his hand. Her vacuum wave suddenly dissipated, becoming nothing more than a soft breeze that ruffled his hair. Snarling, Erza was about to fire off another blast when she realised that they no longer had just one opponent to deal with.

An ivory-haired woman stood right behind the blond, evidently the one who had dropped in her way previously. She was dressed in some sort of skimpy scaled armour, with clawed gauntlets and thigh-high boots. Chimeric black wings stretched out behind her spiked hair, and a tail waved about lazily. Further back, Erza also noted the presence of another woman, dressed even skimpier than the first. All she could spot was the thin string of a blue bikini top and brown capri pants, along with what seemed like a feathered bag.

The latter looked a little squeamish about the bodies that were scattered around them, while the former merely glared at the blond. "I thought we made it clear not to kill anyone, Naruto."

"Sorry. I didn't think I would lose control of my Rasenshuriken the moment I stepped foot in Edolas," the man identified as Naruto replied guiltily. "I let the rest of the troops run though, and I went easy on these two too."

"Are they going to be trouble?" the elf-eared woman narrowed her eyes at his ruined shirt, power bleeding into the air in a visible miasma.

"Based on what I've seen so far, I don't think so. And even if they are, you need to conserve your magic. It's harder to replenish your reserves here," Naruto warned, as she restrained her power. "Where's Mystogan?"

"He's coming. It's hard to keep the Anima open while trying to go through it," she answered curtly.

"Who are you?" Erza growled, drawing all three interlopers' attentions as Sugarboy quickly checked the skies for the Anima. "Why are you here?"

"You are in no position to demand information from us," the demon-like woman snorted.

"He's through! Let's go!" the other female interjected, as all eyes swivelled to meet the closing Anima and the figure that had fallen through it. The white-haired mage nodded, grabbing her comrade by the waist and flapped her large wings. She cast a quick glance at the blond. "Don't kill them."

"I won't," he promised, as she soared into the sky towards the person who just fell through the Anima.

Erza sorely wanted to blast them out of the air, but that would leave her open against the blond man. The aforementioned man smiled, as he raised both his hands slightly. Dropping into a defensive stance, she watched as a dozen chains sprouted from his palms, burrowing into the ground. Grinding her teeth, she readied to jump, but no chain burst out of the ground to grab her. Ignoring her confusion, she readied Mel Force for a vacuum blast, but a tremor suddenly shook the floating island.

"What did you do?!" Sugarboy whined as he tried to regain his footing on the bucking ground.

"I'm breaking this island," the man responded casually, as his eyes suddenly gained an orange lining and turned yellow.

With a loud rumble, the island lurched and started to sink towards the ground. Eyes widening, the two captains were about to stop Naruto from taking the magic that kept the island afloat when huge cracks splintered the earth. The chains slithered back into the man's hands, vanishing without a trace as he waved a jaunty goodbye, before pointing his palms at the ground. Spiralling blasts of wind launched him skywards as Erza sprinted to where he stood before, pointing her spear at his airborne form.

Sugarboy was beside her in the next instant, grabbing her arm. "Erza! We have to leave! The island is going to crash!"

"Let me take him out first!" she snarled, ripping her arm out of his grip.

"We don't have any more time!" the pink-clad man shouted.

Growling her displeasure, Erza conceded and turned to run towards their Legions, which were struggling against their leashes as they tried to fly away from the collapsing island.

This isn't over, Naruto.

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Pantherlily didn't like the use the word 'hate'. But the diminutive, manipulative old man named Byro was one of those people that Pantherlily could safely say he hated. The man had not a single compassionate bone in his creaking body, and far too often Pantherlily wanted to ignore the cruel orders issued by him. The Exceed often felt a pang of pity for Coco, the little page who had been starstruck by the propaganda that Faust and Byro fed the populace. But he was in no position to decry their misleading ways; there were less ignoble ways to die.

He suppressed a shudder of revulsion as the bald Chief of Staff took his seat beside Faust, his horn-like eyebrows furrowed in frustration for once. That was nothing compared to the thunderous look upon Faust's face, the King of Edolas looking like he was on the verge of committing a murder in rage. Even the purple and white-haired Hughes, so prone to playful teasing of even their king, kept silent under the heavy atmosphere at the meeting table.

Across of the exiled Exceed sat a grim Sugarboy, a look that Pantherlily was completely unused to. The blond man was strange and quirky, even when reporting bad news to an irritable Faust. Yet, he seemed as though the apocalypse was about to destroy Edolas.

At least he doesn't look like he's about to go on a murder spree, Pantherlily noted, casting a surreptitious glance at the captain seated beside him. Erza Knightwalker was palpably angry, her eyes narrowed into furious slits as her fingers tried to dig furrows in the ornate meeting table. Bruises littered her flawless body, her battered pride refusing to cover up the marks of her battle, one that Pantherlily guessed was the purpose of the emergency meeting they were presently at.

The oppressive silence was broken as Faust slammed his open palm on the table, a snarl on his lips. "I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS! Will someone explain to me why the FUCK have we failed to extract magic from the other world…AGAIN!"

"Maybe Sugarboy and Knightwalker should explain," Byro muttered snidely, a pointed look at the wounds suffered by the carmine-haired lancer. "Or maybe they are so incompetent they can't even make up an excuse for their failure."

"It's my fault, sir!" Sugarboy declared, earning sharp looks. "I was in charge of the operation, and I failed!"

"So what happened exactly? Who did the two of you get into a fight with?" Pantherlily grunted, eyes flicking between the pink-armoured captain and Erza.

"He came from the other dimension," Erza replied bitterly, her hands clenching into fists subconsciously. "He…he toyed with us like we were nothing. He was later joined by three more allies, but he didn't need their help."

"This man is very dangerous," Sugarboy stated firmly, cutting off Hughes as the teen opened his mouth to make a disparaging remark. "He was…on par with Erza in hand to hand combat, and when he used spells, I didn't feel him use a single drop of magic."

Faust stood up abruptly, eyes bulging. "WHAT?! Explain yourself, Sugarboy!"

"It's as he says," Erza replied in the blond's stead, staring into her lap. "He used some wind technique without any magic or incantations. He can also manifest chains from his hands which absorb Ethernano. It's how he caused the island to crash."

Sugarboy nodded, confirming Erza's words. "When I first fought him, he also had some equipping spell that allows him to bring out and withdraw weapons at will. And there was this massive…I think throwing star is the most apt description. He created a huge throwing star out of some unknown energy which destroyed the lacrima machine and…cut clean through a dozen men."

Pantherlily swallowed deeply at his fellow captains' haunted tones. But any anxiety he had at potentially meeting a man with such purported strength fled his body with Sugarboy's next words.

"He also claims to know Jellal, our prince," the azure-eyed man reported.

"That's-!" the muscular Exceed exclaimed.

"Enough!" Faust thundered, as Coco quickly hid behind Byro's high seat from the king's fury. "I don't care about that unfilial son of mine. Why didn't the two of you give chase?"

"One of his allies had flight capabilities, and he had some rudimentary flight techniques too," Sugarboy explained. "By the time we managed to get on our Legions, he and his allies were long gone. I decided that it would be useless to track them, especially when we were outmatched."

"We were not outmatched," Erza hissed. "The next time I see him, I'll CRUSH him!"

"Glad to see you have such confidence in your pitiful strength," Byro sneered, reminding the spearwoman of her failure. "But the capture of this man and his allies is now a priority. If he's here to disrupt our operations, then he's a threat that must be terminated. Preferably after I've had a chance to examine his ability to use an alternate energy, of course."

"Take your divisions and find this man. I want him dead or alive," Faust demanded. "All guild hunting operations are on hold until his head is stuck on a pike in the throne room. Fairy Tail can wait."

"Actually…we might want to put some men on the Fairy Tail search," Sugarboy remarked, eliciting several dark looks.

"Why would we do that, Sugarboy?" Hughes asked, bewildered. "Didn't the amazing boss man say we gotta focus on this super amazing guy?"

"He had a Fairy Tail crest on him," Erza answered on his behalf, her top lip trembling in restrained rage. "I think he's in cahoots with Edolas Fairy Tail. They may have found a way to make contact with the other dimension and request for help."

"Fine. The First Division can deal with Fairy Tail then," Faust ordered.

"NO!" Erza rose to her feet, glaring at her king. "Fairy Tail is my responsibility. I'll handle the search."

Faust snorted derisively, unfazed by his war captain's intense gaze. "You failed to apprehend this man, and you've so far failed to deal with Fairy Tail in any permanent capacity. If the two are working together like you suggest, then Fairy Tail might be sheltering this man. I'll need my best man on the case."

"But-!"

"Are you questioning my orders, Knightwalker?" Faust snarled irascibly.

Erza ground her teeth together, but eventually backed down, shaking her lowered head in deference. The king of Edolas harrumphed. "I hope I don't have to remind you of your place again, Knightwalker."

With that, he pushed his chair aside and stomped off, leaving the table draped in an uncomfortable silence. Byro sighed as he stood up, Coco clumsily helping him out of his seat. "Well, what are all of you waiting for? Get to work!"

As the man hobbled out of the room, Hughes yawned exaggeratedly. "What a un-amazing meeting! Ah, I hate people who try and stop us from taking amazing magic! Well, see you suckers around!"

Sugarboy got up with Hughes silently, offering Pantherlily a forced smile and an unresponsive Erza a worried glance before he left with the overly cheerful captain of the 3rd Magic War Division. As the scarred Exceed prepared to leave, he was affixed with a deathly glare from Erza.

"Don't get in my way, or I'll cut you down," she threatened, before striding away.

The exiled cat sighed as he shook his head.

Well, that could have gone better.

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"…And the humans have stepped up troop recruitment again," the elderly Exceed reported, adjusting his armless glasses as he looked up from the documents in his hands. "Estimates are sketchy, but the most recent numbers suggest their army outnumbers ours five to one."

Seated at the head of the table, the white Exceed sighed forlornly as she adjusted the regalia atop her head. Without her flowing dress, excessively large ruffles and assorted accoutrements, the petite Queen of Extalia looked pallid and fragile, frail shoulders weighed down by innumerable worries. "Thank you, Elder Martam."

Martam ran a hand through his thick beard anxiously, exchanging concerned glances with his fellow Elders. Clearing his throat noisily, he was about to speak once more before a brief knock on the lavish double doors that sealed the meeting room interrupted the green-clad Elder. One side of the double doors creaked open, and an Exceed with light brown fur poked her head in. Dark stripes decorated her face, her floppy ears a bit of an anomaly amongst their species.

"My Queen, Nichiya-taichō and Nadi-sama wish to speak to you urgently," the guard said pleasantly, eyes curved into happy crescents. "Shall I ask them to return at a later time?"

Shagotte straightened in her high-backed seat, donning a blank facade as she faced the member of the Imperial Guard. "No, that will not be necessary. Show them in."

Nodding, the Exceed shut the door momentarily, before the doors were opened by her fellow guard and herself. Two more Exceed strode into the meeting room, their expressions cutting a sharp contrast. The first was a tall, black-furred Exceed, with a rectangular head that looked disproportionate on his smaller body. His smile was friendly and disarming as he bowed to his monarch, his hand waving to and fro.

His fellow Exceed, dressed in a red apron with the Extalia army crest printed on the front, looked far more serious. The yellow-furred Exceed too had a large, angular head, although his was less geometrically defined. Doffing his red cap and bowing in concert with the black Exceed, the sword-totting Exceed nodded sharply at his subordinates holding the door open. "Thank you, Denka, Hina."

The two guards acknowledged their superior's thanks with synchronised nods, before shutting the door behind them. Nichiya turned to his queen, his serious visage making Shagotte nervous. "My Queen, we have received some…important news from the humans."

"Yes, indeed! The lacrima machine that the humans use to collect magic was destroyed a few hours ago!" Nadi reported. "A floating island has also crashed, and human troops have been deployed in large numbers soon after that."

"That is troubling," Martam muttered under his breath, before raising his voice. "Do you have anything on the troop movements?"

"Nothing concrete, Elder Martam, but it doesn't look like anything threatening. Not that they can do anything to us Exceed!" Nichiya proclaimed proudly.

The grey-furred Elder fell silent, stroking his beard thoughtfully as he considered the ramifications. As he stewed on the issue, one of his blue-furred colleagues spoke up. "And do you know what destroyed the lacrima machine?"

Nadi nodded, his waving hand moving even more vigorously. "Even the humans don't know, Elder Mejeer. But rumour is that an unknown human did it, possibly a mage."

"That's strange. Magic has been outlawed for years. For a mage to brazenly destroy human property…" Mejeer noted. "Surely there must be something afoot."

"Could the mages be retaliating? After all, the humans have been hunting and killing them for a while now," Nadi pointed out.

"But if they wanted to fight back, surely they would have done so earlier? With their decreasing numbers, it would be unwise to launch an attack now," Martam reasoned aloud, fingers tapping a staccato rhythm on the meeting table. "Or perhaps they are on their last legs, and have no choice."

"It is of no concern to the Exceed," Shagotte declared, truncating the discussion. "Nadi, Nichiya, thank you for your efforts. You are dismissed."

The two Exceed bowed deeply, before leaving the queen and the cabal of Elders alone once more. As the doors slammed shut, Shagotte slumped into her seat, her voice tremulous. "Elders?"

"My Queen, this will delay the conflict with the humans. It may be beneficial for our survival," another blue-furred Elder spoke slowly. Mysdroy then shook his head. "But we must be wary, for we do not know if this unknown individual is also plotting harm against Extalia."

"With the paucity of information, I propose we approach the humans for an official report," Mejeer suggested, to the agreements of the other Elders. "Muganto?"

"It will be done," the purple-furred Exceed nodded.

"We'll need more than just what the humans want us to know," Martam stated solemnly. "Should we send out feelers to find this unknown mage? Maybe we can work something out with him? After all, he did attack the humans first."

"There's no one we can send. We cannot afford to let the prophecy be known to anyone else," Mejeer interjected.

Mysdroy hummed contemplatively. "Perhaps we can issue a communique that will draw that human's attention?"

"Is that our only option?" Shagotte whispered distraughtly, wringing her hands apprehensively.

Martam placed a comforting hand on the queen's, a small smile shifting his beard. "Anything else will risk too much. We cannot let the humans find out about our deception. But if this human mage is capable of launching a successful attack on the humans, then I have hope that he can be the person to save us."

"Indeed, my Queen. Perhaps tonight, you may yet see a different vision of our future, a brighter one," Mejeer continued, eliciting a brittle smile from their beleaguered ruler.

"Thank you for all your efforts, Elders," the white-furred monarch murmured. "I would be lost without your guidance."

"Think nothing of it. It is our duty and our wish to aid you, my Queen," Muganto shook her head. "Shall we draft the declaration then?"

Martam nodded seriously. "Let's do it. There's no time to waste."

Our future depends on it.

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There was plenty to be worried about. They didn't have any intelligence on troop numbers or capability. They didn't know the lay of the land. They had incited quite a huge manhunt, given the scores of men and women scouring the towns for their presence, and the wanted posters. They didn't know if their plan would actually rescue Lisanna, whose whereabouts remain unknown. There was also the small matter of his father masterminding the whole affair, and having to somehow end the massive operation known as Anima permanently.

Nothing really compares to the current elephant in the room though, Mystogan mused, as the group of Earthland mages trekked through the virgin forests that ensconced the towns of Edolas. There was an ethereal quality to the beautiful landscapes that set it apart from Earthland, and Mystogan couldn't help but feel re-enchanted by his homeland.

Cana was similarly enamoured by the glorious vistas that spread before their eyes, but she was even more in tune with the tension that had settled upon them. Mystogan was pretty certain it had nothing to do with the killing of Edolas troops by his mentor, but that only ratcheted up the oppressive atmosphere that was already present before they made the trip to Edolas.

Clashing methods of dealing with enemies aside, the blue-haired Edolas native was clueless as to the source of Naruto and Mira's tension. The blond was being fairly reticent, even by his standards, and tried to tiptoe around Mira rather than rekindle the romance interrupted by so many trials and tribulations. The ivory-haired mage seemed rather offended by his behaviour, and proceeded to utilise the silent treatment in retaliation. It could also be the seemingly aimless manner in which Naruto was approaching a mission to rescue her sister, but Mystogan doubted it was about that either.

With his only source of relationship knowledge coming from Icha Icha and the increasingly dysfunctional one his mentor was currently embroiled in, Mystogan wisely decided not to intercede. The problem wasn't his to solve, and it wasn't affecting the mission yet. Cana was determined to help them fix the problem though, but the unsubtle stares and hand gestures at him weren't helping things along at all.

As night fell, and the illuminated planets loomed large in the darkening skies, Naruto called a halt to their trek for the night. Mystogan resisted the urge to let out a sigh as Cana loudly declared that she would go hunt for food and firewood with him, and dragged the Edolas prince away from the campsite they had settled upon. Allowing the determined young woman to bring him far enough from the camp that they couldn't be heard, Mystogan raised his hands in surrender as she spun around to glare at him, fists on her hips.

"What's the matter with you?" Cana demanded, narrowing her eyes. "I've been signalling for you to help me with those two the entire day!"

"Relationships aren't my forte," the Jellal lookalike mumbled. "I have other things to worry about too, like the mission itself."

Cana huffed, smacking him on the arm. "And you think this isn't going to blow up in our faces eventually? Mira is really annoyed by something, and she's recovered some of that mean streak from before Lisanna disappeared. If Naruto-nii doesn't get his head out of his ass, we'll be stuck in Edolas with no way home and between two quarrelling lovebirds."

"But what can we do besides let them fix it?" Mystogan muttered in exasperation. "Anything we'll do will just increase the tension. Maybe you didn't notice, but you weren't exactly subtle when asking me to help."

"Well, yea, but at least I'm trying!" Cana argued hotly, before sighing at his deadpan expression. "Sorry. I shouldn't be taking it out on you. I just want the best for them, you know? The guild's in a mess because of Naruto-nii, and Mira's been glaring holes in anyone who dared speak ill of my idiot brother. But I think he's hiding something from her again, and it's probably pissing her off."

"Hiding something?" the Sleep Magic user echoed confusedly.

Cana nodded. "Yea! Typical of him really, but I thought he would have learnt that it'll only end up in disaster after the last few times that happened. He's been avoiding talking to her ever since we caught up with you two. He must be trying to keep something from her."

"I'm really not cut out for this stuff, you know," Mystogan said dryly.

"Of course you aren't, you were practically raised by Naruto-nii," the brunette smirked. "And he's the biggest idiot in Fairy Tail when it comes to relationships. Even Natsu's brighter than him. Did he say anything to you before we came here?"

"Nothing you haven't already heard," the prince of Edolas grumbled, having found out about Cana and Mira spying on his conversation with Naruto.

"Hehe, oops?" the Card Magic mage apologised, before scratching the head. "But the only thing that happened after Naruto last visited the guild hall was that Oración Seis mission and, well, his arrest."

"Could it be because he killed those men?" Mystogan offered weakly.

"I think Mira harbours a grudge against anything Edolas after finding out what happened to Lisanna, so she probably felt more satisfied than pissed," Cana shook her head. "Well, except you of course."

"Well, I'm out of ideas then. Maybe something happened on the Oración Seis mission that affects Mira, but Naruto doesn't want to talk about?" the cloaked mage shrugged.

The scantily dressed brunette rolled her eyes. "Well, duh. It must've been a huge mess. Gray got all sorts of pissed at Naruto-nii, and that cat that Wendy brought along wasn't any better. Apparently they fought some evil version of him, which must suck. And then he got arrested right after that. But how does that relate to not telling Mira something?"

Mystogan pursed his lips, staring up at the twilight sky as he tried to put himself in his mentor's shoes. He didn't claim to understand the blond man as well as Cana or Mira did, but he did know a lot more of what Naruto did away from public eye. An inescapable conclusion struck him, and he stifled a sigh. He briefly wondered if all relationships had to be so complicated. He really wasn't cut out for this relationship thing. Perhaps I should ask my father to arrange a marriage or something, once all of this is over. Saves me the trouble.

"Maybe because he's a criminal now, so he doesn't want to trouble Mira anymore?" the man inferred.

Cana's eyes widened in shock as she connected the dots as well. "You mean…he wants to break up with her?"

"I wouldn't put it past him to do that," Mystogan admitted.

"Well, then we'll just have to make it clear to him that's the dumbest idea ever," Cana declared determinedly, as she began walking briskly back to the campsite.

Mystogan's hand shot out in panic, snagging her by the wrist. "Wait!"

"What? We gotta get this stupid idea out of his knucklehead, pronto!" Cana growled.

"We don't even know if that's what's really happening. Besides, now that they are alone, maybe they'll get through it themselves," Mystogan reasoned. "And we actually do need firewood and food, so we might as well give them a bit more time."

"Fine," Cana harrumphed. "But if nothing gets fixed by the time we get back, then I'm going to have to knock some sense into Naruto-nii."

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Naruto and Mirajane sat across a fire pit that the man had dug, the silence between them punctuated only by the chirping of crickets. With Cana volunteering Mystogan and herself to hunt for food and collect firewood, the other two members of the party were left with nothing to do but converse. The words refused to come out though, as the ivory-haired mage steadfastly refused to speak first, while the blond found it difficult to vocalise the storm of thoughts swirling deep in his mind.

As Naruto averted his eyes from Mirajane's sharp gaze for the fourth time, he realised how pathetic he was acting. He desperately wanted to wait until the mission ended before he confronted the issue, but it didn't seem to be an option anymore. She had picked up on him wallowing in his guilt, and the heavy atmosphere was beginning to get toxic. He had spotted Cana signalling at Mystogan about them, which was as blatant a sign as any.

As his heart hammered an anxious beat in his chest, he wondered when holding a difficult conversation with the woman he loved became more difficult than fighting a godlike enemy threatening to destroy the world. Maybe Ero-Sennin was on to something with that playboy bachelor thing he had going on.

"Mira," he choked out, his voice scratchy. "We need to talk."

The woman straightened her back as he spoke, her hands clasped atop her knees. "Yes, we do."

"I…I've broken your trust," he whispered, barely audible above the sounds of the forest.

Mira narrowed her eyes as she evaluated the shinobi, his hunched posture and nervous disposition ringing alarm bells in her head. "This isn't about your promises to me."

"No," Naruto swallowed, meeting her scrutinising stare. "I slept with Erza."

He suppressed his reflexes ruthlessly as she slammed him against a tree, stars bursting in his vision as her transformed arm crushed his throat. Power wafted off her body as she snarled at the blond, Naruto digging his fingers into his palms as he accepted her violent reaction wholly. Her voice was rough from the partial transformation and her intense emotions as she glared daggers into Naruto's cerulean orbs. "You're not lying."

The ninja twitched as his lungs burned. "N-No."

"Why? Why would you do something like that?" Mira hissed, blinking rapidly as she tried to hold back her tears. Her arm slowly lost the gauntlet of her Satan form as her grip on his neck loosened. "Why are you hurting me again? Is this your way of trying to break up with me now that you're a fugitive? Do something so extreme that I'll never be able to forgive you? IS THAT IT?"

"I h-had to…atone," Naruto coughed, struggling to meet her furious, teary gaze. "I h-hurt her, s-so badly."

"And sleeping with her was the solution?!" Mira shouted, as her hand dropped. She clutched the cloth above her heart as the tears slid down her cheeks, glistening in the moonlight. "Do I mean nothing to you?"

"It wasn't," Naruto answered miserably. "But if I denied her, she…she would have been broken. I…I caused that, on the mission. I had to do…something. I couldn't…shirk my responsibility."

"And what of your responsibility to us?" Mira scorned, laughing mirthlessly as she sunk to the ground bonelessly. "You…You tried to keep Erza in one piece, but you broke my heart again. There's…a limit to how much I can take, you know? My heart can only…mend so many times before it's…broken forever."

"Once…Once we save Lisanna," the blond began, his throat constricting in guilt. "…I will leave. You won't have to see me again."

The ivory-haired woman chuckled sadly, her soulful stare freezing him in place. "So that's it then? You break my heart, and run away? Again? Is…Is running away all you know?"

"I never fulfilled my duty to us," Naruto stated sombrely. "You…You gave me so much, but I only took from you. I can't…give you what you deserve."

"I don't need anything but us. Stay," she pleaded brokenly, as her hands clutched the dirt beneath her fingers. "Give back. Stop running away. I can't…I can't take this…anymore…"

The shinobi kneeled, wrapping his arms tightly around the inconsolable woman. She buried her face in his chest, clutching his shirt desperately as her juddering cries were muffled in his embrace. His own tears ran freely as he pressed his lips to the crown of her head, apologising under his breath over and over. There was no catharsis to be found under the twinkling night sky as they cried their hearts out, only a profound sense of emptiness as their heightened emotions slowly ebbed away.

Mira broke free from Naruto's hug reluctantly, puffy red eyes meeting his mournful gaze. "I…I cannot forgive you so easily this time."

"I know," he murmured, hesitantly brushing away a stray tear from her cheek. His leaden heart lightened as she didn't push him away. "Is there a way to earn your forgiveness?"

Aquamarine orbs met azure.

"Time."


Author's Notes: Uploaded on Valentine's Day for the irony. I hope your relationships are in good shape, if you are in one. As Christian Grey might say, Naruto is fifty shades of fucked up. But he definitely makes love, not fucks hard.

Those are actual lines from the books by the way. I hope my attempts to write romance aren't nearly that bad.

Anyway.

Those with sharp eyes and sharper memories might notice that Naruto seemed to be able to deal with Knightwalker's Silfarion when previously, he couldn't really track Scarlet's Flight Armour speed (which is equal to Silfarion). That's because Knightwalker used a basic jump thrust rather than something like Sonic Claw, which she telegraphed when she prepared to jump at him. After that, he stayed in extreme close range, which forces Knightwalker to compensate and slow down as a result. It's an illusion of speed rather than true speed.

And I shall preemptively state that Sugarboy is NOT Naruto's Edolas counterpart.

A hint to my major plot twist thingy was planted this chapter. Have fun! ;)

It's hard to believe that this is (nearly) the two-year anniversary for La Tormenta on this site. Also, La Tormenta has broken 2000 favourites/follows, despite the mediocre early chapters and the many, many things that seem to divide opinion. That's WAY beyond what I ever could have dreamed of when I started this journey. So thank you all for your fantastic support!