The sun hung low in the sky, the normally prevalent swathes of mist one was certain to encounter in the rest of the grasslands of Fiore absent from the sight that stretched out before her. As a matter of fact, the grass was, too. The ground had been a brown crust of dry soil and dust, the absence of greenery, even simple vegetation, being perhaps the most striking feature of this landscape that extended towards the horizon. The air, despite the hours of relatively early morning, was similarly devoid of humidity, a howling wind that felt like simply coming into contact with it would corrode whatever touched it whipping across the empty, deserted drylands. There was little in the way of landmarks that could indicate how far she had walked, or indeed, where she had even come from, though that wasn't exactly what constituted a problem in the girl's mind.
With an unwavering stride, Taylor Akerley continued her march across this inhospitable plain, a clear goal in mind. The Ancient Ruins would come into view over the horizon any minute now, gentle, graceful steps carrying her forward in a determined fashion. After all, it wasn't every day that one would receive an order from their guild master personally, and further, an assignment that seemed to possess a high priority. At least, that was what Taylor had perceived it as. After all, if it hadn't been one, it wouldn't have been assigned directly by the one person with the single most authority in the guild. It had been some time since the girl had become part of the renowned mage's guild of Fairy Tail, and in the time she had spent among normal people, a sort of company that was nothing like the close-minded and radical bunch that was a common sight in the upper echelons of Bellum and its society, had helped her grow not just as a mage, but as a person.
Her days had gotten a lot more exciting when compared to the dull existence she had been forced to endure before, that much was for certain. Not only that, though. The access to knowledge that would be deemed "heretical" or something along the same lines, this if course referencing magical knowledge that was viewed as incompatible with the teachings of the Theocracy, had helped her advance her understanding and the application of arcane theory greatly, her magic circuits, as a consequence, receiving continuous upgrades. Indeed, Taylor had surged in strength steadily and without any hurdles from the moment she had arrived in Fiore. This, of course, was a consequence not of ineffective wastes of time like training or gathering experience, but simply smarts and natural, inborn talent for the arcane. If she had spoken this aloud most people would have probably met a statement like that one with disbelief, distaste, or even envy, mistaking her acknowledgment of the way that her life had taken for arrogance. Still, it was a fact that, even if she was a newbie in the magical world, most mages she had encountered thus far were below her level of power, and if they were not, she had already surged past them effortlessly in terms of raw magical potency. She was quite certain that she surpassed even the powerful Archbishops of Bellum in power, and while she was unsure about the Cardinals, she had never seen one of them in person, after all, she knew that her skills and strength alike were anything but common. If only the fools in Bellum accepted other viewpoints and let go of their age-old misconceptions. They, too, would be able to soar to the heights she had reached, that much she was certain of, but it couldn't be helped. They would probably never change, Bellum would probably never change. At least, not out of its own volition, that was.
Taylor's memories trailed off, the girl thinking about her home country and the years spent there. The faces of her parents flashed before her eyes, but the girl swiftly rid herself of any emotion by firmly shaking her head, returning her golden eyes to the path before her. She didn't really want to consciously acknowledge the fact that she missed them, missed her family, that she wanted to return home and tell them about the things she'd seen so far, the things she'd learned, the person she had grown into, but she knew that a scenario like the one that had flashed through her head for the brief instance of a second was too troublesome to ever become reality. If she returned, her parents would never let her go again. Indeed, she might even cause trouble for them, based on the fact that she had illegally left the country and even joined a guild while partaking in forbidden knowledge. While she personally cared little for such conventions, she was intelligent enough to foresee the consequences her return would provoke. Bellum was a strict society, stringent laws and rules forming a cage that was best not to be left. Of course, the people of Bellum knew this, but it was this fact that angered the blonde girl so much. They knew that they were locking themselves in a cage, that they were hindering progress and potential, they innately realized and understood this fact, and yet, they still chose to willingly ignore this fact in favor of religious zeal, nationalist ambitions, and a revanchism older than any living human being in Bellum. Not only did they ignore it, they actively countered it. Taylor suppressed the strong urge to sigh, though just barely. It was, put in plain and simple terms, stupid, stupid to an extent that it would constitute one of the very few things that truly infuriated her.
Still, this was not at all the point of her present excursion to the Ancient Ruins, the half-collapsed stone structures of what appeared like an ancient city, complete with temples, houses, statues, and other such testaments to human civilization appearing at the edge of her vision, the steadily rising sun reflecting off the surface of the nearby ocean. It bathed both the normally turquoise depths of the waters and the long-abandoned remains of what must have once upon a time been a sprawling center of wealth and wisdom in a deeply awe-inspiring orange glow. Not a bad sight. Taylor had, of course, never been to the place that was commonly referred to as "The Ancient Ruins", not knowing what to make of the seemingly accepted status of this location as "ancient", but the ambiance was admittedly beautiful, the fact that she was nothing more than a stranger in this part of Fiore suddenly becoming very much unimportant. It was things like this, adventure, discovery, new experiences, that had made her want to leave home. Well, at least in part. Her thoughts momentarily fell silent, a genuine and broad smile spreading across the girl's carefree expression. It would seem like she had reached her destination.
Originally, she had come here to meet with one of the guild master's contacts, the Ancient Ruins being a landmark that formed the closest point of interest to Crescent Island, which constituted her true objective, on the mainland of Fiore. This contact, a fisherman from Crescent Island, would present her with more information on the opponents she was meant to face. Still, she had not been sent without information, of course. In short, the people of Crescent Island had sent for aid from the guild master, apparently due to the rise of a new dark guild on their island. This dark guild, supposedly calling itself "Crescent Genesis", was beginning to increase its numbers, though their goal, as well as any details on their members, were beyond Taylor. That was what she was here for, though. To obtain more intelligence. Her ultimate goal was, of course, to destroy this dark guild and bring peace back to Crescent Island. Why exactly it would fall to her, and indeed, to Fairy Tail at large to destroy a dark guild she did not know, there was a guild dedicated to the hunt and extermination of lawless dark mages as far as she knew, after all, but if the request had been personally directed at her guild master, she knew that he couldn't refuse. Further still, her orders had been very clear, and Taylor was not one to disobey orders. While she did appear to question them, she understood their importance. She recalled the man's direct and somewhat stern wording, muttering the words to herself - "Remove any traces of them, huh?".
It was an ominous order, one filled with a very much clear intent behind it, and while most people would perhaps struggle to imagine putting such an order into action, the young Fairy Tail mage had no such qualms. It was true that she had never taken a life, but the prospect of fighting, killing, and dying in combat was something that had been drilled into her from a young age. Bellum's education system made no mystery of how it viewed its citizens and how citizens were meant to view the state. Every man, every woman, and every child in Bellum was a soldier should push come to shove ... provided they possessed magic, of course. With her abilities, fulfilling the order the guild master had given her would be no problem at all, either. She'd rather avoid senseless killing, though, unless the situation called for it. Then there would also be the added fact that her magic and fighting style alike, if not properly guarded against or resisted in some other way, were extremely lethal, too. She'd just have to wait and see. She wouldn't waste time pondering the what-ifs too much, given that she had something to do.
Absent-mindedly, the girl would thus arrive at the site of the Ancient Ruins, stone pillars in various states of decay rising from the dry ground at both sides of an old cobblestone road that was partially buried under the dusty soil, though it was still easy to conclude that this had once served as some kind of gateway into the city that no longer existed here. The guild master's contact had most likely arrived by boat, given that he seemed to be a fisherman from Crescent Island, so the girl assumed his location to be somewhere near the sea, allowing her magic sensory to fan out to catch any trace of living entities in the surrounding area ... and it would give her a ping only a few seconds later, her head turning towards the ocean at one side of the ruins. The information her magic sensory had given her was strange, however. The fisherman was the only person she was supposed to meet here, at least, according to her knowledge. Her sensory, however, had picked up two traces of life in the area, very close to each other, relatively speaking, not too far from her in an open space between the ruins of two houses. Had the man brought assistance? Or a comrade? In theory, that would not be necessary, but perhaps the second person would be an escort for the fisherman? That would certainly explain the presence of a second person, though ... Taylor felt uneasy about this. Something about this situation was off. She was pretty sure that the guild master had said that the contact would come alone. Well, there was no use in pondering the implications of this circumstance. She had to investigate, either way, approaching a corner that would lead her to the individuals, finally rounding it to lay her eyes on the source of the disturbance in her magical means of sensing her surroundings.
The sight was disturbing, to say the least, more disturbing than the things that Taylor had ever had to deal with before. What she would witness here was nothing short of a murder. A man had been bound to a wooden pole, rope tightly securing his body against the object and keeping it from falling, even though arms and head hung limply from the bound form. Arrows protruded from all parts of the man's body, making his carcass a sight that was as much bizarre as it was shocking. The projectiles stuck out from his arms, shoulders, legs, waist, abdomen, chest, and throat in plentiful fashion. The only thing that had been spared had been head and face, it seemed. Still, the blood that had poured from the multitude of wounds created by the piercing of his flesh had pooled in several small puddles at his feet, his clothing, the rope holding him in place, and skin drenched in smears of red. Judging by the sheer amount of blood, he had obviously been thoroughly exsanguinated and was obviously dead. Reflexively, Taylor's mouth opened as she gasped, her eyes widening when she realized that this was most likely her contact.
That wasn't the only thing she would see, though. Before the dead man stood two other men, though these were very much alive. One was in the process of aiming a bow at the dead fisherman, an arrow drawn, though his head had turned towards the source of the gasp. The other one had his hands at his hips, a malicious grin on his face that contrasted the seemingly concentrated expression on the face of his comrade. "So you're the mage he was talking about, huh? You're prettier than expected. We'll have a lot of fun with you", one of the men spoke. As if on an unspoken command, the other swung the bow around, aiming the notched arrow at Taylor. The girl didn't answer. She had never seen a sight like this one before, she had never dealt with murder or something resembling this brutality before, but ... it felt like she instinctively knew what to do. If she didn't act upon her instincts, then she, too, would most likely die. It was a matter of killing or being killed, and she did not intend to become a victim. No, even though her emotions were normally kept in check, the anger she felt based on this obvious display of injustice pushed her past any moral objections she might have held before. She didn't care who these men were ...
... She would kill them.
Her magic roared as her circuits were, at once, flooded with mana, the girl drawing her sword and assuming a stance faster than the two men could realize. Indeed, Taylor had made a name for herself based on her fighting style, the speed she used in combat being greater than what most people could even process. She drew a deep breath, arcs of blue electricity dancing across her form and into the hand grasping the sword. "Awaken, Blitz!". The superheated blade of her weapon would begin to glow brightly. The man with the bow seemed to take this as his cue, firing the ranged weapon at the Fairy Tail mage. Of course, the arrow would strike nothing. Taylor was simply too fast to be hit by such a slow-moving projectile, closing the distance between herself and the archer in less than a heartbeat, separating his arms from his body in a single strike that broke the sound barrier with a ground-shattering rumble. Before the other even had any time to realize what had happened, before he even felt pain, Taylor sidestepped his form, maneuvering around him with the same characteristically insane movement speed. It was only now that the bandit, or whatever these two were, would realize what had happened to him, his face twisting and contorting in agonizing pain and shock. He wouldn't have to endure it for long, Taylor, with a precise and elegant strike, removing his head from his shoulders. The other bandit seemed only now to realize that his fellow had fallen, turning and drawing a broadsword from a scabbard at his side, but it was too late. Taylor had already moved, surging at him with the speed of roaring thunder, like a bolt of lightning, appearing before him, her normally gleeful expression changed into an expression of stoic anger. Furrowed brows and a slight frown were testaments to that fact. Extending her index finger and middle finger forward, she would touch the space between the bandit's eyes, her words, spoken in a voice underlined by a venomous hatred, a far cry from her normally chirpy tone, being the last thing he would sense.
"Taser". Unloading an absurdly massive amount of electrical energy into the man's body, a bolt of lightning erupted around him, first reaching skyward, then beginning to cling to every object around in an effort to find its way into the ground, subsiding after a few seconds and leaving behind a blackened and charred form that still twitched, but fell over quickly like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Taylor had found her way to Crescent Island alone, using the boat the fisherman had left behind. Finding the dark guild had been no easy feat, but she had tracked them to an abandoned storehouse near the ocean, identifying it as their base of operations. Naturally, the guild members had not taken kindly to her presence, alerting all present members and engaging her as soon as she confronted them. Still, it had been not enough. Even numbers couldn't bridge the gap between them and Taylor's sheer magical abilities, the ground soon covered in the unmoving and mangled bodies of the grunts this dark guild had accumulated together. A bombardment of projectiles that seemed to be made from water had begun to rain from above, but it was no use. Taylor dodged them easily, her speed allowing her to pick off one after the other. The woman that controlled this water would be before her as she moved in an instant, her blade digging into her throat and snuffing out her life. Without losing time, she moved on, a gale-force wind surging towards her, but that did little to actually affect her. She simply outmaneuvered it, ramming the sword in her delicate hands into the wind mage's chest, a bloody gurgle spurting from him before he, too, would fall. "Wall of Stone!", a voice called out behind her, a dome of granite erupting from the earth and enveloping the last two remaining members of the dark guild in a protective cocoon of stone. Still, it would be no use. Her blade, superheated and aglow with sheer energy, sliced through that stone like butter, scattering a portion of the immovable defense and causing it to crumble down as she sliced through it with an array of movements that all appeared to occur in the same instance, so quick were her strikes. "What are y-", the man couldn't finish his sentence, Taylor dicing him in a similar fashion to his stone, the bloodied pulp that remained being turned to dust by a surge of electrical power. The girl, without delay, turned her attention to the last remaining dark mage, who seemed desperate to resist her attack, but he, too, was fated to fall eventually. Still, he seemed to have a trump card.
Just before Taylor could bisect his body, his form turned black, her sword bouncing back from him after she had struck him. Still, he seemed like he could only maintain this form for a brief instance of time, and before he knew it, his power had expired. Taylor, however, was just as swift as before, using the momentum from the repulsing of her blow to turn the blade around, shifting from a horizontal slash to a vertical one, bringing the blade down and through his now defenseless form, cleaving it in two unceremoniously, the two halves ungracefully slumping to the ground with a wet thud.
Well, that was all dark mages eliminated, the dark guild destroyed, but it made her wonder, as Taylor looked back over the slaughter she had caused, was all of this really necessary? Had it really been wise to found that dark guild if they had been so pathetically weak, or was that not it? Was she simply too strong? Had she really grown so much that even a seasoned dark guild that threatened Crescent Island and alarmed her guild master was nothing more than a routine exercise for her? She powered down her magic circuits. Well, it appeared like the mission was a success, either way, but ... she had become a killer. There was no denying that fact. The mass of bodies around her was solid proof of this fact. Yet ... she couldn't help but wonder why she felt no emotion. No regret, no remorse. Nothing, apart from what she interpreted to be a slight sense of annoyance at the fact that she had been forced to expend energy for a task that appeared, to her, at least, to be of a rather mundane difficulty, leaving her to question what exactly it was that had made her this way. Ah, well, it was no matter, as long as it was convenient, was that not true? As long as it would help her standing as an adventurer, as a guild made, she would perform any task, no matter how dirty she had to get her hands. Little fish like these, humans hardly even worth remembering, her eyes swerved over the massacre once more, were nothing but stepping stones on her way to greatness ...
For now, though, before anything else, it would be time to report back to the guild. That, and she had to send someone to go and bury that poor fisherman. Leaving him hanging out there, more literally than she would've liked, would only serve to make her feel bad in the end.
Word Count: 3,624