The Living Flame
He couldn't do it; no matter how hard he tried; no matter how hard he knitted his brow; he just couldn't summon the fire in his hands. His face a defeated frown, he could only stare at his clenched fists in frustration. "I can't do it! I give up!" he groaned.
"'I give up'?" echoed a loud, thunderous voice above him. The sound of disdain was clear in the speaker's gravelly tone. "Those words should never be spoken together."
Filled with shame, the small boy hesitantly looked up at his towering father. "B-But I can't do it, Dad! No matter how hard I try!"
Nostrils flared, blowing black smoke into the air in a display of annoyance rather than anger. A deep rumbling at the back of the throat could be heard as the boy's parent lowered his great, horned head beside the child. One yellow reptilian eye met the boy's discouraged gaze.
"Natsu," the child's name was spoken with much fervor yet the speaker's expression was the complete opposite, "no matter how difficult – no matter how impossible, you should never utter the words 'I give up'. If you do, then your heart will always believe that everything will ultimately end in failure. Hope will be lost and despair will reign. And death would be inevitable. Do you understand?"
The boy timidly nodded even though he did not know the definition of every word.
"When the time comes, you will learn how important it is to never give up," his father continued, "Someday you will be the strength – the living flame – of your future companions. You will be their life-force and their life-force, yours. Do you know why?"
Silently, the child shook his head.
His father smiled, showing the rows of his massive, sharp teeth. Proudly, the winged behemoth reared up his head and roared with much vigour; "Because you are the son of Igneel!" He placed a large clawed hand over his chest and peered down at the small child. "You may be born a human but you have the heart and soul of a dragon, Natsu, and dragons never give up! Do you hear me?"
The boy widely grinned and nodded his head vigorously at his father's encouragement.
"Will you always remember this?"
Again the boy nodded and said, "I will, Dad!"
'Then why have you forgotten, Natsu?'
Everything was black. He felt nothing but the awful, bitter cold that chilled him to the core. It was an unnatural sensation – never had he felt something so… cruel.
' Do not tell me that you have accepted this wretched fate!'
There it was again – that familiar voice that sounded through the muted darkness. The words that were spoken, he couldn't quite comprehend them for his mind constantly drifted within the empty realm.
Natsu? That… That was his name, wasn't it? He was Natsu – Natsu Dragneel and he…
What had he been doing? He couldn't remember anything.
'Death will be inevitable if you lose hope now!'
The voice was noticeably angry. He could nearly feel the heat of the words burning against his icy skin.
Death? No… Don't tell me… The darkness – the empty abyss he was trapped in – was he truly dead?
He wanted to deny it. He wanted to fight against it. The frozen binds that held him still, he wanted to burn them but found no strength in his body. He couldn't give up – there was no such thing. 'Giving up' was not in his vocabulary because he was Natsu Dragneel – the proud son of a fiery dragon and a member of Fairy Tail!
He struggled against the binds, calling forth whatever power he could summon – whatever hope he could grasp for he would not simply allow himself to die.
He was certain the speaker in the darkness was sneering at his efforts.
'Show them the true spirit of a dragon!"
Warmth seeped through his chest and embraced his heart and soul, chasing away the endless chill that wracked his body.
There were other voices whispering through his ears, much different than the first. They were angry, pleading, sad…
'Heed them,' spoke the first, 'They cry for you for you are their life-force…'
And they are mine.
The icy tendrils that held him shattered when a gentle golden light surrounded him. Free from the cold and darkness, his flaming will burned once more.
The moment he opened his eyes, he was instantly assaulted by arms and deafening shrieks of utter relief and furious accusations.
He was being strangled, crushed and suffocated by numerous bodies before someone's shrill, panicking voice yelled at everyone to stop.
"Let him breathe! Let him breathe!"
Once the limbs entangled themselves from his body, he gasped a much needed breath to regain his lost senses. Then he groaned when he felt the sudden sharp pain in his chest when he exhaled. Wincing, he peered through the pain to see the many eyes looking down at him.
Lucy's overly relieved face was the first one he noticed. "Natsu!" she quietly breathed, tears falling freely from her reddened eyes. "You're back!"
"Natsu!" Something furry and wet nuzzled his neck. It was unmistakably Happy.
Loke was looming above him too with his eyes hidden behind the glare on his coloured shades. "Damn bastard," the spirit muttered yet he was unable to hold back his smirk. "You had us all worried for a moment."
The Dragon Slayer cracked a grin. "You worried for nothing," he croaked, surprised by his hoarse voice and raw throat.
Chopper, in his large humanoid form, and Nami were also hovering above him, their eyes shimmering and their faces matching those of his fellow mages.
When he tried to get up, the doctor immediately held him down with a large hairy hand. "Don't move! I broke two of your ribs when I was trying to restart your heart!" the reindeer exclaimed with an apologetic frown.
"What?" Natsu's eyes widened when he remembered the old hag and the red flash coming from her black-barreled pistol. Ignoring Chopper's warning and the sharp sensations coming from his broken bones, the fire-user bolted up into a sitting position and slapped a hand against his bare chest, feeling for the bullet wound. However, he found nothing marring his skin. "The hell…?" he managed to utter in confusion. The shriveled woman had shot him, there was no denying that. His body was shaking in remembrance of the awful, torturous pain that tore through him.
"Natsu –" Lucy was sharply cut off.
"Where is she?" the pink-haired mage demanded, snarling out his words.
"She's…" Again, the spirit mage was interrupted but by a loud, animalistic howl that seemed to resound throughout the area. All heads turned to the source coming from the battle taking place just ahead of them.
Erza, dressed in her Flight Armour, and the rest of the pirates were surrounding what appeared to be a drooling wolf monster.
Just then, the sky fell dark – darker than the thunderous clouds that suddenly dispersed. It had instantly turned night with a large, luminous globe beaming down upon them with its pale silver glow.
Then he felt the enormous surge of magic energy come from the hairy beast bathed in the light of the full moon. It instantly grew in size, standing thrice as tall as it was before with visibly bulging muscles beneath its matted, black fur. Hundreds of scars adorned the creature's body, each stretched out from the rapid growth of its muscular tissues. It towered over Erza's group, baring its many sharp fangs with a vicious snarl. Eyes that shone yellow reflected an unstoppable madness and insatiable hunger. Upon its chest was a maliciously glowing blood red circle with strange runes within the centre.
Natsu, as well as everyone around him, jumped to their feet. Magic was pulsing all around them; wavering in the air; coursing through the ground. The black stone beneath his feet was filled with strange energy.
On a familiar ledge behind the monstrous beast, were two old fogies waving their staff and cane at Luffy's crew and Erza.
Immediately, Natsu narrowed his eyes and clenched his good hand into a fist. He was absolutely livid at the sight of the old woman.
The wolf-beast reared back its large maned head, flattened its long pointed ears against its skull and released an ear-shattering howl that felt as if it sundered both heaven and earth.
The Dragon Slayer cried out at the terrible sound as he clamped his hands over his ears in a futile attempt to block out the unholy wail. Through his grimace, the mage could see everyone doing to same thing.
After its final note, the monster soon attacked the stunned group before it with a blood-thirsty snarl, slashing out its wicked black claws at the ones closest to it.
Natsu took only one step forward in hope of joining the fray when someone suddenly latched onto his arm. "Wait, Natsu!" Lucy exclaimed, holding him back. He was about to retort that there was no time to waste, but the girl's desperate look made him hesitate. "You need to know something first! Something important!"
Through haste, the spirit mage explained the properties of the mysterious black stone. Unfortunately, Natsu didn't follow most of it but he understood the important facts.
"It's called 'Amphorite'," he repeated the name as he kneeled down to feel the grainy shadow-less rock with his fingers.
"That's right. This whole island is made of it!" Lucy emphasized by waving her arms outward. "Not only that, those old people have forged Amphorite items – the black gems, the black orbs on their staff and cane – their magic is amplified at least… one hundred times!" Her expression was grim.
And the barrel of the gun that shot Natsu, it was the reason why the pain he felt was so immense that it shut down his body…
"What?" Nami, Happy and Chopper cried out in horror.
"Does that mean they're super powerful and could possibly kill all of us if they wanted to?" the doctor, back in his small form, squeaked in absolute terror. "I-Is that why that w-werewolf is so huge?"
"No way, right?" Nami frantically inquired, looking at the mages' pleadingly. "There's a way to stop them, isn't there?"
"There is no denying they're powerful," answered Loke as he gazed over at the noisy battle. "However, they're only powerful because of the Amphorite. We could use it to our advantage as well."
"How?" questioned Lucy. "From what I remember reading: to use Amphorite effectively, the ore must first be forged into suitable catalysts because in order for magic to be amplified, a person's magic must flow through the Amphorite first. That's why those old geezers are waving their canes in the air. They're channeling their magic through their weapons!"
"But can't we try using what's here?" Happy asked, tapping his foot on the ground. "The power of the lunar spell is being amplified through the raw ore!"
The blonde-haired mage bit the end of her thumb and furrowed her brow in thought. "But neither of us have magic capable of utilizing the ore as it is. However…" Her face lit up with an idea. Her brown eyes turned to the Dragon Slayer and she knowingly grinned. "If we… Yes, I think we can use it!" she exclaimed, bringing hopeful smiles on everyone's faces. "Natsu, you can eat the stone and use your body as a catalyst."
The fire mage blinked in confusion. "Doesn't it have to be forged or whatever?"
She rolled her eyes in response. "You have the stomach of a Fire Dragon! The ore will be forged in your stomach!"
"It will?" Natsu cocked his head to the side.
Lucy smacked her forehead and groaned. "Do you even now what 'forging' means?"
"Um, no," was the Dragon Slayer's truthful answer, making the rest of the group either sigh or laugh at him.
"It's simple, Natsu. Just eat some of the Amphorite and you should be fine as long as you keep your stomach burning!"
He nodded and grinned at the simplicity of that. "All right! Loke! Break some of this rock for me!"
The Lion perked an irritated eyebrow. "Why me?"
"I don't want to break my good hand, that's why! Hurry up!"
The celestial spirit sighed as he readjusted his shades. "Fine," he muttered. Kneeling on the ground, he powered his hands with his signature magic, Regulus, vanquishing the summoned darkness around them with golden light. With hands flexed like the claws of a killing beast, Loke slashed into the solid ground, cleaving multiple chunks of rocks of various sizes that Natsu could briefly see. The pieces were invisible when Leo's magic faded from the stone.
Groping the ground, Natsu grabbed a few of the rocks.
"Don't eat too much!" Lucy warned with a wave of her finger. "We don't know what the actual effects could be since you're using your body as a direct catalyst. One the size of a pebble can double one's magic so – Hey! I said not too many!" The girl was appalled when the Dragon Slayer chomped onto another large chunk after finishing his first handful.
"You should listen to her!" Chopper piped in, staring at the male mage in both worry and fascination.
Meanwhile, Nami was cringing with disgust. "Those rocks… Can you even digest them?" she questioned.
Happy nodded and answered for his friend, "Of course! Natsu will be just fine! Except he may suffer from other side-effects…" The cat murmured the last part quietly with a sheepish smile.
With teeth and jaw muscles of that of a dragon, Natsu easily crushed the hard, nasty iron-tasting ore in his mouth. He found it was more difficult to chew than the Etherion crystal and a lot grittier. Once he forcefully swallowed, he told Lucy through his tears, "If I eat lots, my magic will increase lots too, right?"
Lucy sullenly glowered at him. "We don't know that for sure! There could be a limit to how much your magic will be amplified so stop eating it! You might suffer from serious side-effects!"
The Dragon Slayer consumed the last rock in his hand and wiped his tears. "I don't care. Just as long as I can protect everyone I don't care what happens to me."
The spirit mage angrily frowned. "Natsu, you nearly died. We care what happens to you, understand? So don't do anything foolish!"
The pink-haired mage nodded and gave her an assuring grin. He stood up and groaned at the heavy feeling in his stomach. His stomach uncomfortably churned and gurgled, making him wonder if Lucy's idea was a good one. Unlike the Etherion, he did not feel an instant increase in his magic. "You sure this will work?"
"It might take some time to process, I guess. You did eat quite a lot, you idiot."
"Are you feeling okay?" asked Happy, noticing Natsu's discomfort.
The fire-mage nodded and straightened in his posture. His eyes focused on the savage battle between a monstrous werewolf and his companions. The towering beast was impossibly fast and powerful, capable of matching the incredible speed of some of the pirates and able to withstand most of their blows without even flinching.
There was no more time to waste. "Yeah, I'm fine," he replied, steadfast on his decision. "I'm not waiting any longer. I'm going in!"
"Good luck to you guys!" cheered a nervously grinning navigator. "We'll just hang back here!" Both Nami and the doctor sidled back and waved the mages off.
Smirking in amusement at the pirates, the Dragon Slayer then glanced between Lucy, Loke and Happy. "Let's go!"
The three of them soundly agreed and followed right after Natsu as he charged into the battle zone.
Luffy, Zoro and Sanji were pummeling the giant werewolf with everything they had, constantly keeping the snarling beast knocked down. However, no matter how devastating or deadly the pirates' attacks were, the foul-smelling monster would rebound back up with barely a wound. With dust flying and settling everywhere, the surrounding area was visibly torn and heavily damaged from the ongoing battle.
Brook stood back defensively with Robin who appeared injured on the ground. Lucy went to aid the archaeologist, calling for Chopper's help.
Off to the side, Erza was confronting the old man, Harold, wearing her Robe of Yūen. Staff in hand, Titania was in the midst of dispelling the geezer's magically conjured blue chains that shot out of the ground.
And the ugly old hag… she was still on top of the ledge where Natsu had last seen her; still waving her staff in the air with her mouth moving in a silent chant behind a crystal barrier. The strong magic that surrounded them; it was her magic.
"She's using support magic," Happy informed, clinging onto the back of the Dragon Slayer's scarf. "She's greatly boosting her allies' defense and attack stats! And that moon in the sky – she must have done that too to power up the wolf-man! Natsu," the Exceed's tone was stern, "we have to stop her first!"
The pink-haired mage sneered in delight and clenched his good hand before him in a tight, white-knuckled fist. "It's what I'm planning. She's gotta pay for trying to kill me after all, right?"
He heard his friend snicker. "Don't go overboard! We still need to know how to return the Straw Hats home!"
He snorted at the remark before drawing in a deep breath. "Hey! Old hag!" he roared at the top of his lungs, catching almost everyone's divided attention.
Beady eyes widened in shock as a shaking, bony finger was pointed straight at him. "Y-You! How are you still alive?" shrieked the wrinkled prune also known as Berta. "You should be dead!"
"Natsu, you damn idiot," snarled Erza, shooting a deadly glare at the lower-ranked mage. "You will be severely punished once this is over!"
Flinching back, Natsu gaped at his superior in horror. "W-What? Why?"
The scarlet-haired mage hid her face but the tremble in her voice was evident. "For making us worry, that's why!"
"Natsu Dragoneel!" Luffy cried out from afar, a wide smile evident on his face. "I knew you wouldn't die just like that!" Just then a looming shadow with fierce yellow eyes appeared before him only to be kicked aside by a suit-wearing, blond-haired cook.
"Luffy! Pay attention!" Sanji bellowed, whapping the captain over the head. "This damn relentless mutt is not going to wait for you!"
"Ah, sorry!" The straw-hat wearing boy laughed while a swordsman wielding three katana blades dove at the fallen mass of muscle and fur right behind him. Luffy raised a fist in air and gave the mage a confident smirk. "Let's beat them up!"
The Dragon Slayer mimicked the captain's posture. "Yeah! Everyone! Let's show these bastards what happens when you anger Fairy Tail and the Straw Hats!" He heard the others cry out along with him.
Sneering maliciously at his opponent, Natsu's dark eyes met the old woman's. "Ready to feel the wrath of a Fire Dragon Slayer, old hag?"
"Stupid fairy boy!" snapped Berta, baring her crooked, blackened teeth in a bitter snarl. "You should have stayed dead. You are going to regret coming back alive!" She raised her staff and the black orb on top started to glow a deep purple.
Flames surrounded his hands as Natsu prepared himself for battle. Excitement coursed through him for it was finally time for him to actually fight!
He would make the witch pay for making everyone worry. The tears of his friends and the sadness in their voices could never be forgotten. The pain Berta had caused them, Natsu was going to return it tenfold.
Not wasting another moment, the Dragon Slayer headed straight for the old hag.
A/N: Trying to write a big battle scene between multiple characters from the main character's perspective is rather... challenging. I wonder, are you guys interested in another interlude? I could focus on dividing each battle with different members of the group instead of just writing from Natsu's perspective. Let me know.
Anyway, hope you guys enjoyed this chapter. Another cheesy moment... Hehe.
Thanks for reading!