Lucy pushed more magic into her key. "Just a little longer," she whispered in the darkness as the dragon roared far above them.

Horologium grunted in pain as his strained wooden walls creaked. The rocks around them shifted, banged against his glass front and pushed them down deeper.

Occupied with staying calm in pitch darkness, it took a while for Lucy to notice the silence. "Is it gone?" Lucy asked cautiously.

"The rocks have stopped moving," Horologium replied.

They both waited, straining to hear any disturbance.

"It's been fifteen minutes since the roars stopped," Horologium said.

"Then it's probably gone," Lucy said. "Living dragons never stay silent for long."

Horologium hummed in agreement.

"Looks like it didn't know I was here," Lucy said, feeling an overwhelming sense of relief. "This was just a random attack on the mountain itself while I happened to be on the other side."

Horologium shifted.

"Yeah," Lucy said, understanding his unspoken words. "That doesn't make me feel any better either. If you hadn't shown up as quickly as you did, I would've been flattened. Thank you."

"That's what Automatic Danger Response Mode is meant for," Horologium finally said.

"You still can't take a complement," Lucy said with an amused huff and groped through her key ring. "Should I call Virgo to get us out of here now?"

"It would be best to leave immediately," Horologium agreed. "I won't be able to climb out from this depth without Virgo's aid."

Before Lucy could direct her magic into Virgo's key, a welcoming bell chimed and light engulfed them. Heavy chains clanged as they wrapped around Horologium and shifted the rocks noisily. Within seconds, Horologium shot up through the ground and landed on top of a large rock pile.

With no dragon in sight, Lucy reigned in her summoning magic and deftly reattached two golden keys back onto her keyring.

"I shall take my leave," Horologium said tiredly and disappeared with a puff, depositing Lucy gently on her feet.

"Sorry for taking so long, Princess." Virgo dropped down to one knee and bowed her head. "Please punish me for my tardiness."

"No need for that." Lucy dusted the dirt from her black cloak, fingers discreetly confirming the presence of woven runic arrays on the fabric. Amidst the ruined landscape- the mountain's rubble and destroyed trees- the deep hole that she'd come out of stood out starkly. "I hope Horologium's okay. We were buried pretty deep."

Virgo stood. "It''ll take a lot more than rocks to injure him seriously."

"You're right, he's stronger than he looks." Lucy said, "Please fill that hole. I'd rather not leave any evidence of having been here."

Virgo's chains lengthened and sank into the ground. With a faint rumble, dust rose up in the air and rocks tumbled into the hole filling it to the brim.

"Hopefully that's the only dragon I'll come across," Lucy said and adjusted the cold necklace around her neck.

"If there are dragons roaming around then you must be on the right path," Virgo said as she stared out into the distance.

Lucy nodded. "I must be close to the final location that Queen Shagotte mentioned."

Virgo looked back at her solemnly. "I'll accompany you, Princess."

"Not like I could keep you away," Lucy said in exasperation. "If I send you back, you'll re-open the gate and return, won't you?"

"Will you punish me for doing so, Princess?" Virgo asked.

"No, it's always nice to have company," Lucy said simply. "But I wish you'd all let me summon you properly through your keys." Lucy raised the hood of her cloak and covered her face. "I'm forgetting how to use them."

"You summon the silver spirits through their keys," Virgo said and tugged on her clothes. A matching black hooded-cloak materialized over Virgo's distinctive maid outfit and pink hair.

"But I haven't used the golden zodiac keys that much. You all appear before I can even use my magic to summon you. What does this say about me as a celestial mage?"

"Every time we travel to Earthland and stay without using your magic, we strengthen ourselves for your final plan, Princess." Virgo said, "And we need to be here and help since the dragons are so keen on annihilating you."

"I'm not their only target!" Lucy pouted petulantly.

"You're the only one that matters to us," Virgo said.

Lucy's heart warmed at the words but she huffed, "Don't try to sweet talk me." With the weight of her two loaded key-rings reassuring her, Lucy took a deep breath and walked forward.

"Do you want me to carry you, Princess?"

"No way." Lucy carefully skated down a short rocky slope. "That'll just put me to sleep."

"Aries said you haven't been sleeping enough, Princess."

"Nightmares don't allow for uninterrupted sleep." Lucy shrugged. "But I'll deal with less sleep if it means I can finally see the completion of our plan."

Virgo's chains rattled, the only sign of her displeasure as she nodded. "Princess..."

"I'm fine, Virgo," Lucy said. "I've had seven years to deal with the lack of sleep."

"It's not that. It's time to take another dose of Ichiya's presence cancelling potion, Princess."

"Oh, right." Lucy reached into her hip pouch, counted the vials inside and frowned at the one she pulled out. "I'll only have enough for a month after drinking this one."

"Hibiki-san always knows when you wish to find them," Virgo's chains sank into the ground, her magic directing the loose rocks to create a slope. "I'm sure he will contact you with their current location if needed."

"I hope they're staying hidden and out of trouble," Lucy said as she slowly skated down the newly created slope of loose earth.

Virgo jumped down to Lucy. "After the last time, I'm sure they will stay hidden from the Emperor's supporters."

"I left Doranbolt with them since Porlyusica," Lucy bit her lip and shook away the ghastly images of the old woman's death. "They'd better be careful."

"But you haven't heard anything about them in the past three months," Virgo said softly. "And no news is good news, right?"

"I hope so." Lucy uncorked the vial and downed the sweet-smelling concoction in one go. She coughed and fanned her stinging tongue. "Why can't Ichiya do something about this taste?"

"I think Ichiya is more concerned with creating the potions quickly, Princess," Virgo stated.

Lucy rolled her eyes. "I know... I just, oh, never mind."

"I'm sorry, Princess. As usual, I'm not the best companion to travel with," Virgo said solemnly.

Lucy gaped at her.

"Please punish me, Princess."

Lucy snorted, her stunned silence turning in fondness. "I like you just the way you are."

Virgo's chains rattled as they jumped over a large crack in the ground. "The others would have understood what you were trying to say."

"They would have," Lucy said wistfully. "But you're not meant to be anyone's replacement. For one thing, you're the only person who can tell me if that dragon's landscape redecoration has affected my travel route."

Virgo nodded, knelt down and placed her palms flat against the ground. "The debris from this flattened mountain has buried the entire Forest of Fog."

Lucy cursed. "We'll need to use another covered route to the valley then."

Virgo looked up at her, "You could go through the swamp and the ruins of Town."

"There might be people hiding out in those ruins."

"We can easily subdue them if we need to," Virgo said. "You need a safe place to rest for the night."

Lucy frowned. "I'd rather leave them alone."

Virgo stood up. "The swamp is the quickest way to reach our destination safely."

"Fine!" Lucy sighed tiredly as they turned away from the buried forest. "We'll go through the swamp. But we'll give the ruins a wide berth."

Crossing the swamp took the better part of the day. Drenched in sweat and covered in muck, Lucy stood at the edge of the swamp pulled the last leech off her skin with a disgusted grimace. "Worst detour ever."

"It was the best option available," Virgo said, her palm against the solid ground once more. "The village ruins are straight ahead. I feel movement at one corner."

"People?" Lucy asked warily.

Virgo tilted her head to the side. "A group of them. Too many to be a gathering of mages so far from the Capital."

Lucy cursed under her breath. "Then we'd better keep our distance. I'd rather not deal with any magic-hating survivors."

Virgo nodded. "We can go due west to the very edge of the town, far enough from their encampment. Otherwise you'll need to find shelter in the swamp."

Not wanting to deal with leeches again, Lucy chose to head west. As the orange sky darkened into blue, Lucy huddled within the dilapidated ruins of a small church with Virgo and grabbed one of her Silver Keys. "Open, Gate of the Southern Cross, Crux."

With a muted chime, a large humanoid silver cross appeared and hovered in front of her with it's legs folded. "We could have spoken telepathically and saved you the trouble of summoning me with your magic," the silver cross-headed spirit said solemnly.

"It's nice to talk face-to-face when we can," Lucy said and pulled out her notebook. "I've been thinking about these altered calculations we decided on."

Crux hummed and leaned forward. "Have you found an error?"

"No, I think I've figured out how to stabilize the opening conditions," Lucy said.

Crux scanned her notes. "You'd need an enormous magic power source to carry out this sort of stabilization."

"But if we do this we can cut down on the prep time," Lucy said.

"You don't have any power source at the moment," Crux reminded her. "Not even for the initial start up."

"I'll get the power sorted out," Lucy slumped. "Eventually."

"Princess?" Virgo asked cautiously.

"I haven't found anything in seven years," Lucy said softly. "What if there isn't any viable power source to find?"

"Then you'll just need to create another way to make your plan work," Virgo said simply.

"It's not that sim..." Lucy blanched as a loud roar thundered through the air. "Another one?"

Crux disappeared silently with a concerned bow. Virgo stood, her chains glowing and ready to act.

Wings flapped and a large reptilian body flew over and away from them.

Before Lucy could feel any relief, Virgo said, "I think the dragon is headed towards the group we detected earlier, Princess."

Jumping over and weaving though the ruins, Lucy raced towards the dragon that had landed in the distance. Stopping behind a crumbling wall to catch her breath, Lucy assessed the situation.

The dragon, covered in pristine teal scales, seemed unconcerned by the hostile group of armed people all around it. It looked down, it's focus fixed on it's front limb. With a closer look, Lucy realized it was focused on what was trapped beneath it's enormous clawed foot.

A small struggling child.

"Give him back!" One of the men threw a wooden spear at the dragon's head, prompting the others to attack. In the dying light of the evening sun, the arrows and other weapons bounced harmlessly off the dragon's scales.

"None of them have magic, Princess," Virgo confirmed in a whisper, leaning close to Lucy. "They're not a threat to it."

With a quick flick of it's spiked tail, the dragon lazily swatted away anyone who got too close to it's prisoner.

"It's playing with them," Lucy said in disgust.

As though to counter her words, the dragon raised it's head with a devious look and opened it's maw.

"Virgo!" Lucy ran and flicked her Fleve d'etoiles whip open.

Multiple holes appeared across the ground, safely pulling the people down and away from the dragon's torrent of steam. A larger hole opened beneath the dragon's tail and hind legs, pulling it down and closing to trap it.

The dragon's eyes narrowed in rage and it thrashed violently as Lucy's star-studded water whip wrapped around it's snout and jaw.

Large spikes of earth rose up from the ground and slammed into the dragon's side and wings, well away from the trapped child.

Looking into the dragon's sapphire blue eye, Lucy willed her whip to lengthen and lock away any chance of freedom. "You're going to regret coming here and meeting me." Lucy tugged on a golden key and mentally communicated her plan with her spirit. "Gemini!"

With a fierce pull on a good chunk of her magic, Gemi and Mini appeared and morphed into a menacing male form beside Lucy. The male looked up at the dragon and roared.

A mix of toxic black and white magic sparked across the teal dragon's body.

The dragon shuddered and struggled violently for a few minutes, forcing Lucy to dig her feet in the ground and grip her whip handle harder. With another roar from Gemini, the dragon's shadow rippled. Sharp shadowy constructs stabbed upwards through the dragon's scales and forced it's front leg up.

Virgo rushed forward and pulled the child away.

"Lucy, we're running out of magic," Gemini said telepathically, sounding strained and weary. "But I have just enough to leave it unconscious here for a good while."

"It'll have to do," Lucy replied through their mental connection. "Without Rogue's power level, trying to use any of his other techniques will just cripple me."

Gemini- in the copied guise of Rogue- nodded in agreement and roared at dragon once more.

Thicker black sparks and pitch black shadows raced across the dragon's scales and seeped into it's eyes.

The dragon whimpered, closed it's black eyes and fell forward in an unconscious heap.

"Virgo," Lucy called out loud before switching over to telepathic communication. "Trap as much of it in the earth as you can. And get everyone out of the holes."

Virgo's chains lengthened. The dragon sank down into the ground till both it's spiked wings and front limbs were trapped deep in the earth.

Rogue's menacing body melted away into the tiny blue forms of Gemi and Mini, who zoomed and circled around Lucy.

Lucy took a deep breath, shrunk her whip till only the handle remained and turned to face the people she had just helped. Though she expected it, Lucy still flinched at seeing the spears and other weaponry now aimed at her.

"Why didn't you kill it, mage?" A man asked hoarsely as he held the sobbing boy close.

Lucy tilted her head, relieved that the boy didn't have any visible injuries. "You haven't heard of the emperor's new ploy with the dragons, huh? If you kill one, his magic inside it activates and summons every other dragon in the area. They come in droves to avenge the fallen one."

The other people shifted uneasily, their eyes darting between Lucy and the dragon warily. None of them lowered their weapons.

Looking solely at her spirits and whip, the man's eyes found and lingered on Lucy's guild tattoo. "We don't appreciate your kind here, mage."

"I know." Lucy turned nonchalantly as the lethargy of magical exhaustion kicked in. She skirted around the unconscious dragon and walked away sedately. Virgo fell in step beside her.

"Thank you for saving my son, mage!" The man yelled.

Without turning, Lucy raised her guild-marked hand in farewell and kept walking.

"They can't see you any more," Gemi said, hovering behind Lucy.

Mini nodded. "Definitely can't."

"And no one followed us," Virgo stated, her hand against a large boulder. "Do you think that they would have attacked you?"

"I hoped not, but after Gemi and Mini used Rogue's form, I didn't know how they'd react," Lucy said and holstered her whip. "If you're not too tired Virgo, can you find me another resting place for the night?"

Gemi and Mini kept Lucy entertained with a steady stream of light hearted chatter for the few hours it took them to reach a small cave.

"Thank you Virgo," Lucy said, "You better return to the celestial world and rest."

Virgo nodded reluctantly and disappeared with a bow.

"You two should go as well," Lucy said as she sat down against the cave wall.

"Can't leave you alone," Mini said.

Gemi nodded.

Lucy huffed. "I can take care of myself."

"But you're tired," A soft voice said.


"Sorry," Aries said, "But now that I'm here, Gemi and Mini can go back without any worry."

Gemi and Mini zoomed close to Lucy, patted her head softly and disappeared with giggles.

"You guys," Lucy covered her yawn. "Are being completely ridiculous."

"I finished my new blanket," Aries sat beside Lucy and pulled a thick wool blanket around both of them. With a gentle but insistent tug, Aries snuggled Lucy against her chest. "I enchanted it differently to help you sleep faste..."

Lucy woke up in a panicked daze with tears at the corner of her eyes and a phantom ache at her side. She sat up and held her side gingerly, waiting for the memories to fade.

Capricorn- looking as polished as ever in his black butler outfit- knelt before her, his eyebrows drawn in worry above his sunglasses. "Are you all right, Miss Lucy?"

"Not really," Lucy took a deep breath. "But I'll manage. What time is it?"

"It's ten minutes to five. The sun will rise in half an hour," Capricorn said and moved to the cave's entrance. "Virgo dropped off some new clothes. I'll go gather your breakfast."

Lucy forced herself up and went through the motions of getting ready. Slightly chilled but clean, Lucy donned her black cloak over her new outfit and moved to the lip of the cave. The last few stars in the dark sky twinkled down at her, calming her and making her nightmares fade to the back of her mind.

Capricorn returned with a handful of fruits and berries. "Get your energy up, Miss. Who knows what dangers this day will bring?"

Lucy accepted the items gratefully and watched the dark purple sky lighten into a soft mix of pink and orange.

"Before we leave, I have something to deliver," Capricorn said and presented a sheathed knife. A sheathed knife with the roaring sabertooth head handguard and a fur-covered pommel. "The King finished repairing your blade."

"It's not mine," Lucy said automatically before she registered Capricorn's words. "The King? Has he recovered?"

"No." Capricorn shook his head. "The exposure to Zeref's corrupted magic from his last Earthland visit still plagues him."

Lucy flinched.

"Don't feel guilty, Miss. It was not your fault."

"I'll stop feeling guilty when you do the same."

Capricorn shook his head. "We failed both of you that day. We zodiacs couldn't protect you and then the King got injured when he was forced to intervene and protect us all."

Lucy rubbed her side as memories of that desperate failure of a battle resurfaced.

"Let us not dwell on those memories now." Capricorn straightened. "The King fixed this knife, hoping it would be help you."

"He didn't have to go though all that trouble."

Capricorn smiled softly. "I doubt a repair job was any trouble for such an avid weapon-smith. After all, the King made your Fleve d'etoiles whip."

Lucy touched the handle of her whip. "Virgo didn't tell me that the King made this."

"Who else has the power to enchant a weapon with the power of the Erindanus?" Capricorn said in amusement.

"All these years," Lucy gaped. "I've used this whip without knowing that. The King must be..."

"Very proud to finally see someone use and master his creation." Capricorn smiled as he placed the sheathed knife in Lucy's hand. "So proud that he used Fomax, the celestial furnace, to fix and imbibe some more power into this knife."

"I," Lucy rubbed the cheetah print on the handle. "I'm glad to have it back in working condition. It's the only thing I have left of Erza." She fastened the knife to her belt and looked out of the cave. "I think it's time to head out that way." Lucy glanced at her humanoid spirit pointedly for a moment before she sighed. "You're not leaving?"

"The moment we left you alone yesterday, you got attacked by a dragon."

"I did not," Lucy said. "I was near a dragon that attacked. It didn't even know I was there."

"Considering how close we are to the danger zone, it's not wise for you to travel alone Miss Lucy. And I know bits of this area from my time with Zoldeo, so I might have an easier time finding our quarry."

"All right, I'll keep a lookout."

In the hours it took them to leave the murky ruins, pass through a dying grassland and finally enter a barren gravel terrain, Lucy monitored her surroundings with growing paranoia. The moment she caught slight movement in the distance, Lucy alerted her celestial spirit, "There's something there, over on that rock formation. Can you get a proper look?"

Capricorn tilted his head and squinted, his magic buzzing audibly. "Looks like a guard, who hasn't noticed us just yet. He has magic."

"So a mage. And most likely one of Zeref's." Lucy clenched her fist but said, "A stupid one if he didn't notice us. We're wearing black in semi-desert conditions."

"Black enchanted material with Ichiya's potion hiding your presence, Miss. And he's looking the other way," Capricorn said. "What do you wish to do?"

"He'll probably have information," Lucy said. "I'll handle him. You make sure that no one interrupts me."

Capricorn seemed grim but nodded. "I'll await your arrival with the information."

Lucy took a deep breath, readied her whip and ran. She called on Virgo with a mental command. "Trap him."

The earth rushed up and surrounded the man as Virgo appeared in a rattle of chains and ran alongside Lucy. The rock prison around the man shattered in a blast of swirling wind and he turned to Lucy with angry eyes.

"Of course, it wouldn't be so easy," Lucy huffed in annoyance as she ducked some air bullets. "Should have tried something stealthier."

Virgo's earth spears exploded against the air bullets in a shower of dust, creating a thick smokescreen of dust.

Lucy grabbed onto Virgo's shoulder and closed her eyes as they zoomed through a newly formed underground tunnel at a nauseating speed .

"He's three meters to your left," Virgo said mentally as they jumped up out of the tunnel through a thin layer of earth.

Lucy blindly snapped her whip to the left and willed it to curl around her opponent.

The man unleashed close-ranged wind blasts against her watery whip but Lucy's will kept it strong. A hazy wind barrier sprung up and decimated all but one of Virgo's earth spears. Blood trickled down the side his face and onto a black tattoo his chest. The man laughed as tattoo burned an eerie red.

"No!" Lucy pulled her whip, tightening it's hold around her opponent's neck.

His skin bulged, the tattoo enlarged and blackness seemed over the expanse of his skin. The air around his body whipped forward with a fierce screech.

Throwing her whip to Virgo, Lucy grabbed Erza's knife. The moment her fingers circled the knife's pommel, her magic thrummed and her body buzzed with energy.

She rushed forward, fast enough for the surroundings to blur. She dodged the earth and air attacks from both sides and slashed the knife against the man's arms, leaving deep bleeding gouges before she stabbed the glowing tattoo.

"Even without the rest of Erza's Flight armour, this knife makes me quite fast, don't you think?" Lucy said and twisted the knife deeper into the man's body until the winds died down. The blade glowed gold with magic and the man screamed as his tattoo sizzled. Blood dripped down the elaborate curved blade, over the cheetah handguard and stained the fur-covered pommels a darker red.

"Damn you," the man coughed up blood as the black receded from his skin. "I know who you are Fairy. You're going to regret coming here."

Lucy stared at the man grimly. "The only thing I'll regret is dirtying Erza's blade."

Gemi and Mini flew up from behind. "It's done."

"We've got it."

Lucy nodded at them.

With a visible flash of magic, the twins fused into an uninjured replica of the man. "A sealed orb from the Emperor was transported here to an underground shrine just last month. And he's the only person in the area. The priests thought the lack of guards would deflect suspicion."

"Shit," the man cursed.

"Another shrine," Lucy said. "At least it'll be empty for a change."

"You won't be able to get in," the man gasped out. "You'll fail just like the rest of your guild did when the dragons and Lord Z..."

Rough calloused hands grabbed the sides of his head and twisted.

"No reason to keep wasting time with a dying man," Gemini said with narrowed eyes. "Besides, he was gathering his magic to create a beacon and summon something unpleasant."

Lucy nodded thickly as she pulled Erza's knife out of the body. She looked away as Virgo sank the body into the ground, leaving no trace of their battle. "Any reason why this man was still here alone after a month?"

"He was supposed to leave soon. But he's a grunt. If there's a bigger plan in play, he didn't know anything." Gemini tilted his head.

"What is it?"

Gemini closed his eyes. "Even though he's a grunt, he knows exactly how to unlock the shrine and the orb to get the page."

"Then it's probably best to assume that we're heading straight into a trap," Lucy said as she cleaned Erza's knife. "Do you still have Rogue's transformation if we need it?"

Gemini nodded.

"Okay, you'll stay and guide Capricorn and me," Lucy took her whip back from Virgo. "Virgo, update everyone else. Tell them to be ready for anything at the shrine. I'll need all the help I can get if things go bad."

"As you wish, Princess," Virgo said and disappeared from sight.

"Bad news?" Capricorn asked solemnly as they joined him.

Amidst rushed explanations, Gemini led them forward at a gruelling pace. Half and hour later, Gemini stopped at an unremarkable spot. With a twist of magic that made Lucy her clutch her keys, Gemini directed a black tinted blast of wind at a seemingly random spot on the dusty ground. With a great tremble and hiss, a circular patch of the ground slid sideways to reveal a stone staircase leading down into the darkness.

She looked at the two spirits, "How's your magic?"

"Fine," Capricorn said grimly.

Gemini frowned. "Not good. Using Zeref tainted magic always drains us faster. But I need to come along to get the orb out."

"Okay, but if there's a battle, leave immediately. I'll get someone else to help."

Gemini nodded, eyes narrowed in displeasure at the situation.

Lucy took a deep breath and stepped onto the spiralling staircase. With each step down, the taint of dark magic grew noticeable in the musty air till it pressed down on all her senses.

With Gemini's help they navigated the dark twists and turns and reached a hollowed out cavern lit by large glowing purple mushrooms. Skeletons, bones and rotting flesh littered the base of the tall mushroom. At the very end of the cavern, far from the mushrooms, stood a large smooth obsidian slab.

Without prompting, Gemini stepped forward and chanted in a harsh guttural language. His chants echoed against the cavern's walls until the mushrooms glowed brighter.

The skeletons rose.

Loud voices, all coming from the newly animated skeletons, chanted alongside Gemini.

"That doesn't sound like the usual prayers to Zeref," Lucy whispered as she readied her whip for an attack.

Capricorn frowned at the skeletons. "It's a prayer in one of the older branches of the Beria language."

"The same language used to make activate moon drip?" Lucy asked, as she remembered her mission on Galuna Island.

Capricorn nodded. "This is a much older dialect though."

The purple glow of the mushrooms dimmed and the skeletons fell. A purple flame flickered into existence in the obsidian slab.

Gemini's chant transitioned into something softer and more lyrical than before making the purple flame grow and fill the entire slab. With an unearthly wail, the purple flame exploded in a shockwave of energy that pushed Lucy back.

The obsidian slab shattered into fine dust, leaving a floating orb behind. The orb floated down into the still chanting Gemini's hand and dispersed leaving only a thick parchment page behind.

"That's it! The last page." Not wanting to chance anything, Lucy said, "Go, give that to Leo and make sure we've got all the pages."

Keeping a wary lookout for enemies and traps, Capricorn and Lucy carefully made their way back through the tunnels and reached the surface unharmed.

Lucy stepped off the stone staircase and flinched at the pair waiting for her. "Doranbolt? What are you doing out here? You're supposed to be with Hibiki." She glanced up at the white exceed who hovered near the bandaged man, "Lucky, I can't believe you..."

Lucky interrupted her tirade. "The Queen told me to bring him here. She said it's time. You can't afford to wait any longer."

Lucy's eyes widened. "What?"

Lucky stared at her solemnly. "It seems like it's time you finished whatever you've been planning for the past few years. At least that's what I got from her Highness's words."

"I might have gotten the last piece of the book today but..."

"The Queen also said that you already have the solution to your final obstacle."

Lucy snarled. "Like hell I do."

"The fragile hope you started out with will light up your path if you have faith," Lucky said, with a scowl. "The Queen made me memorize that line."

"Faith in what?"

Lucky narrowed his eyes. "Shouldn't you have faith in succeeding?"

"I do! But how will that help?"

"Who knows?" Lucky shrugged unhelpfully. "But the Queen wouldn't make me bring a half-dead mage out here unless she knew everything would work out."

"I wish she'd tell he how everything works out," Lucy said in irritation. "She even dragged Doranbolt here for no reason."

"Teleport," Doranbolt rasped out roughly, the bandages covering his mouth muffling his words. "You... gate."

Lucy sucked in a breath and shook her head. "No, Doranbolt. The gate's on the opposite side of the country. Two days worth of travel time. Teleporting such a long distance when you're injured like this won't do you any favours."

"Have... must," Doranbolt said firmly and wrapped his bandaged fingers around her wrist. With a blaze of magic, the world around them blurred nauseatingly.

When they finally stopped, Lucy took one look at the damaged remains of the eclipse gate and grabbed the Doranbolt's falling form. "You moron! How can you be so reckless?"

"Like..." Doranbolt huffed a weary chuckle in between desperate gulps of air. "guild."

Lucy blinked back her tears as she held Doranbolt's bandaged hands, his weak pulse fluttering beneath her fingers. "Yeah, you're a reckless moron just like the rest of our guild."

Even under the bandages, Doranbolt's lips twitched upwards in a smile.

"Doranbolt?" Lucy whispered softly and searched for a pulse. "Doranbolt."

A white clawed hand reached forward and closed Doranbolt's glassy eyes. "He's gone, Miss."

Lucy wiped her eyes. "Capricorn, you, how did you get here?"

"After Doranbolt teleported, I went back to the celestial realm and informed everyone of the Exceed's words. Then I summoned myself back here when your presence settled in one spot."

"This plan better work."

"You cannot doubt yourself now, Miss."

"Capricorn's right, Lucy." A warm hand squeezed her shoulder softly as the mental link to all her spirits opened wide. "I'm sure Doranbolt knew what would happen when he brought you here. We shouldn't waste the chance he's given us."

Lucy thanked Leo with a nod and looked at each of her zodiac spirits, marvelling at the fact that their appearance hadn't drained her magic at all. "It looks our seven years of hard work is about to pay off. I didn't think I'd have to say goodbye like this," Lucy paused as she pulled out her zodiac keys. "I couldn't have survived and made it here without you, so thank you." With a quick glance at her gold keys, Lucy said, "Whatever happens here today, I want you to know that I'm so glad I met you all. Thank you."

"I should be the one thanking you." Libra stepped forward, her eyes conveying a wealth of emotions that Lucy couldn't decipher. She bowed formally as she took her key from Lucy. "It was an honour to help you in your mission."

Lucy nodded and bowed back.

Both of the Pisces pair pulled her into a tight group hug, blocking her sight for a good long minute.

"Even though we don't like losing you like Yukino," Mother Pisces said. "We're proud of what you've accomplished. Of what you will accomplish."

Son Pisces nodded. "Very proud, mom."

"Who're you calling mom?" Lucy retorted automatically.

The two Pisces spirits chuckled and tightened their hug. They grabbed their key before letting go and moved away for the next spirit.

Scorpio ruffled Lucy's hair with a soft smile. "We are super happy to have been with you for so long, Boss." He leaned closer, took his key and whispered. "I know Aquarius is too."

Gemi and Mini zoomed forward and slammed in to her chest before Scorpio could completely move out of the way. The both hummed incoherently as Lucy wrapped her arms around them.

"Are you guys okay with this, after having to do so much already?"

Gemi huffed. "We can do anything."

"Don't worry about us," Mini said.

The two blue spirits rose, grabbed their key and pecked Lucy's cheeks simultaneously before floating over her head.

Sagittarius stepped forward. He looked intently at Lucy, his lip wobbling slightly as he took his key back. Holding his bow straight against his side, he raised his right hand in a solemn salute.

Lucy raised her own in a mirror salute.

Sagittarius sniffed, nodded and walked past Lucy, allowing her to see a sobbing Taurus waiting behind.

"Oh who will protect your perfect body," Taurus said half-heatedly with large tears falling down his face.

Lucy huffed as she leaned forward and hugged the spirit. "I'll miss you too, Taurus."

Taurus sobbed loudly as he walked to the gate with his key.

"Leaving is too harsh of a punishment, Princess," Virgo said, her chains clinking almost morosely as she rose from the unblemished patch of earth where Doranbolt's body had been.

Infinitely thankful for her spirit's consideration in burying Doranbolt, Lucy said, "Virgo, I..."

"But, saving the world is important," Virgo said. "And I'm proud to have served you, Princess. I'll never have another master like you."

"It's not master, Virgo. It's friend. We're friends, remember?" Lucy said, ignoring the tightness in her chest as she hugged her spirit.

Virgo chains swirled around Lucy for a brief moment before she stepped away with a nod. "Friends," Virgo repeated as she walked past Lucy with her key.

Aries looked at Lucy with hesitant and tear-filed eyes.

Lucy opened her arms wide. The ache in her chest intensified as Aries sobbed in the hug.

"I'm sorry, Lucy... I didn't want to cry like this, but," Aries sniffled.

"I know, Aries. I know," Lucy said and rubbed her spirit's back. "Everything will be okay, I promise."

Aries sobbed harder as she took her key. She kissed Lucy on the cheek, pulled her into another tight hug and followed the other spirits to the gate behind Lucy.

As she blinked and tried to control her emotions, Cancer stepped forward.

"You can't orchestrate such a huge event without the perfect hairstyle," Cancer said softly as he deftly spun and twisted her hair with a lather.

Lucy smiled as she touched her clean hair. "Thank you, Cancer."

Cancer pushed his glasses up, took his key and walked past her with a soft pat on her shoulder.

Capricorn took a deep breath as he took his key and knelt down with a hand over his chest. "I wish I could do more to protect you, Miss."

Lucy shook her head. "You've done more than enough over the years, Capricorn."

"Your mother would be proud, Miss Lucy. Prouder than all of us combined," Capricorn stood and bowed low before walking past Lucy.

"Foolish girl!" Aquarius yelled as she floated forward, her blue tail twitching. Grabbing her key, the mermaid spirit leaned down and kissed Lucy's forehead before floating away without a backward look.

Lucy touched her forehead with a soft chuckle, blinking away the tears that had reappeared.

Leo pulled her into a tight hug. "Lucy, be strong for a little longer. We'll definitely get the gate fixed and open for you, okay?"

"Of course." Lucy took a deep breath as the final zodiac key left her hand. "Are you ready?"

Leo nodded and pointed to a floating orb floating behind him. "With Zeref's complete book for the gate, we'll get it done no matter what."

"I know." Lucy stared at the floating orb of thick pages stacked together. "Let's do out best, Leo."

A dragon roared in the distance.

"Looks like we finished our goodbyes just in time." Lucy clenched her fists. "This really is the grand finale, huh?"

"Lucy, it will take a while to fix the gate," Leo said as multiple dragon roars joined the first.

"Don't worry," Lucy said, brushing the few errant tears clinging to her eyelashes. "I'll activate the Celestial Dome to protect you all while you work."

"But that spell will drain you." Leo frowned. "And then you'll be outside, severely drained as you face whatever is coming."

"Have some faith in me, Loke," Lucy said. "Just like I have faith that you'll complete the gate."

"What about powering the gate? The minute we finish the gate, it will drain any magic in it's vicinity. It'll destroy the barrier and drain your remaining magic."

"And your magic as well." Lucy squinted, hoping to catch a glimpse of the dragons.

"And all the zodiacs' magic," Leo said seriously.

"Queen Shagotte said I already had the solution for that, so let's have faith in that too." Lucy pushed him towards the gate, shushing his worried protest. "Now, go." Waiting till all her spirits were closer to the damaged eclipse gate, Lucy pulled out a small lacrima and called on her magic. " O heart of Starlight. Heed this call and answer me."

The dragon roars got closer.

"Fill this vessel and appear before me," Lucy steeled herself as the lacrima pulled a majority of her magic- even a good chunk from her Second Origin- and finished her incantation, "Shield what I wish to protect, Celestial Dome."

The larcima shattered into fine dust. With multiple bell chimes, a large dome of golden light materialized around the gates and her busy celestial spirits. They zoomed about the gate, transforming the pages of Zeref's book into dark metal pieces.

Taking solace from watching her spirits fix the ruined gate, Lucy took a deep breath and turned to meet her opponents. Her heart hammered fearfully as she saw a large hoard of dragons flying towards her. A horde with a red flame dragon at the lead.

Lucy stood in front of the celestial dome, taking measured breaths to replenish her magic with Eternano from the air.

As the dragons got closer and flew lower to the ground, a dark form on the head of the flame dragon rose from a crouch.

"We finally meet again, Lucy Heartfilia," Rogue said with a wide demented smile as he jumped off the flame dragon and landed on the ground with an unnatural grace. He flicked his hand at the dragon and forced it to hover close to him with a spark of black magic. "How long has it been since our last encounter?"

"Not long enough," Lucy said with more bravado than she felt, as her magic regenerated sluggishly.

"No!" Rogue tutted. "It's actually been too long since I saw you. But it seems you saw me somewhere." He pointed up to a teal dragon that hovered higher up in the sky. "I heard that your Gemini spirit copied my form recently and used my magic even though you're no where close to my magical power level."

"Desperate times lead to all sorts of innovative cheats," Lucy said, taking another deep breath and concentrating on pulling the Eternano from the air.

"Not willing to share when and how you managed such a feat?" Rogue snickered. "No matter. No one will be able to use those celestial spirits after your death."

"You really think I'll die here?" Lucy said in irritation at being underestimated.

"You really think you'll be able to go back in time?"

Lucy snorted. "Don't pretend like you've found out some great secret plan. Time travel is the gate's only purpose."

"Even so, do you really think you can fix the gate that Lord Zeref tore apart himself?" Rogue chuckled.

Lucy stared at him. "Didn't you come here because you're afraid that I will?"

"Afraid? Of you?" Rogue laughed and shook his head. "I'm just here to be entertained by your failure. I even let you get the last page easily so that I'd have a nice show."

"For someone who isn't afraid of me, you sure brought a lot of dragons."

"I didn't bring them. The followed their Emperor out of their own free will." Rogue's eyes brightened in amusement. "Or maybe they want to try snacking on some celestial spirits. You should summon your Celestial King as their main meal, oh wait, Lord Zeref fatally wounded that spirit last time, didn't he?"

Lucy grit her teeth.

"Your spirits might be tastier than the demons they've been snacking on."

Lucy idly wondered if there was any truth in Rogue's words.

"Didn't know about the demons I've exterminated, did you?" Rogue smirked. "I thought your Gemini would have told you. Maybe the rumours are true. It needs to physically touch someone to get all their secrets." Rogue idly waved his hand, moulding the shadows below him into a throne. "You should be thanking me. If I hadn't dealt with them, the demons would have ruled over us."

"Instead it's you and 10,000 dragons!" Lucy snarled, the little magic she'd replenished buzzing.

"Yes, isn't my new kingdom perfect?" Rogue said. "With the power I got from Zeref before he went back to sleep, I even locked Acnologia away."

Lucy forced herself to laugh over her terror. "Locked him away because you couldn't kill him, right?"

"Oh I would have killed him, but this way I get to use his power for myself." Rogue sat back on his shadowy throne. "Just having his power means no one's tried to challenge me. No one but you."

Lucy smiled grimly at reaching a quarter of her magical stores. "I'm glad to have caused you trouble."

"Trouble? No, the way you hid and gathered the gate's pages was amusing," Rogue said. "But no matter how formidable your intellect is for a Fairy Tail mage, you'll fail here. Even if your spirits fix the gate you won't get enough magic power into the gate to use it. I can lock down both the dragon's and my own magic from being drained."

Lucy stared at him impassively.

"Do you feel it now? The despair of your inevitable failure. Are you going to give up?"

"Lucy!" Leo yelled from within the dome, his voice much louder than she had ever heard it. "Phase one of the gate repairs are done!"

Rogue's smug features twisted as he stared behind Lucy. "Celestial Dome? To think someone like you could summon such a barrier. It's one of those that can only be destroyed from the inside."

Lucy's smirk widened in mocking acknowledgement. "A Fairy Tail mage like me is always full of surprises."

"Don't worry, I'll give you a death worthy of your precious guild. A death full of pain and suffering!" Rogue's eyes widened in madness as he roared up into the sky.

The large flame dragon hovering behind Rogue landed.

"Deal with her," Rogue said as he leaned back in his throne. "If they don't break the dome to help her, then her spirits can just watch her die slowly."

Eyes dull and unseeing, the large flame dragon opened it mouth.

Lucy swirled her black cloak in front of her and tugged the cold chain from her neck. With a flicker of her own magic, she stabbed the sword-shaped pendant through the runic arrays on her cloak.

An ice shield supported by fierce gusts of wind sprung into existence and deflected the red hot flames with a hiss of steam.

"What are you doing, Atlas?" Rogue snarled impatiently. Black energy cackled around him and struck the flame dragon. "Use more power and kill her. She's just a weak human."

The dragon opened it's maw and spat out another thick stream of flames.

The shield sprung back into existence in front of her. Lucy steadied the flow of her magic through Gray's pendant and the cloak that Wendy had enchanted, hoping that her shield would hold. But with each passing minute, the metal twisted and the cloak disintegrated in her grasp until her shield finally disappeared.

Rogue laughed as the dragon leaned forward intent on biting Lucy in half.

The dragon's head froze just a breath away from Lucy's raised hand and whip. The black energy crackling across it's fiery body flickered and swooshed towards Lucy's hand. Or more accurately, towards the white scale-patterned cloth tied around Lucy's wrist. The black energy sank into the white cloth tainting it a deep purpled black.

The flame dragon's eyes brightened. "What is this? Have I been sleeping in dark dreams?"

"Atlas!" Rogue snarled.

More black crackled over Atlas's body before being pulled into the already blacked scarf around Lucy's wrist.

The flame dragon, Atlas, twitched. Tall red flames sprung into existence around the both of them, hiding them from view. "Igneel's scent," the dragon rasped out and stared at Lucy's hand. "Why do you hold my old friend's power on you, mage?"

"I..." Lucy clutched the frayed bits of the scarf tied around her wrist as a rough bracelet. "My friend Natsu was raised by Igneel. This was his scarf. Part of it, at least."

"Igneel," the dragon murmured, eyeing the scarf intently. "Even now, you help me."

"How did..." Lucy started at the blackened cloth around her wrist. "This never happened before. I've dealt with controlled dragons like you before and this never absorbed any of the black magic."

"Flames," Atlas rumbled. "The flames in it recognized mine just as mine recognized its."

"It's a scarf!" Lucy said before she could help herself.

"A scarf forged from the magic of Igneel's flames and carrying his protection," Atlas said. "And it has saved me from a troubling fate of being Zeref's pawn."

"His name is Rogue. Not Zeref," Lucy said. "But you're close enough."

"This not-Zeref is your enemy?"

Lucy nodded.

"Then I consider him my enemy as well, bearer of Igneel's protection. How can I aid you?"

"Just call me Lucy." Relieved at the unexpected ally, Lucy grinned. "I just need to survive until my spirits rebuild and open the eclipse gate. Any help against Rogue and the dragons still under his control would help."

"Eclipse gates?" Atlas murmured. "You intend to travel back in time through that unpredictable relic? Is that wise?"

"Without a full moon, I can control the exact date I land in. I'm going to fix things. I won't let Rogue or Zeref win again," Lucy said and unwound the blackened scarf cloth carefully. "If I give this to you, will it protect you from Rogue's magic?"

Atlas hummed. "It would. But then you would be unprotected from the same magic."

"It's just a friend's memento. It never actually protected me from dark magic." Lucy tied the small strip of the scarf around one of Atlas's fore limbs, marvelling at how it didn't burn in the dragon's red flames. "I'll trust you to have my back if something happens," Lucy said firmly as she lengthened her whip and readied her remaining keys.

"Very well, Lucy." The dragon raised his head and turned. The red flames around them contracted and seeped back into Atlas's body.

Rogue's delighted face froze at the sight of Lucy unharmed. He snarled in fury and ducked away as Atlas's flame attack destroyed his shadowy throne.

"Open, Gate of the Snake Charmer," Lucy yelled as she ducked a breath attack from one of the many dragons still in the air. "Ophiuchus." She tugged on another key even as the gigantic serpent appeared above her with it's maw opened wide and it's lower body curled around her defensively. "Open, gate of the Chisel, Caelum!"

Lucy touched the warm metallic underbelly of Ophiuchus. Through their newly opened mental connection Lucy said, "Help that red flame dragon attack and destroy everything in front of us."

Keeping a part of it's tail around Lucy in a loose barrier, Ophiuchus hissed in delight, stretched upwards and gathered magic in it's maw. A dense blast of purple energy forced a few dragons back and decimated the ground near Rogue.

"Caelum, Deflect!" Lucy twisted her left hand at the floating metallic sphere. It's metallic plates twisted and shifted till it looked like a mix of a shield and a canon. It sped up into the direct path of a black magic blast, hummed as it absorbed the magic and glowed intensely as it twisted it's canon gun upwards. It shot an intense blast of black magic and obliterated the teal dragon's wing and a good chunk of it's torso.

"Lucy!" Loke's voice drifted in, distracting her from the battle "We're almost done with the gate."

Her guild mark burned as she blindly directed Caleum to blast a section of the earth close to Rogue.

"Looks like I got here just in time."

"Master Mavis?" Lucy gaped at the glowing form floating beside her. "What? How are you, I mean, I thought..."

"I'll exist as long as there is a Fairy Tail member around," Mavis smiled, seeming to understand Lucy's unspoken questions. "With you and that spirit of yours, I had more than enough anchors to stay around."

"Then where have you been all this time?" Lucy asked, faintly accusing.

The earth shook and Ophiuchus snarled with a mix of pain and rage.

"Protecting the final component of your plan," Mavis said as Lucy steadied herself. "When that Exceed Queen found me seven years ago, she shared her visions of what you planned to do. So I spent all my energy protecting the guild's light for you."

"Guild's light?" Lucy said as she directed Caleum to blast another beam of energy at Rogue.

Mavis nodded. "The guild's light will help you power these immense gates."

Lucy gaped.

Loke tugged on his mental connection with her and said, "Lucy, we're put the final modified piece in. It's going to start draining magic in ten, nine.."

Mavis smiled and placed a hand over Lucy's guild mark.

The pink guild mark glowed red and expanded upwards to cover a good portion of Lucy's arm.

Magic, pure bright and unrelenting magic, erupted from the marks under Mavis's touch.

Mavis glowed, raised her free hand and pointed to the gate over Ophiuchus's tail. "You hold the hopes of the entire guild, so it's only right that the guild's light helps you in your time of need."

"One," Loke finished his countdown with bated breath. "Now how do we..."

The Celestial Dome shook and shattered, it's magic flowing towards the gate.

Lucy screamed as Mavis pulled the pure magical power out through her guild mark and directed it towards the gate. The large amount of bright magic burned as it flowed out of her, leaving an icy coldness in it's wake.

"... get the magic to activate it?" Leo gasped through his mental connection to Lucy. "What?"

"There," Mavis said tiredly, her dull form flickering erratically. "It's done."

Lucy gasped for breath, held on Ophiuchus's tail for support and stood shakily. "Master Mavis?" Lucy said, feeling nauseous and disoriented. "What's happening to you?"

Mavis huffed. "Nothing to worry about. Shouldn't you be more concerned about getting to the gate?"

The gates creaked open with a whoosh of magic.

The ground beneath Lucy's feet shook violently and a thick explosion of dust filled the air as a tumult of dragon roars struck Ophiuchus simultaneously.

The half-mechanical serpent disappeared with a pained wail but sturdy wooden walls closed in on Lucy.

"Thanks." Lucy whispered shakily, but Horologium disappeared just as quickly as he'd come. She coughed weakly and waved away the thick dust.

"Watch out!" Mavis said, her voice muffled and weak even though she hovered right next to Lucy.

Black tendrils of shadow grabbed Lucy's hand, curled tight around her wrist and sank down into her skin. "I've got you now," Rogue said, his hoarse voice smug.

Feeling twice as nauseous, Lucy pulled out Erza's knife and attacked her restraints. The blade passed through the shadow uselessly.

"You won't go," Rogue said as he walked forward through the clearing dust. The black tendril of magic dug deeper into her skin and crawled up her arm leaving a sickly blue trail in it's wake. "I won't let you."

"Lucy!" one of her spirits yelled. "The gate. We can't hold it open for long."

Atlas roared. A thin stream of fire curled around Lucy's captured hand and enveloped the shadowy magic.

With a horrifying rush of pain and a sickening stench of burnt flesh, the fire freed her. Fingers still wrapped around Erza's knife, Lucy called on the last dredges of her magic. With the blinding speed granted by the knife, Lucy ran and reached the gate in one breath.

Ignoring the mind-numbing pain crawling across her body as best as she could, Lucy ran into the swirl of magic beyond the gates.

With a solid thunk, the gates closed behind her shutting away Rogue's angered yells, Atlas's triumphant roar and her spirits' final telepathic well wishes before every remaining celestial key at her hip disappeared with a mournful chime.

Lucy pushed herself up wondering when she had fallen and cursed when she noticed that she'd lost Erza's knife.

Then she saw her surroundings.

Instead of the gate's errant streams of magic, the undamaged city of Crocus surrounded her.

Lucy ignored her tears and clutched the freshly cauterized stump of her right arm. Taking a deep breath, she walked forward. "I'll make things right, I swear."

A/N: I really liked the idea of Team Natsu- even the two exceeds- indirectly helping their last living team mate save the world.