A/N: Quick info about the story...
The story begins a few months after the Edolas Arc in the anime (the Act 1 below is separate in time, however) and a few months before the Tenrou Island Arc. There will be some pretty significant deviations from canon, but major issues like Zeref and Acnologia and the fate of the Dragons will be handled, albeit in a different way than the canon seems to be leaning. The backbone of the story draws from the stories of King Arthur, but in a kind of fractured way. The rest, you'll find out.
"We're so, so close..."
Their target was an impossibly old citadel that went by no other name than the Rock. The fortress had been set into the obsidian peaks of the Folds, the mountain range in the northwest of Fiore.
The Folds in an age forgotten were once volcanoes and the ash and magma from their sputtering turned them so black you could scarcely see them at night. But now they were cold. Frighteningly cold. These mountains were the highest in Fiore, as well as the oldest, and they dwarfed the crew of bandits that meant to scale them.
"...to having everything we could ever want..."
Their leader could command the attention of men as though he was born to do so. He stood on a rock, in his thick coat and cape, and set a fire in the crowd of fifty that looked up at him.
He didn't look like an average thug. He had large rust colored eyes, and a long, but kind smile. His face had gone pale from the wind and cold, making his scruffy goatee stand out. His dark hair was held back in a low ponytail. He wasn't tall, or muscular, but his presence was huge.
"...everything we deserve, and more. No more sleepless nights because the hunger keeps us awake..."
With nothing more than a gesture, he made his crew forget how long the road here had been, how many blizzards had rocked the region in the past month, how crazy their expedition was. Instead, he drew their attention to the fantastic treasure that awaited them, the power it would grant them.
"...you've all been so brave to take your destinies into your own hands, and I couldn't have asked any more of you..."
The canter of his speech enthralled them. The man was no mage, despite how much he knew about magic. But his words had a certain witchcraft to them, a spell woven by his cunning and charisma.
"...and now we've arrived at the final leg of our journey, the final fucking pay-off moment..."
There were flowers and plants here at the foothills the likes of which hadn't grown in the rest of Fiore in thousands of years. Plants that were ashen gray, and thrived and in the cold. Some had flowers that bloomed in magnificent reds and blues, and gave off a sweet, but chilling fragrance.
"...it won't be easy, but when has that stopped us? We're not about to quit, not now when the treasure of the ages is within sight.."
Here he pointed back, to the Rock, which was steadily being engulfed by gray clouds, as if to hide it from view. it was an ominous sign. There was magic in these mountains, of that everyone was sure.
Even the bandits without a scrap of magic in them could feel it; the wind whispered spells and incantations in a language lost to men, and the rocks trembled and whined as they passed. It frightened them all.
"...remember where we came from, and where we're going..."
Here, he threw them a smile that set the kindling down in their hearts. The whole crew strained towards him without even knowing it; a hardy group of thugs and bandits giving their full attention and respect to this clean cut man. He looked each one of them in the eye.
"THIS IS IT!"
He raised his fist, and they all roared with him, their breath rising in steamy puffs. Any misgivings they had were gone in that cheer. Their weapons rose defiantly against the grey clouds that were slowly blocking out the sun.
"This is it."
He finished more to himself than anyone else. The man was flushed and exuberant, despite the terrible cold. His grin stretched, even as pitch colored snow began to fall. He turned his back on his men, and his rusty eyes turned to the Rock. He was so close. So fucking close.
The journey up the mountain had cost them much more than he could have ever imagined.
They hadn't even made it half way up the Folds when the first of the blizzards had come. It was a storm unlike anything he'd ever seen, or read about. The grey clouds that cloaked the mountains spewed huge bolts of ice blue lightning and foot after foot of black snow. Within a week, they had to stop and set up a camp in a small grove of trees.
The black snow was heavy, because of the ash in it most of the bandits theorized, and wouldn't melt. Some of the drifts swallowed the very trees they had taken shelter in. It took them another week to dig their way out, and much of their equipment had to be left behind. No one was happy about the situation, their leader the least so.
But he still managed to frame the mission as not only doable, but as now worth more because of their sacrifice. The crew ate his words up, as usual, but they had a new bitter taste.
The days were cold, but the nights were freezing. After they could see the summit, the air had gotten so cold it was hard to breathe during the day, and during the night people died.
Someone had to be assigned to do rounds in the morning; to check everyone's skin to see whose blood had frozen while the sun was away. As they climbed further and further, more and more of them were dying. But still, they had continued until the Rock was only a few more miles away.
That was when the bandits began disappearing.
One night patrol had simply vanished, and after a day's search no trace of them could be found. Some said they had run away from this crazy mission. Others said it was the spirits.
Both were rumors that set their leaders teeth on edge. He was losing them and he knew it. No wanted to do night patrol anymore. No one even wanted to leave their tents at night.
The man's speeches no longer stirred the fear out of them. Nothing he could say would keep them from talking about the ghosts that didn't want them here; about how mad it was to be in these haunted mountains.
Then two more of them disappeared.
Only this time there was a witness.
"It was…black," the bandit was a giant of a man, with metal studs drilled into his skull, and it was painfully clear he had been scared out of his mind, "It wasn't an animal, it was something dark and evil. It just swallowed Jericho, and Kai," his breath stopped up in his throat, and it took him a few minutes to continue, "It ripped him in half like it was nothing, and then it sighed."
He was breathing so hard by this point, he had begun to choke and someone ran to fetch him some water. Their leader was kneeling in front of him, his rust eyes distant. This was a problem. A huge problem.
They sat in the center of their encampment. This was far more dangerous than a rumor; this was the death of his plans, delivered straight from the mouth of this bandit. Everyone had gathered around to hear the story. He couldn't quiet this down, he couldn't make them forget about the horror that was painted on this man's face.
"How did you escape?" the leader asked, when the bandit was ready to continue. He was dreading the answer.
"I started to run, but it followed me. It didn't make any noise, it just…flew along the ground. I didn't get far until it knocked me down. The thing didn't have a face, or a mouth but it leaned really close to me, and whispered 'begone from this mountain, you are not the blood heir'."
Everyone's faces lost their color, and turned to their leader. All at once, they were struck with how hard he was to read; his expression was as cold as the Folds themselves. Eventually one of them worked up the courage to ask, "What will we do now?"
His gaze turned frostily to the bandit who had spoken, "Well it's obvious isn't it?"
The bandit shrunk into his coat, deeply regretting speaking. All of them shrunk back too, to get away from the cold their leader was now giving off.
"We keep going."
That, as it turned out, was the last straw. In the morning, all of his crew was gone, and he was alone, two miles from the Rock. Whether they had made it back down the mountain was not his problems.
Damn cowards, he hoped the spirits they saw ate every last one of them.
By himself, it took him only a few days to reach the Rock. It was much bigger than it looked from the ground. Its spires rose miles into the sky, above the peaks of the other mountains.
The doors were thirty feet high, and wide enough to fit two elephants through. It wasn't hard to believe the legends that the place had been built for dragons. Up close, he could see the intricate magic seals that protected the place from intruders. He wasn't a mage but if he was careful he could disable them.
He had taken a book on seals out of his bag and was studying it when he felt someone join him in front of the Rock. The sun was bright, but he could see no shadow other than his own. He looked up, and what he saw made him begin to shiver.
Standing next to him was a silhouette of a man. It was blacker than anything he'd ever seen, like a hole in space. It hadn't a face or eyes, but he sensed it was staring at him. But despite the immense fear he felt, the man found his mind completely clear. He just stared at it, and it stared back at him.
"What are you?" he finally said, his voice sounding strangely hoarse.
"We are not," it said. It spoke in a thousand voices, all of varying pitch and tonality, "You are not. So you must begone from this mountain, you are not of the blood."
"I can't leave, spirit. You don't know, but I need to get into the Rock."
"We do know, everything, man not of the blood," It said and as the man began to respond, it raised a long fingered hand, and his voice stopped itself in his throat.
"We know exactly who you are, Aleksandr of Camelot, and that your wife and three children were killed by the Bane of Men a decade ago. We know you seek the Eye of Orpheus. But its meaning is not for you, for you are not the Bloodheir."
Aleksandr dropped his book, and clawed at his throat. He couldn't breathe. He looked at his fingers, and found that they were freezing. But it was with only with a calm, cold hatred that he wheezed to the spirit, "If you know, then you know it wasn't fair. It never is."
The silhouette shook its head and walked the short distance between itself and Aleksandr. "You are right but you are not, Aleksandr," it said, and it reached over and tapped him on the forehead. Aleksandr's body instantly went rigid. Within a minute a crust of black ice peeking through his skin in places. By the time the spirit turned to leave, he was completely encased.
"We know, all, Aleksandr. You are not. Death is neither."
A/N: This is something of a prologue, and sets up the happenings of this entire story, but normally an Act will have its own separate chapter to designate it and each Act will be 7-10 chapters, 3 Acts in total. So this seems like a weird way to start off, but the tie in will come eventually, trust me.