♛ | ECHOES [ Gajeel ]
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The swamp began to wilt and dry up. He was stunned at first, then angry when trees began to fall over. Some of them morphed into wet, mossy doors with windows, expanding into small huts, then towering buildings. The dense, murky waters and muddy land seemed to shrink until dirty asphalt peeked through. Human society was intruding on his side of the world, his territory. He hated that there was nothing he could do to stop it all from happening.
Pungent fumes made his nose twinge; smoke was billowing from pipes and restaurants. Even the cities that housed his enemies were falling apart quicker than he could move. It never occurred to him that he could use reiatsu to create footholds in the air. As though he had forgotten. Bounding higher, further, he began to move with a purpose.
One part of the world was still unaffected by the concrete jungle of bright lights, towering skyscrapers and bustling vehicles. The snow-capped mountains of Sia began to rise up as houses and buildings spread further and further apart, then disappeared. Anyone without protective gear couldn’t venture into the frigid mountains, that was even better.
Hunkering down on a dry patch of rocks, he tucked his hind legs beneath his knees. This was his new favorite spot to be alone, away from the city. He couldn’t remember why the hell he ever felt the compulsion to join a faction of humanoids and came to the irritable conclusion that the scientists were involved again. It was another trial, another game to see how everyone would react.
A hint of moisture touched his face, chilling the base of his tongue when he breathed in the cool air. A body of glistening water churned at the bottom of the mountains, waves gently crashing against the rocks. This was alright. Slowly leaning back, he decided to sit rather than crouch. He stretched out on his side, chin pressed against a folded arm. Both eyes gradually seemed to weigh more than anything he’d ever lifted. When five minutes passed, he was already sleeping like the dead.
The first agonizing lungful of frigid water distracted him from the greater implications of appearing in a flash of light at the bottom of a lake: that it had worked, that he was back, that after months of grumbling and toiling over the concept of ‘rifts’ and ‘parallel universes’ and the help of nearly the entire guild, he had somehow managed it. He had returned to Hive City – or at least, had been transported somewhere very far from home. But at the moment, he cared only for the searing pain of ice water in an otherwise warm body, and propelled himself instinctively for the surface – or rather, the faint glimmer of light above him which he could only assume to be the surface. The crown of his head collided with a thick layer of ice. He recoiled, pumped his arms, and slammed his skull once again against the hard, frozen barrier.
Hard headed, they called him.
One more time, he thought, and rammed again.
With a sound like Hell overflowing, the glassy surface of the lake exploded, and Gajeel surfaced like a leaping shark, gasping air past pointed teeth. Wheezing, he forced his recalcitrant limbs into motion, instinctively stemming the waters, reaching for land, air, freedom from the icy lows that instilled him with the creeping suspicion that his muscles had frozen solid to the bone. Strong fingers sank into the crisp earth. With a heave, he pulled himself half from the surface of the lake – and then recalled.
“… Shit!” The rift, the spell, the teleportation – “Shit, shit!”
He sucked a deep breath and plunged again into the icy depths, clawing his way as though through fabric until the surface was again a mere twinkle above his head. In vain he searched for any sign of the world from whence he’d come – some rift, some portal, some tear between the fabric of this world and the next. Fruitlessly, he thrashed until his muscles seized and constricted in the cold, until his lungs began to burn, and necessity forced him to the surface again – thoroughly frozen, thoroughly pissed, and clawing once again for the shore. In so much as he had managed to return, his efforts had been a success – but the greater plan, to create a permanent rift through which he and his fellow guild mates could travel at will, had failed.
Hauling himself onto dry land, he crouched and rubbed the circulation vigorously back into his limbs, cussing his nerves as they trembled. “D-damned if any s-self respectin’ dragon slayer ever died of hy-hypothermia. Crap. Where’s the d-damn rain woman when ya need her?” A hot shower sounded good. Gajeel entertained the notion, focused on the idea of heat – fire, blood, coal, the sun, even that damn Salamander – and forced himself to his feet.
A bitter wind blew flecks of snow against his cheeks. Around him, snowy bluffs and rocky outcroppings raised their jagged points towards a pale sky. “… Where the hell am I?” Gajeel stuffed his arms into a tight embrace about his chest and sniffed, seeking any trace of ore hidden in the rocks beneath his feet. But the icy air nipped his nose and numbed his senses. He picked a direction. He trudged. Snow furrowed and fell away around his thick black boots. If he could get a good view of his surroundings, he thought, it would be easier to get his bearings.
Freezing my ass off—
He growled. Again, he trudged, for what seemed an eternity. Gradually, the snow began to thin. An outcropping of wind-polished boulders invited his weary steps. Shivering, he drew closer, lifted his weary feet, took one false step—and suddenly kicked something oddly soft, and tumbled face-first into the snow. He felt the earth beneath him give, and dug his fingers into a rocky crevice just in time to save himself from plummeting straight off the edge of a sheer cliff. His muscles still twitched with the cold as he attempted to pull himself up, swearing, kicking. “Damn it! What now!?—“ A sharp pause. A familiar pair of ears, a familiar row of teeth, a familiar pair of glinting eyes gazed down at him.
“You—!” he snarled suddenly, “Ya bastard cat! This—this is all your fault in the first place! Nrrgh…” Shoulders stiffened. “—Don’t just sit there like a lump! Pull me up!”
The lake isn’t much to look at, with a murky yellow tinge bleeding into crimson brown as pipes dumped potentially harmful chemicals. Small, vague shapes of dirt and trash swam around. It’s quiet enough until one of the pipes started spitting out mud and some kind of creature decided to emerge. Since that incident with the Pariah, more monsters probably lived in the filth, coming out to feed. It’s not until the creature actually stands up and moans, giving him a better view, that he recognizes him.
"You been eating shit all this time?"
Gajeel growls, scraping dirt off his knees. He cracks his knuckles and neck, nostrils thick with the funk of chemicals and rust. When he turns, it’s a familiar face he sees, though the words are less than welcoming.
"Heard ya started gettin’ old while I been gone. Better watch out. The way ya run your mouth, your jaw’ll be the first thing to start gettin’ arthritic." He stretched his arms above his head, inhaling an irritated, sore breath, then released as his fists dropped back to his sides. A crimson gaze flashed sternly over his shoulder. "… What’d I miss?"
♛ | Moth to Flame. [ event / open ]
When the warning broadcast cut out and power across the tremendous city seemed to die with it, he had to take a moment to adjust. An uproar of frantic voices rose in the streets. Cars shrieked to a halt, parked haphazardly. Some engines were still rumbling as people stepped out to look at the sky. After a year of strange occurrences, annoyances, fatal accidents and humans having to clean up their own messes, what’s total darkness? But it wouldn’t be that simple.
While people seemed to be gathering in groups or going their separate ways, using the lights on their vehicles to drive off, the ground began to tremble. Agitated groans and snarls spilled out of an opening somewhere, followed by the ominous battering of feet as they seemed to disperse. A current of eager anticipation rolled through his chest. Another monster? Whatever they were, they were strong enough to slaughter anything in their path. Frightened, agonized cries of victims broke out, only to be silenced by the noise of snapping and crunching bones, wet, fleshy ripping. There’s no telling how smart they are, simple brutes weren’t fun to mess with for too long. The creatures move together in a pack when they begin to shamble down his street.
A crackle of bright red light flickered in the darkness. His arm stretched out before him, fingers spread. He intended to gauge how easy it would be to kill them. Like a bloodthirsty sun, the light gradually swelled larger, taking exactly four seconds until a sphere stretched wider than his open palm.
Time seemed to slow down for the feral Pariah. They took a moment to furiously scrutinize the shock of light. To them, it’s not the same light they worshiped, but it seemed to be enough to make them pause in wonder. It tempted them to draw nearer, briefly settling the vicious aggression. They wouldn’t know about the fatal energy about to spill from his palm, but it’s still not their light. This light wouldn’t fool them. By the time they decided to simply close in and swarm the source, he already released the blast.
"Heh. Ugly motherfuck—"
The wave of weakness and nausea was so sudden that he staggered. He felt as though someone deliberately put pressure around his head, bearing against his skull from every angle. It spread to his stomach, legs, arms, tearing the strength from a body that was meant to be robust. His knees trembled, no longer able to support his weight, and he collapsed. Lips quivered and he violently retched onto the pavement.
Of course this would happen, it’s too damn close to something the scientists brought upon him before. It’s not an accident, it’s an experiment. He’s more furious than he is surprised, seething through clenched teeth. The resentful, homicidal rage of memory came roaring back.
"Shit!!" Speaking made it worse. After dry heaving once, twice, he tried to move.
Gajeel kept one hand on the curved cement wall. Below him the teasing trickle of fetid water played echoing chimes against filmy, tongue-damp brick, crevices leaking tea-dark liquid into the murky runoff. Against the smaller sounds, the sewers swelled like pipe-organs with the intermittent groans and bellows of marauding creatures, echoing vacuously now from one tunnel, now the next, dissolving back into the constant ‘shush’ of the running waste, then eerily repeating in further recesses, until the tunnels churned with noise like the bowels of a living creature. June-humid and reeking of human shit.
Gajeel altered his course with probing eyes and rigidly measured breath. In the wider tunnels, the filth ran in neat channels down the center, and he could walk on the dry brick banks on either sloping side. In narrower tubes, he turned sideways. When he heard, in the unplumbed darkness, breathing that was not his own, he altered his route and with stalwart determination, reminded himself that first-responders could not choose whether they arrived reeking or fragrant. Now and then he passed beneath a manhole, which beamed a dot of light on his shoulders like the eye of a laser, and flickered as it was trampled by stampeding feet. Filtered through the thick metal covers, panicked voices muddled distantly together, like the world in a seashell. It was only by chance that one struck him as familiar.
He found himself climbing the precarious, rectangular iron rungs towards the surface. Grimmjow’s strength and perseverance were formidable. He had faith. But he had also a vested interest — a personal one. He had also touched his neck.
Bracing his shoulder against the heavy cover, he grunted, pushing himself into the open air with the screech of metal-on-concrete. He turned, disoriented, searching. The moon-choked sky glowered darkly on a lonely street. At last, he spotted him, kneeling with his back turned, trembling and heaving. Gajeel swore beneath his breath, freed his hips and stretched along the pavement, grabbing the back of his jacket and dragging him back like a trapdoor spider. Eyes glittered in the shadows. He stuffed him down into the darkness and followed, managing to pull the manhole cover closed before losing his footing on the slick iron rungs and tumbling down on his ass.
"Augh!" He rubbed his tail bone, picking himself up, then clapped one hand firmly to Grimmjow’s shoulder and stared him in the face, sternly taking in his condition. "Ya alright?" The familiar junction of neck and shoulder. The familiar clenched teeth of his bone mask. "… Come on. It ain’t scenic, but there’re less of ‘em down here. I’m headin’ to the guild." In part, because it had never failed him; in part, to see if it was still standing. "Can ya walk?"
Heavy Metal Redux [EVENT]
He’d never considered himself a hero. Even after the countless lives he’d saved. Even after various kingdoms were left in his debt due to his actions. Whenever some malevolent force seemed to pop up, it was Guts and his comrades who answered the call. Whether it was a lone individual, a defenseless village or the well being of an entire city. When injustice and evil were present, they often found themselves at their mercy. For Guts it was not an act of heroism. Killing demonic forces was something he had vowed to do. Nothing more, nothing less.
These creatures were not demonic. Intimidating as they were, his brand did not react to their presence. They were something else entirely. Something.. other. But their intent was clear. They showed no sympathy for anything in their path. As long as it stood in their way, it would be ripped apart and devoured. And in time, reanimated. Like a plague of mindless undead that threatened to wipe out every last trace of humanity. And in this time of need, those who held the most power had been reduced to nothing but defenseless victims.
And so, it was up to people like him. Was he the strongest? Not at all. Did he have divine powers? Not in the slightest. What he did have, was a big ass sword, years worth of pent up aggression and a desire to do right. Seeing men, women and children being torn apart? That was not right. He couldn’t bring back the dead, but he could certainly avenge them,
By slicing the sick bastards who did this clean in half. A single swing was all it took. Tough as they were, not even a Pariah could withstand the destructive force of his colossal blade. Blood decorated the streets, along with the screeches of the deformed freaks of nature as they struggled to withstand the murderous hurricane that made it’s way towards them. A wave of unrelenting rage and bloodthirsty, finally being unleashed all in one go. He did not consider himself a hero. He never did. What he was..
Was just an angry guy with a giant sword.
"Who else wants some? If you wanna tear me apart, then just try it. I’ll carve you all to shreds and piss on your remains.”
To serve as a member of Fairy Tail was to serve three purposes: first, as a mage; second, as a mercenary; and third, as a first-responder. And as his loyalty towards the guild had no more faltered than the black-stamped brand that told his allegiance, neither had his duties. Coughing ashes, Gajeel tore with bare fingers through the scattered debris, the flayed remains of his leather gloves hanging like limp flesh from the thick iron bracers shackled about his wrists, the steel knuckles that had reinforced his punches until his own knuckles began to bleed hanging like broken chimes. He wiped his brow. The loose knees of his canvas trousers were black with soot, and his shirt clung with sweat. Blocks of fragmented cement sent tumbling aside freed trapped civilians – desperate hands pulled survivors from the smoldering wreckage of burning cars –
It was not his first time on damage control. But it never got any easier, nor any less surprising how quickly an entire city could dissolve into madness. And it was never as fun as damage infliction, but there was no room for selfishness beneath the fangs of disaster.
“Get outta here! Scram!”
Fleeing feet and frightened faces. Gajeel grabbed hold of a stray, solid length of wood and broke it – rather ineffectively – over the contorted face of a marauding Pariah, cast down the splintered pieces, and went for sturdier stuff – blocks of concrete, fallen bricks, and at last, a steering wheel-lock salvaged from a car abandoned in the fray, its doors still gaping. He had already learned the price of conjuring his own powers.
The hits were solid, efficient, and severe – to the untrained eye, an impressive display, but to Gajeel’s finer senses, used to his weaponry being merely an extension of his own body, a bit clumsy, a bit simplistic. But solid hits were better than nothing. Baring his teeth, he wound up another swing — then apruptly ducked, and kissed earth like a marooned sailor. Above him, something cut through the air like an airplane’s wing, and the resulting spray of warm blood told him his target had met the grim end of it. Glancing up, he caught sight of an enormous blade awhirl in the dark. But there was little time to admire the craftsmanship. Rolling to the side, he narrowly avoided losing his throat to the fangs of a Pariah diving for him. Pivoting on his hip, he drove a boot into its snarling face and, bracing himself with both hands, leapt to his feet, calling out to the other through his whirlwind of carnage.
"Ya don’t happen to have another one of those, do ya?”
Her shoulders tensed at his voice, eyes widening in the fear that she may have done something wrong. Fractured apologies sat on her tongue, unsure of what to do next. The manifestation of her powers circulated nervously inside her system.
❝Gajeel… I-…❞ She bit her lip, a slight hesitance but it wasn’t fair to keep him in the dark. ❝…In my world, I held the title cyber shaman. Digital data is encoded into the very electrical impulses that flow through my brain and nerves and it responds to my will. I can shape it with my thoughts and intensions… at a price. And since all data originates from the sun, anything I create essentially replicates the effects of natural light to the Pariahs.❞
She dropped her hands in defeat. ❝And I’m… not sure if other sources will work, but we have to try. If anything, it might give us more time to come up with another solution.❞
"Ya— what? I thought ya were a healer! Ya fixed my eyes — Rgh…"
He strained to understand, but besides the nearly tangible sensation of obscure terminology bouncing off his thick cranium, the aches and throb of earlier injuries clouded his understanding. He tossed his head, as though to shake his mind free of obstacles. And grit his teeth. “So ya … manipulate data to … create things. Sorta like script-magic. Makin’ your thoughts take shape?” A frustrated growl. Cut to the chase, he reminded himself. “Shit — but what’s important is ya say ya saw it with your own eyes.”
He threw a livid gaze across the soot-shadowed surroundings. “C’mon —” Calloused fingers snatched her by the wrist, circling it easily. “We gotta get the word out, any way we can! It’s either that, or we wait the damn thing out — and that doesn’t seem to be workin’.”
❝The Pariahs have never harmed without reason before. The eclipse seems to have triggered this. They’re attacking because they think we’ve taken their light from them. We’re their enemy as much as they are ours and killing them will only prove what they believe. The moment they’re exposed to the light of the sun, they calm down and return to their normal, more docile nature. I’ve seen it happen!❞
"What’re ya talkin’ about? Ya didn’t see us crawlin’ outta the damn gutters, tearin’ people apart,” he snapped, the defensive prickle of a first responder being told how to do his job. “Look, it ain’t my first choice either but—” But there had been no time to think between the darkening sky and the first blood-curdling screams. Not until now — not until the pleading a tearful girl.
He stopped. “… Ya — ya seen it!? How!? Shit!” Hell, his brains had always followed second to his brawn. But hearing her say it — and thinking of the eclipse — it didn’t seem like goddamn rocket science, either. His mind raced. “Is it only sunlight that works?”