At loooong last here's the new chapter! I'm thinking it's high time for another Icarus-centric chappie do you think?
And yes, I did warn you about my work ethic so no complaining, you know what you lot signed up for :P
Dragons Found in Shadow
"Gaze of Shadow; Touch of Madness. The Gathering before the Bonfires. Sadness. Loss. See the Gathering of Kindred Souls!"
Author's helpful little notes and stuff
Previously on Dragon Fall
"Very well," I started, "if you will not willingly tell me, then I shall force it from your blabbering wreck."
"He's happy, sure he may have his episodes where he wants to murder the lot of you but what self-respecting dark mage doesn't? Natsu is content now; he has a family, nakama who will stand by him no matter what. Would you dare to take that all away from him? Take him away from us?"
Unnamed town in Fiore
3 days after completion of mission
Natsu yawned widely, his mouth stretching open in exhaustion. They've been travelling for more than 2 days straight now, only resting at rare intervals because that day was drawing near and none of them want to miss it. He, Connor, Loki, and the little girl -Maya- were almost to Dillenia, just one more town to go to and they'll reach it.
Speaking of Maya… He mused, looking at the green-eyed girl walking beside him. They had questioned her about what happened in the town during one of their breaks, learning about the fellow dark guild that passed through and left the pseudo-demons that inhabited the place; a little-known Zeref-worshipping guild, Crimson Goblin, whose members consisted mostly of depraved individuals who wanted to bring about a second Age of Zeref. They managed to stay under the radar of the Council through guile and misinformation, many of their deeds being attributed to other dark guilds that just happened to be in the area. For that many of the dark guilds were wary of the Goblins, some even going out of their way to decline jobs if word of a Goblin operating in the area was heard, some preferring to annihilate any Goblin they come across, just in case. For Dragon's Pride though, they preferred to ignore what the Goblins do, as none of their members were framed or targeted yet, but the moment one of their members were threatened by the Goblins, they'll obliterate them.
Which brings us to Maya… Natsu thought.
"So, got a name girl?" Connor asked as they began to set up camp for their first pit stop.
They were in a small clearing, enough to fit the four of them comfortably and have a fire going without problems. Natsu was busy gathering logs to set on fire and Loki was setting up the bedrolls they brought with them. Connor himself had just come from hunting some of the animals here and brought back a small deer enough for them.
The girl herself was sitting down close to Natsu and was observing him, but on Connor's question she glanced at him, and responded. "Maya, my name's Maya…"
She them looked at the small flames Natsu made that were crackling merrily in the darkness. "…just Maya."
Connor them grimaced, knowing this meant that she was now thinking about her family. He looked away at the trees now, having nothing more to say. Meanwhile Natsu and Loki were listening to their conversation, and upon Connor stopping the conversation, Natsu decided to ask his question, dusting off his hands from the dirt.
"What happened there?"
Maya didn't look at them; she just stared into the flames. After a while she spoke,
"They came and started fires, killing off every man they saw. Daddy was killed by one wearing a weird mask, they laughed at him and started chopping him up. I wanted to help daddy, they were beating him up, but Mommy stopped me from going outside. She told me to go hide somewhere, and whispered funny things, after she whispered to me, I felt like I was invisible. Mommy then made me hide in the little closet in their bedroom, telling me to be quiet, no matter what. I didn't want to disobey Mommy, but then the bad men came and dragged her away. Mommy screamed, she didn't want to go with them, they shut her up by shoving something into her mouth." Here her voice cracked slightly, trying to keep in the tears as she saw flashbacks of what happened. "They took her away, I wanted to follow but Mommy said to stay there! Mommy! MOMMY!" She screamed at the top of her lungs, her eyes filled with tears as she stared into the flames, her right hand inching forward to touch them.
Quick as a flash Natsu stopped her from touching the fire, a saddened look on his face. Maya then threw herself at Connor, sobbing hysterically and punching his chest. "WHY? WHY DID MOMMY LEAVE ME? SHE SAID SHE'D COME BACK! SHE PROMISED!" She yelled.
"Why did she have to go…?" She whispered, even as Connor tried to soothe her with words like what he did to Loki when they first met.
So now she was travelling with them, at least until Dillenia where they could decide on what to do with her then.
"I see the town now~!" Connor suddenly sang out, shielding his eyes from the sun's glare and pointing towards a town far in the distance. He was the most ahead of their group, trying to put as much space between himself and his sister as possible. After all, he did just put rash powder into Loki's clothes yesterday.
Natsu then smiled broadly, his arms stretching upwards. "Finally!" He said, "I'm ALL FIRED UP!"
Alongside Natsu, Loki smiled fondly at his exuberance, also glad at the sight of the town in front of them. The past few days were hard on him, she knew; meeting Titania (here Loki nearly hissed at the thought), watching a town burn to the ground and be slaughtered, and finally seeing the handiwork of the Goblins had taken its toll on him. His gait was slower than normal, his face turned just slightly towards more of a frown than indifference. It was nice that he was starting to move past it.
"Let's find a bar or something, I'm beat!" Connor yelled alongside Natsu, suddenly appearing beside him and throwing an arm over his shoulder. The two of them continued to make a racket as they continued to the town and hopefully some good food and drinks, leaving Maya and Loki in the dust.
"To the bar!"
"To the bar!"
"Beers and fighting!"
"Beers on fire!"
"Idiot! The hell's wrong with you, burning perfectly good beer!"
"You're the idiot! What kinda guy doesn't like a little fire in his beer!"
Maya blinked rather slowly, her mind trying to understand what just happened, then looked at Loki for help once she couldn't process it; Loki, catching her glance, looked down at the little girl and smiled slightly, shocking the girl who was subject to her cold glares the entire trip. Loki couldn't care less, Natsu was happy, Connor was happy, thus she was happy. Life was that simple.
The town was a quaint little place, with a population of about ten thousand people, catering to the needs of travellers who pass through the road that was one of the central roads of Fiore. Small houses and businesses populated the one main road paved with stone; a town square the size of one block lay in the centre, with a small chapel found in it. The main road was riddled with vending stalls and travellers looking for supplies. The idyllic sound of a hundred-or-so voices lay in the air, the smell of fresh oranges and apples was coupled with the bartering of both merchant and buyer. In one end of the town lay a small tavern and inn, it was a small place but full of warmth. Icarus was directed to that tavern by one helpful merchant after they bought a handful of oranges for the last leg of the trip.
Upon entering the tavern, they were assaulted by the sound of many raucous men laughing and telling stories to one another, the shouts of challenges and bar fights were abundant, as was the ale flowing and the waiters rushing around to fulfil orders. The smell of beer and the rank stink of sweaty men merged together into a cloying scent hovering over the many tables in the room. On one small table in the corner lay a relatively tall man with a massive top hat covering his blond hair, a fur coat shadowing his frame as he nursed a mug of beer, his eyes fixated on a certain spot in the tables near him.
Connor immediately went to the bar to order drinks and some milk, trusting Natsu to find or "grab" a free table, weaving in and out of fights, drunks and barely-dressed girls. He "accidentally" groped some of the girls and removed his hand just as quickly, making the women spin around and slap the closest person they could find, aka the guys right behind them. Chuckling to himself, he didn't notice the white-haired woman sitting beside a group of sweating, extremely nervous men, too intent on having a bit of fun.
"Ow! The fuc- Ow! Ow! OW! THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU WOMAN!"
"YOU LEECHY BASTARD!"
"ARRGHHH! WHICH SON OF A BITCH GROPED MY GIRL!"
Presently he found Natsu and the others in a table near the edge of the room from where he was at. Natsu was sitting with his back closest to the wall, his eyes watching the bar even as he conversed about Dragon's Pride to Maya, Loki content with simply sitting beside Natsu. Even as he neared, Loki's hand moved to enclose Natsu's, yet failed as he suddenly moved his hand away to gesticulate about a particular dragon statue that was found in Dillenia. The hand that was left behind twitched slightly, but Loki restrained herself and contented herself with looking around the room, searching for Connor.
Connor weaved closer to them, his hands full with one fire-lit mug of beer, two normal beers, and one glass of milk. As he went nearer, he overheard some conversation from the group of nervous men.
"It's taking too long!" One of them said. A bald man with scars on his fearful face.
"Quiet! I told you guys it'll be hard, suck it up!" A guy with black hair tied up to look like a pineapple, eyes almost closed as if amused at something. He continued speaking, "Besides, we got help now." He finished, gesturing to the white-haired woman beside him, who was coolly staring at them arguing, not saying anything as her bright-silver eyes looked bored.
The other guys on his table seemed unconvinced. Connor passed their table then, stepping lightly behind the white-haired woman even as the air became charged with a current. Her eyes suddenly came into focus as she inclined her head minutely, to which Connor chuckled as he pretended to laugh at another fight breaking out beside him, expertly dodging the stray man who was sent his way and settling down at the table, opposite Loki and innocently sending the mugs of beer their way by pushing them across the table. Loki caught his eye and nodded slightly to avoid being caught by Maya even as Natsu smiled brightly at Maya, nodded slightly to both Maya's question and Connor.
"Yeah! I mean, it's usually pretty rowdy if we're all there, seeing as Trev keeps talking his mouth off and Thor's always got another story to tell-" Natsu said enthusiastically, gesturing wildly as he kept entertaining the little girl.
The message was clear: Dragon working, greetings exchanged.
None of them noticed the man with the ridiculous top hat staring at Natsu intensely.
Unnamed town in Fiore
Night after arrival
They decided to spend the night in the inn above the bar, Dillenia was only about 5 days away, and the Night was 7 days away. Loki and Maya had one room, and Natsu and Connor had another. Once Maya fell asleep however, Loki had gone up and entered the boys' room, knowing that the two were still awake.
Natsu and Connor looked up from their discussion as she entered, both sitting in their beds. Loki immediately went to sit beside Natsu as the two continued their conversation.
"So Khione is on a job? Don't you think it's a bit late, seeing as the Night's only a week from now." Natsu said, a slight frown on his face. Loki privately thought that he would look incredibly cute if he pouted.
Connor shook his head, "Nah, Khione ain't gonna miss the Night just for this job. I saw her associates down there, all of them were really nervous. My bet is Khione's only gone on this job because Master asked her to."
"It probably has something to do with what Master's been obsessing about the past week then." Loki concluded, her thoughts on the guild's terrifying master. At the two boys' blank looks she sighed and elaborated, "Master was really irritated when we returned to Dillenia, I spoke to Nemer and she said Master's been sending out the rest of the Hand on secret missions all over Fiore."
At that Natsu and Connor stiffened. "Really?" Connor muttered quietly.
The door opened suddenly, causing Connor and Loki to jump up before noticing it was Khione. Natsu, having smelled her coming, simply waved at her, even as Connor and Loki sat back down.
"Dammit Khione, you scared the crap out of me!" Connor muttered.
"Then I should do it when you are busy in the bathroom, so everyone can have their turn at using it." Khione retorted, a slight twitch of her lips the only sign of her amusement. Connor turned red and spluttered as Natsu laughed loudly, Loki joining in with a hand in front of her mouth. Connor was well known among the guild's men as the "guy-who-takes-forever-to-take-a-shit", so much that having to wake up and go to the bathroom before him was something of a competition among them.
"W-wha!? You don't jus-... wh-! Go to hell!" Connor screamed in embarrassment.
"Such an engaging retort, Loki, where is the dog bone?" Khione smirked evilly. "One must reward a dog when it does a good trick, yes?"
By this time Natsu was busy trying to gasp for air, his head having fallen into Loki's lap, causing her to blush brilliantly red even as she tried to stop her laughter.
"Khione...st-stop...can't...breathe..ha...ha...ha...Connor's bone..." Natsu gasped out, his face happier than it was before they arrived at the town.
Presently they managed to calm down and retake their positions, Connor and Loki still blushing, for two different reasons. Khione took a chair from the table at the corner of the room and sat down in front of the beds, staring at Natsu intently.
"You were troubled..." Khione stated, her flat tone demanding him to speak. Natsu sighed and told her about their encounter with the Goblins, and with some prodding by Loki, of their encounter with Erza.
After he finished she was quiet for a few moments, simply staring at him with her silver eyes, apparently not finding what she was looking for, her face set itself into a frown, before speaking.
"True, it was your first time seeing a place desecrated by the Goblins. The girl you are travelling with, she is a survivor then?" They nodded. "...Master will want to hear about this, as it is I am stuck babysitting a bunch of spineless curs." Her lips curled into a grimace of disgust, "Once the Night arrives, I do not care if the imbeciles were attacked by the Rune Knights themselves, they can manage to survive one night without obliterating this town. After all, they live till now." She finished, a sardonic edge to her tone. She then stood up, "Well, I have to back to my room now. Natsu, walk with me?" She said.
Natsu nodded slighly as he stood up from the bed, walking beside Khione as they went to her room in the opposite wing. Stopping before her door, she turned around and stared at him, a frown in her face.
"What happened at that town is not your fault Natsu. I understand it reminds you of what happened to-" She began.
At her words Natsu's eyes flashed as he cut into her talk, "What that town reminds me of is none of your business Khione!" His eyes then softened, showing a great pain. "Don't make me remember it more..." He muttered.
Khione's face then softened. She hesitantly uncrossed her arms and awkwardly moved forward as she put her arms around his body, engulfing him in an embrace. Putting her head beside his, she whispered into his ear, a note of sadness evident.
They stayed in that position for a few minutes until Khione sighed, they then untangled themselves from each other, a more comfortable silence between them. Khione looked into his eyes, searching for something.
"Do you regret it?"
The question that Khione asks him every time they meet, the question Natsu always has the answer to.
"...never, onee-san." He replied, a genuine smile on his lips.
2 days before Night
They had departed from the town after that night and eventually made it to Dillenia by sundown of the fifth day, two days before the Night. Immediately after arriving Connor had to run away from Loki once again, seeing as he 'accidentally' threw her into a small pond on the path to the Hold. Natsu sighed in exasperation as he and Maya went upstairs to the Master's office, silently cursing Connor and his prank as it left only him to face their terrifying master alone and suffer under her gaze.
The Hall didn't change at all since he entered the guild those 2 years ago, the members of the guild were still lounging around in the tables and exchanging stories, the atmosphere subdued because of the coming event. The fact that the majority of the guild's troublemakers (Thor, Trev, Siegfried, Xar) were absent did not in any way contribute to the suddenly quiet atmosphere.
Gulping slightly as they reached the door to the Master's study; he ignored Maya's sudden anxiety at his behavior before steeling himself and knocking on the door.
"...enter Natsu." A melodic voice floated out from behind the door.
Natsu then pushed open the double arch doors and stepped stiffly into the dark study, Maya slightly behind him.
The Master's inner sanctum was a darkened room lit with candles in various corners. It was a room longer than it was wide, with the walls covered with shelves filled with books , artefacts and other various trinkets. The walls were of a rich dark wood and the floor was carpeted by soft white velvet. An elusive scent hung in the air, obvious only to Natsu and Khione: the cloying scent of pure, raw magic charging the air. Two plush chairs were found in front of a mahogany desk laden with papers and books, a small elaborate figurine of an ebony dragon was rearing its head at them from the corner of the desk and the sound of a quill scratching slightly over paper was heard as Natsu and Maya slowly made their way closer to the figure seated in the high-backed chair behind the desk.
The figure suddenly stopped writing and sighed heavily, the melodic voice floating in the air once again.
"...I ask Siegfried to not cause a problem with his latest job and what does the buffoon do? He goes and makes a scene with the local guild and blatantly antagonizes them. Sigh, what a child..." she said as arms came together to clasp under her chin as her features were thrown into the light.
The first thing that Maya thought was ethereal. Elegant, high cheekbones set themselves on a pale face with vibrant green hair flowing down and framing her heart-shaped face. Eyes delicately closed in apparent exhaustion, a set of pale lips pressed into a thin line and a small wrinkle on her brow gave her the air of someone older even though she looked in her mid-twenties. A black coat was thrown over her shoulders, the edges lined with white fur and concealing a dress with flowing sleeves and coloured with green and brown.
Her eyes opened slowly and Maya took in with slight shock as almost pure black met her; the only thing the was not black was the edge of her corneas where it borders the sclera. She shivered slightly, understanding what Natsu felt as it seemed that no warmth was found in the woman's eyes, merely curiosity at the next thing to catch her fancy.
The woman looked at her for only a second before she shifted her gaze to Natsu, a delicate eyebrow raised in unspoken question.
Natsu steeled himself and began his report, "This is Maya, she's the sole survivor of the town that we were sent to, everything else was tainted and corrupted by what seems to be the guild Crimson Goblin." He paused. "We're not sure if they're trying out a ritual to revive Zeref or one of his demons or were merely playing to pass the time..." He finished with a sour taste in his tongue.
The Master nodded slowly, a thoughtful expression on her face, she then turned to look at Maya, bringing the full power of her gaze on her.
"Tell me your story child, it seems that not only Grimoire Heart and Oraćion Seis have begun to be more active." She intoned.
Fairy Tail, Magnolia
At the same time
My body felt like hell. This must be what Gildart's crash magic must feel like. My entire lower body was tightly bound and stiff and various bruises seemed determined to make me notice them all over my body. I tried to open my eyes but the blinding light from the sun caused me to shut them tight, the shine making the giant in my head pound my brain harder.
"...Erza?" A voice slowly murmured. I thanked anyone who would listen that the voice was softly said, otherwise I might have skewered the speaker with a dozen swords. I slowly opened my eyes again, the room was out of focus and I couldn't see the person beside me clearly.
White hair. Soft voice. It must be Mira who was there, I seem to recognize a red dress.
"...you're finally awake..." She softly whispered. I felt her move and a glass of water was suddenly in front of me, I tried to hold it myself but Mira stopped me. "No don't, Miss Porlyusica came by yesterday and said you shouldn't move until you're fully healed." She said as she slowly tilted the glass into my mouth. I drank the refreshing liquid gratefully and the room stopped spinning at least, and now I have enough strength to ask questions.
"What happened?" I rasped out. I only have a vague recollection of what happened after I passed out, and I needed to know.
"Gray and the others brought you here. He wants answers Erza, " she said quietly, then, almost hesitantly, she added, "we all want answers. Master forbade us from making you tell us about Natsu until you're healed so I've come here to make sure you heal fast and completely so you won't be able to make any excuses about being too weak or sick." She finished with a petulant tone in her voice.
I tried to answer, but the shadows were crawling into my vision and I slowly fell asleep again, exhausted by simply being awake.
The Master stayed quiet for a few minutes as she digested the story Maya told her, her disconcerting eyes still fully focused on Maya. After a while she seemed to have made a decision and a small smile graced her lips.
"Very well then. I am Alice, the guild master of Dragon's Pride. No doubt Natsu's been regaling you with stories about our guild." She said, casting a knowing look at a red Natsu. She then looked back at Maya and mused, "But do you know what we really do, I wonder?"
At that Maya seemed to gain a little courage and said quietly, "You take care of family..." Before she realized she spoke and covered her mouth while turning brilliant red.
Slight surprise flitted through Alice's eyes before she looked pleased at Maya's answer, "Yes child, we take care of family. We have a very important event coming up soon and until then I'll allow you to stay with us here in the Hold, after which I'll ask you a very important question that'll decide your future.
"Natsu, take her to Nemer so she can help the girl get settled down, I trust you have preparations to do?" She said. Natsu nodded immediately, glad to be able to go without a punishment, as if she was reading his mind, she added, "And don't expect to get away with your little stunt at Hargeon child, I'm sure babysitting Xar when he returns will be no trouble?" At that Natsu paled and actually looked horrified at the thought of babysitting the most unpredictable member of the guild. He grabbed Maya's hand and almost flew out of the doors, tinkling laughter chasing him.
"And tell Connor and Loki to see me later please, I have just the perfect job for them to do!"
Natsu was scared of only a few things in his life, the capricious whims of his master was at the top of that list.
On the Road to Dillenia
4 days before the Night
I'm reaaallly fucking tired.
Next time I'm going by train or something, fuck it if the locals recognize me. Being so fucking recognizable that people scream if they see my armour is too much. I can't even go into a damn town without triggering about a million blasted alarms!
These were my thoughts as I travelled quickly over the countryside. A massive dark cloud over my head from the headache of hearing the hundredth villager screaming in fear at my passing.
Being feared by common people is waaay overrated.
I just know Master's going to put some sadistic chore on me when I get back as well, drawing the attention of Fairy Tail when we needed to act discretely was about as helpful as the realization that I couldn't use transportation without bringing the goddamn army down on my head. Sometimes I think she gets off with shoving these chores at us I swear, being a member of the Hand almost wouldn't be worth it if it weren't for the perks.
I stopped short, a thick ball of ice dropping down my stomach at that thought. I swear Master had a job for me to do, a simple pick-up of an item on the way back. In the town right after Magnolia. That was a day's travel back. To the Town Hall.
Rogue Assassin – Lisanna isn't dead, I wouldn't be that cruel would I? But no promises once she's returned though :(
BladeOfThePoet – Loki can make Sieg believe in the fairy godmother and sing to butterflies. Case Closed XD On the topic of Natsu and his team interfering with the other arcs, well, we'll just have to see no? :P
To everyone else who read, reviewed, alerted, favorited me or my work – THANK YOU ALL XD