Title: Gladys the Deathbringer
Disclaimer: Gladys, October, Bonnor, and Linda are all figments of my imagination. Everything else is Mashima's.
Summary: The formidable Gladys is said to be able to bring an end to any loving relationship by using forbidden magic to manipulate the memories and perceptions of her victims. How will Natsu and Gray fare against such a foe?
THREE: Gyrus de Abscindia
"Even the fire here is bad," said Natsu, with another unpleasant belch. They happened upon a fight outside of a pub that involved a full bottle of spirits being smashed against the ground, and someone lit and tossed a match. That rowdy group sobered up and ran when Natsu decided to dine on the spreading flame. The pub's owner, having witnessed the entire thing, allowed the two of them all they could eat for free. That took care of the hunger dilemma. The meat and potatoes were filling enough, but they weren't tasty. Natsu didn't even touch his share. Gray had a hunch that the only fresh thing to consume in this place was probably beer, which he just couldn't bring himself to order in such an environment.
"You threw up enough on the way here," said Gray, perhaps feeling more nauseous than Natsu was as he said that. Beggars can't be choosers, though. The slop was free, at least. The pub they happened to save from drunken arson also happened to be an inn, though they had to pay for their room.
They managed to gather that Gladys dwelled on the side of town opposite of October's manor, upon the less popular Sunrise Hills, which is said to be the first part of town where darkness falls. Also, she never left her dwelling.
She posed as a relationship counselor of sorts. Many people went to and left her thinking that their lives were doomed to loveless misery. Those who were scared of her were the people that likely relocated to different towns. Some were apprehensive of her. People with blind faith in their love, or high hopes for their future sought her counsel as though to challenge her, only to come out broken. She didn't just separate lovers, but friends and family, too. The bartender chipped in that he had a wonderful daughter who thought Gladys was a con artist, only to return a changed woman who despised her family all of a sudden. She rattled off false memories of betrayal and neglect to justify her ire. It was maddening.
Technically what Gladys was thought to be doing wasn't illegal, until October and Bonnor had both reason and evidence to suspect that Gladys was using forbidden magic. October, who was actually a mage unaffiliated with any guilds, would have faced her himself if not for the danger that the love for his town would be erased from his heart. Then all hope would be lost.
There were mixed feelings for their mayor around the bar, though the general concensus was that he was a bumbling fool that made a mess of his homeland by marrying such a dangerous woman. Others did not blame him, and in fact were glad that he thought to hire mages to take care of the problem, though some of the commentary regarding that was unsettling.
"You may want to enjoy your last night as friends together," was what the bartender told them. Gray felt his throat stiffen for a second, and could only find his breath once Natsu threw one arm around his shoulders and slammed the bar table with his free hand.
"Like hell!" he shouted, making Gray's ears ring. "You're all pathetic! If you were smart you'd drop everything to find those people, rather than moping around in here peeing all over yourselves. Burn it into your brains, or I'll do it for you. Nothing gets between me and my nakama!"
At the word "nakama" Natsu's grip tightened around Gray's shoulders, causing the ice mage to lose his breath once more. This was forbidden magic that they were going up against. Not even Natsu could possibly be dumb enough to let the risks go over his head.
No, that wasn't it. Natsu knew exactly what was at stake. He was more loud and tense than usual, and he made a point to have their bond be known for exactly what it was, while maintaining the belief that they would be all right regardless. Then something October said caused Gray's heart to skip a beat.
Of course, if you love each other in just the perfect way, Abscindia may have no effect!
That wasn't possible. Whatever it was that October meant by "love," that wasn't something he an Natsu had, was it? Did Natsu think so? Mages of Fairy Tail did have a tenacious amount of devotion toward their own, even if they argued and threw bar stools at one another. Could he or Natsu take a hit from Abscindia? To be honest, Gray didn't want to risk it. The plan he had in mind was to break in and detain her before she could use any life-altering magic, and it was possible. Even though the safest route was often boring, it seemed like the right thing to do this time around.
Especially for idiot Natsu, who would pretty much die without his friends, if half-choking Gray at the moment weren't any indication. He could feel his neck getting hot against the fire mage's skin all of a sudden, so he shoved himself out of Natsu's embrace and rubbed the sweat off.
"Let's get this over with," said Gray, walking toward the door as though it were just any old mission. Hey, if he believed it enough then it would be so, right?
"They're doomed," said one of the patrons, shaking his bushy head. Gray was just about to snap, but Natsu's hand found his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Neither of them looked at each other, just ahead. The warmth of the fire mage's gesture tingled against his bare shoulder like a ray of sunlight for quite awhile as they walked along. It was distracting, though Gray found that he didn't mind the distraction so much. He wanted to believe that they would walk away from this mission OK, after all that they'd been through. This didn't even compare to some of it, so he liked to believe. Most of what they did was a test of physical prowess and battle wit. Now was a test of friendship. Teamwork. Love?
... love... in just the perfect way
The word love was going to give Gray a massive headache at this rate.
"Stop dozing off, droopy-eyes. We've got work to do," said Natsu, cracking the muscles in his back and shoulders. Before he had even realized it, there they were.
"Think I don't know that?"
The Sunrise Hills, a deceptively cheery name. This end of town overlooked a forest mostly, whereas the other end overlooked plains, farmland, and more hills. The house of Gladys was small, perched upon one of the higher hills with a gravel path to lead them toward the door. Natsu hissed each time a rock got into his shoe. Gray was impressed that he himself still had shoes, and even pants at that, thanks to October. Still, the boxers were chafing. He wouldn't even bother with them if he could just manage to keep his pants.
In any case, if he didn't know any better he'd swear that this was just a normal magic shop. Its appearance was quaint and inoffensive enough. It even had a nice wooden sign that said Welcome on the front. Gladys was doing everything she could to piss him off at this point, he was certain of it.
Natsu opened the door, and a bell chimed above head. Once again they were assaulted by smells that were too strong. A heavy stench of spice and incense tickled their nostrils. Gray sneezed a few times, and Natsu shouted something about open windows. He couldn't really hear over the sound of his own sneezing. This was one of the reasons he tended to avoid the shops of fortune tellers, which is what this reminded him of. He also didn't need some weirdo prying into his future, but that was neither here, nor there. Frankly he was surprised that this alone didn't drive people away.
"Welcome," said some young woman appearing behind the counter. "Have you come for counseling?" She had to be at least a few years younger than Gray was. Her eyes were the color of olives in this dim candle lit room, and the bleached hair that curled about her chin looked familiar to Gray, though he couldn't quite put his finger on it. It wasn't Gladys, though, that was for sure. Apparently Gladys never showed her face to people anymore. She masked her face with a scarf, and wore a white headdress that hung about her shoulders. The only part of her face anyone ever saw these days were her eyes. That was exactly how she looked on the newsprint, too.
"Where's Gladys?" said Natsu, from whom Gray could already feel heat rising. The idiot finally got her name right, so it seemed that he was getting serious now. Either that, or he just wanted to get out of this spice infested nightmare of a house. Speaking of which, Gray was on his eighth or ninth sneeze, and this one was teary. If he didn't know any better he'd say someone was talking about his behind his back. A lot.
"Down those stairs," the woman said, gesturing toward a stairwell beside the incense rack. That was a little too easy. There was no fee? No waiting period? Just go? Another unsettling thing was how empty this girl was. Her voice, her eyes, her gestures. She was like a doll who existed for the purpose of pointing people toward the chamber of doom. It really bugged Gray, too, how familiar she looked. In fact, he could have sworn that he had seen her today, in fact, but that was impossible.
"Hmm," said Natsu. His lip turned into a sneer the moment their feet reached the first step. That wasn't surprising, seeing as Gray could sense it, too. Something wasn't right. It felt like they were walking right into a trap, but then again what could a relationship counselor really be capable of? She destroyed a town of weak-willed lovers. No, it was far more than that. It was obviously more than that. He didn't want to give her power too much credit if there was an easy and obvious solution. Somehow beating the crap out of this lady seemed too easy. How was it that no one before them did? October couldn't possibly be the only mage in Balsam.
"Gray," Natsu whispered, stopping halfway down and gesturing for him to halt. Gray did, and noticed Natsu glaring down at the polished hardwood floor beyond the foot of the step. "We should attack her from above. I sense something strange coming from the floor."
"Something strange? Like what?"
"How should I know? It just gives me a bad feeling. We can't touch the floor, OK?"
"Whatever. Just don't do anything stupid," said Gray, figuring he may as well concede with Natsu's plan. There was nothing else to go by, and October did warn them not to engage in conversation with Gladys. Sticking by the stairs didn't lend itself well to chatter among strangers, and long distance attacks were something that Gray was more than capable of. He wanted to err on the side of caution anyway. Frankly he was surprised that Natsu was thinking the same. When it came to battle at least the guy did have a few brain cells to rub together.
Once they reached the bottom few steps they spotted Gladys lighting the final candle at the edge of the floor. It seemed kind of pointless, considering that the room was already lamp lit, but then again Gray knew nothing about this sort of thing. She obviously couldn't predict the future, because if that were the case she'd know that filling a room with fire, no matter how small, only worked in Natsu's favor.
"It would seem that I have guests," said Gladys, in a voice that couldn't even begin to match her malice. It was gentle, sweet, and not at all what he had imagined. Even so, that was all part of the trap, wasn't it? The lure. Could someone so pure be so evil? Only an amateur would think not. "Welcome."
Natsu responded to her polite welcome with a fireball to the ceiling. He aimed for the lamp, melting the metal and cables that held it up within a matter of seconds. The fire mage wasted no time in declaring war here, though once the lamp came crashing down Gladys didn't even flinch. In fact, she stood directly below it, and just as it was about to crush her skull and invisible barrier that surrounded her smashed it to pieces. A circle of lamp parts surrounded her still form.
Shields magic. That was just perfect.
Though it made sense. People were bound to be upset with this woman. If she didn't have command of some sort of self-defense spell then there would be no need to get powerful mages involved.
"I knew it," said Natsu, pointing toward Gladys. Gray noticed that her body was surrounded by cards that were not there a second ago. For a moment they glowed, and the next they sunk into the floor. Had she not done that then her little trap would not have been quite as obvious. Frankly, if it weren't for Natsu then Gray might not have sensed the danger himself in time.
"What's eating you, darling?" Gladys asked, looking directly at Natsu. "I'm terribly sorry if things didn't work out with your girlfriend. Perhaps you might want to consider dulling that fiery personality of yours. Women don't like a man that's too hot-headed."
"Shut up!" said Natsu, balling his fist into blazing fireballs and hopping upon the rail of the stairs. "You're that crazy old hag that's been using weird magic to turn friends and family against each other. You're the worst kind of person."
Leave it to Natsu to get straight to the point. He hopped from the railing with both fists blazing, and as expected his fists were met with another invisible barrier. He used that to propel himself backwards to his previous spot on the railing. He had taken the time to establish that neither physical objects, nor magic would pierce that barrier. The floor was her territory, and who knew what the cards embedded beneath those oak boards were capable of, aside from the obvious, devastating Abscindia.
"How rude. I'm certainly not old, for one. And second of all, you have entirely the wrong idea, darling. My calling is to help people sever ties from those that are no good for them, and that is all."
"Don't even try to feed us that bullshit," said Gray, choosing to hang back for the time being. He knew that Natsu had something in mind. He could read it in the fire mage's body language, still and sure, eyes locked upon his opponent. Gray also had an idea, and if it was anything like Natsu's then the two of them had this in the bag. All they had to do was keep their cool.
"Have you been outside lately?" said Natsu, his cheeks tinted green with just the thought of it. The smell bothered the hell out of Gray, so he couldn't even begin to imagine what it did to Natsu. The fact that Natsu had no appetite after the whole fire fiasco spoke volumes, for one. "You're not helping anyone! I'm going to break every bone in your stupid body and dump you right in front of the mayor's door by sunrise."
Gladys sighed. It was fake. "I've heard that one before. You'll obviously have my shields to contend with."
"Then we'll just have to see who bleeds whose magic out first," said Natsu, grinning and firing up once more. Gray smiled. He thought that it was something like that. Normally that sort of plan was too risky, but they were at an advantage. If Natsu ran his reserves dry first, which would take a long time considering the candles especially, then Gray could step in. Gray hadn't revealed his own magical abilities yet, so not only was it entirely possible that they had more magic on their side, but there was also the element of surprise to contend with. Gladys didn't do anything to make him believe that she was prepared for two overpowered mages that could see through her little trap.
Natsu gathered every fire molecule in his belly that he could and let it rip toward her. Gray shielded his eyes from the blaze, feeling every bit of his cool skin prickle. He hated the damn heat, but he supposed he could deal with it just this once. Gladys had shields that could dissolve offensive spells, so the fire that rained down upon her simply disappeared where she stood. It would probably be the same for Gray's ice.
When Natsu took his first breath, Gray noticed one trickle of sweat slide down his brow. He was otherwise composed with utmost confidence in his plan, if that stupid grin on his face weren't indication enough. Gray could only imagine how much sweat was happening beneath that head dress of hers, and she was already short of breath. If this was the grand extent of her magical capabilities then they would be wrapping this up at any moment.
They were careless about only one thing, though.
Natsu had to hop off of the railing a split second before it disappeared. The whole damn thing just up and vanished. The other thing to vanish was the floor beneath Gray's feet, which caused him to land chest first against the very floor that would seal their doom.
"Excellent work, Linda," said Gladys. There was a smirk in her voice for sure.
He looked up at this girl called Linda, the girl who greeted them at the front counter. She was a mage, too, standing behind the railing that was not there a second ago. A mage capable of making objects vanish momentarily. She was so silent in her arrival that even Natsu couldn't sense her until it was too late.
"Gray!" Natsu shouted, as a circle of light began to form at once around the ice mage. He had only enough time to stand before the cards would pop out of the floor.
Just before they could, Natsu charged forward and punched Gray into the nearest wall. It worked, but in his place the fire mage wound up trapped in the circle of cards vortex, which he tried and couldn't punch his way out of.
Gladys was low on magical power as it was, concentrating all of her might into the final blow. Gray could only watch in horror as Natsu was engulfed in light, those cards circling him like a spinning razor. He screamed for a second, but once the light show was over he toppled into an undignified heap of limbs, and Gray stumbled toward him. He turned Natsu's face toward him, to see eyes frozen open with horror. He looked dead for a moment, but when Gray checked his pulse it was normal.
"What did you do," said Gray through gritted teeth, though it wasn't a question. He knew exactly what she did, and she was going to pay for it.
Through labored breaths, Gladys chortled. "Everything living thing in the universe is governed by the fight or flight response. Be grateful. Your friend has chosen to fight, which is not a path most are strong enough to endure. You must mean a lot to him.
"There's no guarantee that he'll be the same person you knew regardless, though. If he's not, I advise you to move on and seek better people as I have."
"Shut your fucking mouth!" said Gray, concentrating all of his reserves to bury everything in the room but the ground beneath Natsu's body in ice. Gladys neither had the magic, nor the reflexes to call upon her shields. There was also no way in hell she could cast Abscindia again, not when she could barely stand. Her and Linda both yelped when he trapped them where they stood with ice. In fact, the only bit of Gladys he didn't cover in ice was her head. He wasn't done speaking with her.
"You and your friend were sent by October, I take it," said Gladys.
Gray walked toward her, and the first thing he did was rip that stupid mask off of her face. He felt like pummeling it, too. The fact that she was a beautiful woman did nothing to alleviate that urge, and she didn't deserve to hide behind a mask. As far as he was concerned, she didn't even deserve the air she breathed.
"There is a way to reverse any magic. I learned this on Galuna Island when that idiot Lyon had the nerve to melt my master's iced shell.
"Meaning there's a damn way to reverse whatever crap you did to Natsu. Do you know how to do it? And don't fucking lie to me, or you'll be shitting teeth in the morning."
"I-I... !" said Gladys, her stone cold exterior crumbling under the heat of Gray's fury. His muscular build was more than capable of shattering every bone in her body. She could barely move her neck, and there was no point in struggling to budge any other limb in her body, though she probably was. Her skin was white as though drained of every blood cell, the combination of cold and fear overwhelming her. Tears fell from both of her eyes. "I-I... I don't know! And that's the truth. Your only hope is that Natsu-san c-can break the spell himself. It's... it's not unheard of! Oh please, I'll never do it again. Just... just... "
"Leave Gladys alone!" Gray could hear the tears in Linda's plea. "She's a wonderful person. She saved me from an abusive family!"
"Shut up!" said Gray, refusing to be bought. If Gladys used Abscindia on that girl, too, then there was no telling whether or not such a claim was legitimate. He would not be convinced of anything the pair of them had to say. If it weren't for Linda's sudden appearance then this wouldn't have happened.
Or rather, if it weren't for Gray's carelessness. They should have considered that girl a threat. How stupid. So, so stupid.
"That will do, Gray," came another familiar voice, that of October, descending from the stairwell. Most of the were lights dimmed, with the exception of one functioning lamp where Gray's magic did not reach, it was hard to make out his features. He slipped and fell once upon the frozen floor, making Gray cringe, though managed somehow to reach Gladys otherwise. He cupped the outraged woman's cheek and smiled at her.
"Sleep, my love."
October cast a simple sleep spell upon Gladys that knocked her out at once. A similar spell had been cast on Linda, perhaps just after she had pleaded with Gray. It didn't matter, though. None of it fucking mattered. With his enemies out of commission, all Gray could see was Natsu's unconscious form, gazing at him with those eerie, lifeless eyes that saw nothing. Nothing but whatever Abscindia was showing him. Gray couldn't even begin to imagine.
"Oye, Natsu. Wake up!" said Gray, grabbing him by the scarf. Even in sleep, injury-induced or otherwise, Natsu would have resisted such manhandling. He was as limp as a noddle. There was nothing normal about this "sleep." It was more like a coma. "Natsu, snap out of it! We've won. It's time to get out of here."
He held on to some shred of hope that Natsu would grab him by the wrist, knee him in the stomach, and tell him to quit shouting. The hope was made in vain. Gray tightened his vice grip on Natsu's scarf and shook him until he slipped from the damn thing and back to the floor. Nothing changed. The eyes, Gray reached for Natsu's face and pulled the lids down. There was no resistance. He couldn't stand the sight of it. He ground his teeth, clutched the scarf to his heart, and struck the ice with his free fist, causing a fissure to split clear across the frozen floor. His knuckles were bleeding. He didn't care.
"Gray, be a darling and release Gladys. I need to detain her properly." There was no humor in October's voice, just business. Gray turned toward him and noticed the anti-magic cuffs he had brought with him. So that's how it was.
Gray did as he was told. Gladys would never cast shields, or Abscindia as long as she was wearing those. Balsam was free of her causing more damage, perhaps at a price that was just too great.
"I called upon you mages to do precisely as you have done. You weakened her power to the point where I could easily approach her. Thank you."
"You'll have to thank Natsu for that actually, when he snaps out of it," said Gray, slinging the unconscious mage's arm around his shoulders. This stupid bastard was heavy. How could Happy stand it all the time?
"I'm not sure 'when' is the correct word for it, to be honest. Be prepared for the worst, I'm afraid."
"Then that perfect love crap you spouted earlier was just a lie?" Gray didn't look at him. He couldn't. He didn't want anyone to see whatever ridiculous emotion was written on his face.
"Well," said October, gazing sadly at the face of his former wife, who he now held in his arms bridal style. "I suppose not."
"Good." Gray dragged his teammate up the stairs, caring no longer to engage in this stupid conversation. He had more important things to worry about, like hoping against all odds that the Natsu he knew would emerge from this nightmare.
A/N: Aaaaaaand there you go. What horror has the legendary Deathbringer unleashed upon Natsu? Stick around for the next chapter, and don't forget to review! I enjoy the comments, and am curious to see what you all think is in store for Gray and Natsu. ;)