Between Light and Shadow
A/N: Hello everyone and welcome to another foray into the Fairy Tail universe. For those of you who are familiar with my stories, I welcome you back. For those of you who are not familiar with me, I welcome you and hope you enjoy the first of many chapters to come.
This time, I will be writing a Fantasy AU with a Demon Lord END Natsu and Princess Lucy theme…though it may not be what you're expecting from a story such as this as I will be focusing on other characters as well.
I've had this idea in my head for a long time now and have now finally had the time to start working on it; something I find to be very exciting, starting a new story and all that jazz.
Note, the rating for this story is "T" for now but it may change depending on where I go with this plot and subject matter wise.
As always, I hope you will give your honest opinion with your review and if you have any questions regarding this story feel free to ask it in your review which I will either reply to in the next chapter or respond to ASAP, or you can PM me; whatever works for you! Just please don't be too harsh with your criticisms…there's only so much a guy can take.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Fairy Tail; Hiro Mashima and Kodansha Comics USA own it. If I did own Fairy Tail…well let's just say some things would be different.
So without further ado *cracks neck and knuckles*, let's begin!
DESCRIPTION: She was a princess, born into nobility and the comforts of the kingdom of man. He was a Demon Lord, a monster she was taught to hate and fear along with the rest of his kind. But, when a near death experience leads to a chance encounter, the events that follow will have her questioning all that she knows and leave her walking a line…between light and shadow.
CHAPTER 1: A Fateful Beginning
The hallway stretched out before her while large pane windows casted long shadows from the midmorning sun. Her gown trailed behind her, silently ghosting over the floor while her footsteps echoed off the polished, dark marble floor as she proceeded down the corridor at a steady, even pace.
This place…she had no memory of this place.
In fact she did not recognize it. It was completely foreign to her.
She knew for a fact that it wasn't her castle. It wasn't her home.
As she walked, she passed old suits of armor that silently stood at attention, as if ready to spring back to life at a moment's notice while even older paintings of dragons and people were spaced out in between at certain intervals. The gnawing feeling that she was being watched by both the armor and the paintings made itself known at the back of her mind but she ignored it, keeping her eyes focused forward.
Eventually, after an unknown time of walking, the hallway came to an end at as set of heavy, mahogany wooden doors; two suits of armor standing on each side. Suddenly, the armors came to life, bowing their heads to her in a gesture of respect before their hands moved and opened the doors for her.
"…Thank you." She said hesitantly, a nervous smile forming on her lips as she nodded in courtesy to the once inanimate guards.
She proceeded into the room beyond, finding that she had entered a cozy study. Shelves of books lined the walls to her left while a grand fireplace dominated the wall to her right. Two, leather clad armchairs with a coffee table in between them were set before the fireplace.
Her attention was then drawn to a desk and chair at the back of the room. It was simple in design but possessed a certain elegance within that simplicity, a fact made apparent by the daylight that reflected off its polished surface. A double set of doors were opened behind the desk while two stained glass windows of dragons were set on both sides of the doors.
"Awake now are we?" A voice said; deep and smoky but possessing and odd smoothness to it.
She froze where she stood.
Her eyes snapped to the doors, which led out onto a wide, open setback terrace. And leaning against the railing of the terrace was a man. The light from the outside obscured his features, but she could see him look over his shoulder and smile at her.
"I've been expecting you." He added, fully turning around as he began to walk towards her…
Castle Heartfilia, City of Magnolia…
…And then she woke up.
With a slight gasp, Lucy Heartfilia awoke from her slumber as she sat upright in her large four poster bed. Blinking rapidly, it took her a minute to realize she had been dreaming.
"That dream again?" Lucy whispered to herself, running her hand through her long, golden hair.
"Why do I keep dreaming of that place…of him?"
It had been the seventh time that month that she had experienced the reoccurring dream. It had started out of the blue, at the most of irregular of times and she had no idea as to what it meant or entailed.
"Ugh," Lucy muttered, "I hope this ends soon. I really hate waking up like this."
With a huff, she settled back down into her bed sheets and pulled her thick downy comforter over her head. She closed her eyes, hoping to go back to the dream she had originally fallen asleep to; a dream of being at the summer villa and relaxing at the nearby beach.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK
"Oh come on." Lucy groaned into her pillow at the sound of her door being firmly wrapped upon.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK
"Princess?" Came the soft muffled voice of a woman, "Princess are you awake?"
"Lucy-sama, it's time to wake up!" A second voice called out.
"Lu-chan!" A third voice added, "Lu-chan, c'mon you're parents are waiting for you!"
With a slightly irritated huff, Lucy sluggishly lifted her head up from beneath her covers and looked to her nightstand where her lacrima clock sat. Its bright blue numbers and letters read: 08:30 AM.
Her alarm, was supposed to be set for seven thirty in the morning, on the dot…and she had forgotten to set it.
Grumbling about forgetting to set her alarm and her rather off kilter dream, Lucy sat up once more and stretched her arms up and over her head.
"I'm up, I'm up." Lucy called out, "Come in, come in."
The door opened to reveal three women. Two wore maid outfits while the other wore the formal uniform associated with the Heartfilia family.
The first woman, was the head maid of the Heartfilia and her caretaker since birth, Virgo.
Virgo had served Lucy's mother when she was pregnant and then, along with her parents, took care of Lucy from then on. She was petite, with short pink hair and vibrant blue eyes while maintaining a rather neutral expression on her face.
But Lucy had seen that expression change to one of delight and mischief many times in the past, showing that the maid wasn't completely devoid of emotion. It was also a little known fact that aside from being the head maid, Virgo was one of the Heartfilia family's most proficient bodyguards…something she had revealed more than once in the past.
The second woman, was Lucy's personal maid, dear friend, and mage in training; Juvia Lockser.
Juvia's parents were water mages who had loyally served under Lucy's father for a number of years but had tragically passed away when Juvia was young. Having not the heart to let Juvia be taken into an orphanage, lest he dishonor the memory of her parent's, Lucy's father had taken Juvia into the care of the Heartfilia family. Juvia and Lucy had quickly become friends and it was not unusual to see the two run about the castle with other children playing various games of make believe.
Juvia had insisted, however, the she repay the Heartfilia's for their kindness. Lucy's father said it was unnecessary to contemplate such a thing but Juvia had been…persistent in insisting that she be of use to the family. Relenting, Lucy's father had agreed and at age ten, Juvia had been trained to be Lucy's maid. Aside from assisting Lucy, Juvia had also inherited her parent's affinity for water magic. In fact, so gifted was Juvia with her powers that Aquarius, the personal body guard to Lucy's parents and fellow water mage, had taken it upon herself to train the young maid in the water arts.
As far as appearances went, Juvia was a fairly striking woman with a slim, curvaceous body, heart shaped face, expressive blue eyes and equally, flowing blue hair. Like Virgo, she wore a maid's outfit but hers was long sleeved rather than short sleeved.
And last but not least, there was the third woman, clad in uniform and also one of Lucy's beloved friends; Levy McGarden.
Levy was petite, like Virgo, and had long blue hair which she kept tied back with a thick, black ribbon and warm, brown eyes. She wore a white field coat with the Heartfilia crest patched onto both her shoulders, a waist length high collar undershirt, white formal leggings and knee high leather boots.
Like Juvia, Levy's parents had served Lucy's family faithfully for a number of years as scribes and script mages to the house of Heartfilia. Levy's father had handled legal matters for Lord Heartfilia while her mother was the head librarian of the house and overseer of the other scribes. However, one day the two had been asked to attend a summons in the Capital City of Crocus to assist in creating a trade agreement with a neighboring kingdom. Their journey and help in the capital had been successful but it was on their return trip that tragedy struck. Levy's parents, along with their guards, had been ambushed by a group of bandits…and it was not until two weeks later that their bodies were discovered in shallow graves in the neighboring woods.
Levy, from then on, was raised by her Aunt and Uncle, who were also script mages. She had known Juvia and Lucy ever since they were small and had found a kindred spirit in Juvia with both of them having lost their parents. Together, the three girls had been inseparable.
As the years passed, Levy displayed her skill with the script magic she had inherited from her family and had perfected her skills to point where she was referred two as the "walking encyclopedia." So impressed was Lucy's father with Levy's knowledge and script prowess that he gave her a Lieutenant's commission and appointment as the personal aide to the leader of the Third Company of the Heartfilia family's elite Fairy Tail Guard; Captain Gajeel Redfox.
Together, Virgo, Juvia and Levy entered Lucy's room to assist their friend/charge in beginning her morning routine.
"Lu-chan, honestly, did you forget to set your alarm again?" Levy asked as she crossed her arms.
"Oops." Lucy yawned while sheepishly rubbing her neck.
"We can't be having much more of that now can we Princess?" Virgo said as she drew the blinds, letting in the bright morning light.
Lucy winced at the intensity of the light and instantly retreated beneath her covers.
"Can't I just sleep in from time to time?" Lucy's muffled voice came from beneath the sheets, making the other women giggle in amusement.
"Sorry Princess, but that is something only reserved for the weekends or when you're ill." Virgo said, pulling the covers away from Lucy, "Now come on; up, up!"
Lucy groaned as she shambled out of bed where Juvia's awaiting hands guided her to her vanity. Sitting down before the mirror, Juvia let Virgo tend to the gentle task of combing Lucy's hair while Juvia herself made Lucy's bed before moving to the adjacent room to draw a bath.
"Did my parents send you?" Lucy addressed Virgo.
"Aye," Virgo replied, "they figured you might have accidently overslept and sent Juvia and I to get you. Lieutenant McGarden happened to cross paths with us and tagged along."
Levy, on the other hand, was turning over the book that had resided on the nightstand in her hands.
"How's the book coming so far?" Levy asked.
"It's great Lev'," Lucy replied with a smile, "I love it. Thanks for lending it to me."
"So I see." Levy said with a mischievous grin of her own, "The pages of chapter twenty seem to be well read; enjoying the steamy parts aren't we Lu-chan? Does what you read make for some interesting late night dreams?"
"Levy!" Lucy protested at her friends teasing while the blunette simply chortled in response.
"Aw relax Lu', compared to some of the stuff I've seen Erza read, this book is tame." Levy replied.
"Don't remind me." Lucy added with a shudder, "There's smut and then there's…there's whatever the hell Erza reads."
Lucy shuddered again when she thought back to the rather salacious books the red headed beauty loved to read in her down time.
"Mind your tongue." Virgo said, tapping Lucy on the head, "But yes, Captain Scarlet certainly has…unique taste when it comes to literature."
"To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if she and Second Lieutenant Fernandes acted some of that stuff out in their down time." Levy continued.
"Erza and Jellal really are close aren't they?" Lucy asked with a whimsical smile.
"Oh Lu-chan, don't play coy. You and I both know that those two have been head over heels for each other ever since Jellal joined the Second Company. Sometimes I wish they would stop futzing around and just come clean with everyone." Levy said with a dramatic sigh.
"The policy of non-fraternization is quite clear Lieutenant Mcgarden, you should be well aware of this as you are one of this family's leading scribes." Virgo said.
"R-Right, sorry." Levy said with an embarrassed blush.
"…However," Virgo added slyly, "there are no rules for what goes on behind closed doors…or in bed if I may add."
Virgo's statement left both girls with tints of red coloring their cheeks.
"Lucy-sama." Juvia announced, sticking her head out of the bathroom, "Your bath is ready for you. Juvia made sure to add extra bubbles this time."
"Be right there Juvia," Lucy replied as Virgo finished with her hair.
"Can you two let my parents know that I'll be with them as soon as Juvia and I finish my bath?" Lucy asked Virgo as she stood from the vanity.
"Of course Princess." Virgo said with a bow.
"Sorry Lu' I have to get back to Gajeel or he'll skin my hide for being late again." Levy added as she gave Lucy a hug, "I'll just meet you at lunch in the gardens."
"Same spot?" Lucy asked.
"Same spot." Levy confirmed with a smile before leaving the bedroom and going on her way. Virgo gave Lucy a bow and closed the doors on her way out.
Cracking her neck, Lucy turned on her heel and made her way to the bathroom. Opening the door, the she was greeted with a wave of heat and steam that warmed her skin in an instant. The marble and porcelain gleamed in the light provided by the wide windows that overlooked the forest and valley below the castle.
"Ahhh," Lucy sighed contently as she stripped out of her night gown, "that feels great."
Upon stepping into the water of the bath, which was recessed into the floor, the sensation was only amplified. Lucy let out a deep, throaty hum as she sank down into the water as the bubble rich water formed around her shoulders. Quickly dunking her head and pulling her hair back, Lucy reclined into the tub and stared out the window.
"Did you sleep well Lucy-sama?" Juvia asked, kneeling down behind Lucy while gently running her fingers across the water's surface.
"For the most part, yes." Lucy replied, stifling another yawn before pinching her brow.
"What's wrong?" Juvia said, noting Lucy's stressed expression.
"I had that stupid dream again." Lucy gave an annoyed sigh, "It's really starting to get on my nerves."
"Again?" Juvia questioned, slightly alarmed, "Lucy-sama, don't you think you should talk to someone about this?"
"And tell them what?" Lucy grunted, "I don't even know what it means, let alone why I started having it."
Lucy kicked up her feet in exasperation, sending water and suds out and onto the tiled floor.
"I just want to go back to my dreams of relaxing on the beach and meeting wonderful guys!" Lucy exclaimed, making Juvia giggle in amusement.
"Like many things, Juvia is sure this will pass. Perhaps it's just something random that your mind is trying to tell you, ne?" Juvia asked.
"Juvia, I think if my mind was trying to tell me something, I would have heard it by now." Lucy said with a smirk. It was then that she grabbed the soap off of the nearby dish and began to lather up.
"Speaking of "wonderful guys"," Juvia inquired, "how did Lucy-sama's visit with her last suitor fare?"
Lucy's response was a dark, humorless chuckle.
"Lucy-sama kicked her suitor out of the window again…didn't she?" Juvia asked wryly.
"I wasn't even five minutes into meeting the guy and he had already tried to grope me!" Lucy exclaimed, "I mean, honestly; doesn't anyone have a shred of decency anymore!?"
"I'm sure not all men are like that Lucy-sama." Juvia said calmly, having listened to Lucy go on similar rants in the past.
"Well considering my father has picked out most of my proclaimed "suitors" so far, I have been led to believe otherwise!" Lucy said, crossing her arms with a "harrumph!"
"For crying out loud Juvia," Lucy continued, "my father is one of the most important men in the kingdom. You'd think he'd have a little more common sense when it comes to things like this."
"You're father means well. As does your mother. They love you and just want you to be happy." Juvia said, using her magic to manipulate the water of the bath to move and swirl around her wrist and fingers.
"I know," Lucy said with a sigh, "I just wish they'd let me make my own choices from time to time that's all."
"Juvia is certain you'll find "mister right"soon enough." Juvia said with a warm smile, placing her hand on Lucy's shoulder, "But for now, trust in your parent's judgement."
Lucy reached up to hold Juvia's hand with her own, looking over the shoulder with a similar smile.
"You're a hopeless romantic you know that right?" Lucy said wryly.
"Would you expect anything less?" Juvia replied as both women broke into a brief fit of laughter.
It wasn't long before Lucy had completed her bath, toweled herself off and had dressed with Juvia's help.
Her long, golden blonde hair was now tied into an elegant knot while her chocolate brown eyes were accented by a light shading of eye shadow. She wore an elegant pink, long sleeved dress that left her shoulders bare while a small corset hugged her waist. A dark red lace choker around her neck completed her look for the day.
Her heels clicked on the floor while Juvia silently followed behind her as the two women made their way to the dining hall where her parents were expecting her.
Along the way, the two passed various maids, servants, guards and other castle staff who greeted Lucy with warm tidings and bows of respect. Lucy replied warmly to each gesture and even stopped to briefly chat for a minute or two with a servant or guard.
In the castle, everyone knew each other and therefore, everyone was treated like family. That entailed courtesy, respect, and camaraderie; the three words that had defined the Heartfilia bloodline throughout the generations.
Finally reaching their destination, Lucy and Juvia entered the dining hall just as breakfast was being served to the main table; where Lord Jude Heartfilia and Lady Layla Heartfilia sat.
Jude was a tall man with broad shoulders and a rather serious disposition. His dark blond hair was cut short and slicked back while a mustache graced his upper lip. His dark eyes held lines of worry at the edges, evidence of his many years as lord of his land. He wore a navy blue button down and black slacks as opposed the uniform he wore when on official duties in service of the king.
Lucy was the exact image of Layla, albeit, who Lucy was destined to look like later in her life. From her gentle smile, her heart shaped face and kind, warm heart, both mother and daughter could pass as one in the same. Layla wore a sleeveless blue gown that had a series of straps across her open back. Her long, golden colored hair was kept straight but was braided at the sides and back of her head. A thin, silver diadem with a sapphire in the center covered her forehead.
"There you are!" Jude exclaimed as he set down his newspaper as Lucy took her seat while Juvia stood off to the side.
"Your mother and I were beginning to wonder if you were ever going to show up."
"Sorry daddy." Lucy said with an embarrassed smile.
"Good morning sleepy head." Layla chimed, "You obviously had a good night's sleep if you were this late to the table."
"You could say that mama." Lucy said as a servant placed her breakfast down before her; a plate of pancakes, eggs and bacon.
"Well, at least you didn't sleep till one in the afternoon." Jude teased with a smile.
"One time! That was one time, okay!?" Lucy exclaimed while her father chuckled in amusement.
"Now dear," Layla added pleasantly, "you shouldn't be one to poke fun. After all, remember how when we were younger we'd stay up all night and sleep into the afternoons?"
"I remember more than that." Jude said as he nonchalantly took a deep sip of his coffee.
Layla gave a knowing, almost whimsical laugh while Lucy blanched at the implications of what her father had just said.
"As do I my dear, as do I." Layla said dreamily, "I remember our late night swims and the time spent next to the fireplace as we'd-"
"Ew! Ew!" Lucy cried out in obvious disgust, but much to her parent's amusement, "I don't need to be hearing this!"
"Why not?" Jude inquired, "I'm sure when you find a man of your own, you'll be finding interesting ways to spend your quality time."
"I'm aware of that, but at least I won't brag about it in front of my kids." Lucy quipped.
"We'll see." Jude said simply while Lucy rolled her eyes, smiling none the less.
Breakfast proceeded with light banter between the family before the servants took the empty plates and utensils away.
"So, what's going on today?" Lucy asked, addressing her father.
"Well, you, your mother and I will be attending the briefing this afternoon followed by your lessons with Captain Scarlet and Captain Dreyar's Lieutenant's." Jude replied.
"So nothing noteworthy really?" Lucy asked, "Same as usual?"
"…Well, there is something I'd like to speak with you about after the briefing but it can wait." Jude said after a slight pause, his wife casting him a knowing look.
"Okay," Lucy said, not picking up the meaning behind her mother's gaze, "what's it about?"
"It can wait." Was Jude's reply, his tone leaving no further room for questioning.
"Come now, we'd best get to the briefing lest we keep everyone waiting."
The briefing, as it was called, entailed a series of reports concerning the security of the castle, city and surrounding lands along with various other matters ranging from trade with neighboring towns and villages to updates from both the capital and the other areas of the kingdom.
The meeting itself was held in a chamber located deep within the castle and consisted of the main family, their attendants, the Captains of the Guard and their Lieutenants along with Jude's advisors.
Currently, Lucy and Layla sat next to Jude while facing a crescent moon shaped table while a three dimensional holographic map was displayed at the center of the room via a lacrima projector. At the table, facing their lord, was the aforementioned ensemble of Guards and Advisors.
Taking up the left side of the table were the Captains of Fairy Tail's Fourth and Third Company Guards and their Lieutenants; Fourth Captain Loke Estrella, Second Lieutenant Aquarius Cascada and Third Captain Gajeel Redfox and Lieutenant Levy McGarden.
The right side of the table belonged to the Captains of the Second and First Company's; Second Captain Erza Scarlet, Second Lieutenant Jellal Fernandes and First Captain Laxus Dreyar and Second Lieutenant Freed Justine.
And at the center of the table sat Jude's two oldest and most trusted advisors; Makarov Dreyar-Laxus's grandfather-and Porlyusica Lachäwr. Together, the assembled men and women formed Jude's personal council who helped him ensure that the law of the land was enforced and that peace was upheld in their part of the kingdom.
The briefing had been going for an hour now and had mainly consisted of reports of bandit activity near the borders of Jude's land, a proposed trade plan between Magnolia and the Capital of Crocus and of a meeting of Lords and Kings from the different kingdoms to be held before the New Year.
"And now we move onto the matter of the Barbarian Horde that has been plaguing the north of the Kingdom." Makarov said, adjusting some papers before him.
"Ah yes, what about them?" Jude asked, his interest piqued.
"We received word from Sir Arcadios that the Royal Army was successful in routing the Barbarians from the Northern Frontier and were driven across the Ishgar River…" Makarov replied, pointing to the lacrima hologram that flickered to life at the center of the room.
It displayed a map of Earthalnd; the world they all called home.
The known world was divided into three key lands; the lands of man and the demon realm. The lands were divided by the Ishgar River, a mighty, natural barrier that ran from the North before forking off to the Southeast and Southwest and ending at the sea.
The lands of man were two separate empires consisting of the Albareth Empire in the West while the Ishgar Alliance resided in the East.
The Albareth Empire was controlled by the mysterious Emperor Spriggan and was the larger half of the lands of man while the Ishagar Alliance-consisting of fifteen independent kingdoms-were governed by their own separate Kings, Queens and Lords who vowed to stand united in the face of any hostile aggression. Magnolia City and the Capital of Crocus were located in the Kingdom of Fiore, which bordered the Ishgar River to the South…
…Along with the Demon Realm. The only thing separating the two lands was the river.
On the holographic map, while the lands of man were colored blue, the demon Realm was colored a vibrant red. As Makarov and Jude discussed the situation with the barbarians, Lucy found her attention focusing on the legendary "cursed" realm.
It was a place that had many names; The Dead Lands, the Forsaken Earth, The Demons Playground, Hell on Earth. The list went on…but there was one everyone knew and feared the most; The Tartarus Empire.
For as long as anyone could remember, the demons of the Tartarus Empire and humanity had been going at each other's throats in wars for power and control of the neighboring lands. There had been destruction and countless numbers of deaths on both sides with neither side willing to give in to the other. It had been only four hundred years ago that the demons suddenly retreated from the lands of man and turned their attention inwards to their own empire. For what reason nobody knew…and nobody asked. They were content with the relative peace that followed and focused on the future.
And for as long as Lucy could remember, she had heard horror stories whispered by guards, maids and travelers about the accursed land across the river. She had been taught by her father to hate the creatures that lived in the Empire for they were enemies to all and would ruthlessly kill anyone without a moment's hesitation…just for the fun of it.
But still, despite what she had been taught, Lucy always held a slight curiosity towards the demon realm.
Lucy knew that most of the stories she had heard were simply fear driven fabrications told to scare children or entertain around a campfire. But she also knew that even some stories had a grain of truth to them…hence her interest.
"I wonder, what is really hiding on the other side of the river?" Lucy mused in her head, "Are there really monsters that live there or was it all for the sake of spook stories?"
Lucy sighed to herself.
Either way, she'd never truly find any answer to her questions. As curious as she was, she had no plans to pay a visit to the Tartarus Empire; either in this life or the next. The place was just too unknown and dangerous to ever consider traveling to and as Virgo had told her once, it was a place not for a "refined" woman such as herself.
"…And despite the fact that the Alliance and Albareth Empire are not on the best of speaking terms, they agreed to handle the barbarians once they crossed the border." Makarov continued his report, his voice snapping Lucy out of her thoughts.
"Define "handle"?" Loke asked.
"He means they were herded to where no one would have to deal with them again." Laxus said.
"Right into the Tartarus Empire…like lambs to the slaughter. How much do you want to bet they were wiped out as soon as they stepped foot into the place?" Gajeel sneered.
"Bet or no bet," Erza said, "it's safe to assume that the barbarian threat has been permanently dealt with. The demons, from all accounts, are fiercely protective of their lands…they don't tolerate trespassers barging into their territory."
"How long ago was this?" Jude asked, "I remember being aware that the Army had launched a campaign against the barbarians but I was unaware as to how it was progressing."
"Sir Arcadios pushed the barbarians across the Ishgar two weeks ago." Porlyusica answered.
"Emperor Spriggan's elite guards and their forces were waiting for them once the barbarians crossed to Albareth's side of the river. Given the fact that the Spriggan Twelve have a merciless reputation, it's safe to say that it took just as long to force the Horde into Tartarus's territory. We were made aware that their campaign had been successful only three days ago when the last of the horde had been driven into the demon realm."
"And no one has heard anything since?" Jude inquired.
"Aye." The guards and advisors said in unison.
"In all likelihood the barbarians only made it so far inland before the demons realized they were there." Makarov said.
"Then it's safe to assume the matter has been dealt with. At long last the curse of the barbarian horde has ended." Jude announced.
"But how long until a new curse takes its place." Layla spoke up.
"Lady Heartfilia is right." Erza said, "Just because one problem has been solved doesn't mean a dozen more won't spring up to take its place."
"I know." Jude gave a lengthy sigh, "But, we'll handle it in the same manner that we always do."
"One bridge at a time?" Loke answered with a cheeky grin.
"Bingo." Jude replied, turning his attention back to Makarov.
"Is there anything else you or the others have to say?"
"No, I think we're pretty much done here for today. We'll reconvene back here for next week's meeting." Makarov said.
"Then we're adjourned." Jude finished as the Captains, Lieutenants and Advisors rose and bowed before making their way out of the chamber.
"I think I'll be off to the library now if anyone needs me." Layla announced as she pecked Jude on the cheek before doing the same to Lucy.
"And I have my lesson with Erza and the others to get to. Erza will never let me hear the end of it if I'm late for one of her sessions." Lucy added as well.
"Wait Lucy, before you head off to the courtyard for your lesson, could you spare a few minutes with me please?" Jude said.
"Is this about what you mentioned at breakfast?" Lucy asked.
"Yes." Jude said, pausing slightly before reaching into his back trouser pocket to retrieve a small envelope.
"A magic letter? Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?" Lucy inquired, noting the pink coloration and intricate patterns on the sides.
"This came in the mail yesterday afternoon." Jude said opening the letter as the holographic image appeared from a small crystal on the inside.
"I received a letter like this one, but it was more formal in nature." Jude said, "This one was meant for you."
Lucy took the letter from her father and began to read the projected image just as the image of man's picture appeared. He had short, almost spikey blue hair, sharp features, dark eyes, and a strange tattoo over his right brow. His smile was as confident as it was meant to be seductive.
"I know this man, this is Duke Bora Il Bugiardo. He's a lord from Eastern Fiore." Lucy muttered to herself.
But as soon as she read the first two lines of the letter, she knew why the letter had be addressed to her.
My dearest Lucy, it read, I send this letter to you in hopes of making your acquaintance. You see my dear, you have caught my eye and I have since become irrevocably smitten with you.
"Another suitor!?" Lucy thought incredulously, "Another damn suitor!? And this quickly too!?"
Lucy looked at her father, a grimace and glare of sheer annoyance gracing her countenance.
"Lucy…" Jude said calmly only for Lucy to promptly tear the letter in two. Jude sighed, crossing his arms as he did so.
"Do you know how expensive those things are?" Jude asked flatly.
"They can bill me." Lucy sassed, her brow twitching in annoyance.
"And before you ask, my answer is no." Lucy continued, "Dad…I can't believe you're already trying to set me up with someone else! After the last couple of guys you made me visit I thought you'd get the hint by now!"
"You're not going to hear Duke Bugiardo out on what he has to say?" Jude replied, "He seems genuinely interested in you."
"So did the last few creeps you sent me too." Lucy retorted, "And I wound up kicking them out the window or through the ceiling because they were getting a little too "interested" in me."
"This time may be different." Jude countered, "Duke Bugiardo is a refined young man whom I've spoken with in the past. I will admit that the last few suitors have been questionable in nature but I can personally vouch for the duke."
"That still doesn't change the fact that I'm not interested dad." Lucy replied, pinching her brow.
"This is starting to get old dad. I'm tired of you trying to set me up with guys who are only interested in not just my looks but our family's prestige and money. Can't you just let me find someone of my own choosing; someone who will accept me and love me just as I am and not as Princess Lucy Heartfilia?"
Jude paused for a minute before moving his hand to his waist.
"What if I told you that your mother and I both discussed this matter…and that she thinks you should take some time to get acquainted with the duke?"
"What?" Lucy said, surprised, "Mom is taking your side with this?"
"We're not taking sides Lucy, we just want what's best for you and for our family." Jude maintained, "We're not doing this to annoy you, we just want you to think about your future."
"Who says I haven't?" Lucy replied, "What if I'm fine with the way things are?"
"Unfortunately, as much as you may enjoy "the way things are", you cannot keep up this routine of turning down every man who takes an interest in you." Jude answered tersely.
"Lucy, you are nineteen turning twenty. You'll have more responsibilities to handle soon enough and you will need to assert yourself as a member of the Heartfilia family. That includes settling down, starting a family and ensuring that our bloodline is preserved; that we can maintain the duty that was entrusted to our family ever since the Alliance was formed. Do you remember what that duty is?"
Lucy averted her eyes to the floor but answered her father.
"To guard the Alliance and her people by any means necessary. To ensure that peace and prosperity are upheld in the land."
Jude smiled gently and placed a comforting hand on Lucy's shoulder but that only deepened her frown.
"Lucy, your mother and I did this song and dance long before you were born. Although she and I did wed out of love-the same love you were born from-we also wed and conceived you out of the duty we owe to the people of Fiore and Ishgar. And your time has come to do the same. Please….accept the Dukes invitation to meet him and invest some honest time into seeing what he has to offer. Do it not for me, your mother, or yourself but for the people and country our family has sworn to protect."
Lucy bit her lip and clenched her fist in frustration.
After a moment's pause, she answered her father.
"…I know my duty."
Jude pulled Lucy into the best comforting hug he could manage.
"This sucks…I know." Jude said, "But there may be a silver lining to this. He may turn out to be the man you're looking for. Now, I've arranged for you to meet the Duke later in the week. He's currently in Crocus on business and has agreed to meet you at a halfway point along the river to spare you the trouble of traveling to the east. You'll leave tomorrow morning as it's a two day trip so you best start to prepare after your lesson."
Lucy could only sigh in both apprehension and exasperation.
"Honestly, the nerve of my father!" Lucy yelled as she lashed out at Freed, their swords deflecting off one another.
"It infuriates me to no end when he does something like this!"
Lucy, now dressed in a practice uniform and her hair tied into a pony tail, wielded an intricately made swept hilt rapier with practiced ease as she moved to counter Freed's next strike with his own sword; a stylized rapier with the Fairy Tail Guard emblem engraved into the hilt.
Lucy dodged the strike from the green haired Lieutenant and parried his attack.
"Now, now, Lucy." Freed said calmly, "You can't blame your father for this, he only has your best interest in mind."
"Best interest?" Lucy quipped, "You weren't there the last few times he tried to set me up with someone."
"Oh trust us, we didn't need to be there." Evergreen said in light hearted tone as she adjusted her glasses.
"Yeah, not when you kick the guys so hard you practically send them into orbit. Hell, we can hear their cries of pain no matter where they are!" Bickslow said back, the hooded guard grinning like a madman. Hovering in the air around him were five winged puppets shaped like miniature barrels and decorated with unique expressions.
Evergreen had wavy brown hair and sharp, beautiful features with a pair of trendy glasses covering her eyes. She wore the standard Fairy Tail uniform and kept a short sword sheathed horizontaly at her lower back.
Bickslow was tall with an athletic build and had his uniform fashioned in a way that allowed him to make full use of his acrobatic abilities. He had short purple colored hair that covered his forehead while a triangular, slotted visor hid his glowing green eyes and facial tattoo.
The two lieutenants, both Laxus's and Freed's fellow squad mates/subordinates, leaned casually against the opposite wall of the courtyard with Erza sitting on a bench in a flowerbed under the shade of a small tree. They had already had their time training and sparring with Lucy, now it was Freed's.
"I had good reason for doing so," Lucy replied with a flurry of swipes at Freed, "if you had any inclination as to how they tried to touch and bed me then you'd kick them senseless too!"
Freed locked his blade with Lucy's and once he had her in place, he struck his palm out and shoved her back. Stumbling and caught off guards, Lucy was unprepared as Freed easily struck Lucy's rapier from her hand before leveling it with her throat.
The sword bounced once and then twice on the ground before it disappeared in a puff of smoke, quickly turning into a golden key. The key was identical to a series of other keys that Lucy wore on a key ring attached to her belt along with a well-used whip.
"Your frustration is making you careless. How are you supposed to fend for yourself in battle if you can't keep your temper in check Princess?" Freed said, lowering his blade.
"We've been teaching you this for the past five years and yet, no matter how much progress you make, you still have trouble controlling your emotions."
"Sorry Freed but not everyone is as uptight as you are." Lucy said, making an annoyed tick form on Freed's forehead.
Erza simply rolled her eyes while Evergreen and Bickslow burst out into laughter.
"Bam! Shots fired!" Bicklsow cackled.
"Shots fired! Shots fired!" Mimicked his puppets.
"Enough of that," Erza said, quickly ending the war of words, "Lucy, why don't you try sparring with Freed again, this time with the help of your familiar."
Erza Scarlet, like many of the other women in the castle, was a beauty to behold. She was tall with a fit yet slim build. Her long, scarlet red hair-from which her name was derived-was tied into an elegant braid that ran all the way down her back. She wore a full suit of armor over her uniform and had recently added a flowing, crimson colored cape with the Fairy Tail emblem sewn into the back onto her armors ensemble. Her most distinctive feature was the stylized black eye patch that covered her right eye; a memento of a child hood injury she had sustained long ago.
"Yes Erza." Lucy replied, hooking her key onto the ring before drawing a new one.
"I summon my claymore!" Lucy said, infusing the key with her summoning magic as the key glowed brightly and changed shape. In the blink of an eye, the key had transformed into a basket hilted claymore sword.
Focusing her magic again, the emblem of Fairy Tail glowed to life on the top of her right hand.
"Happy!" Lucy called out, her voice being transferred through the Fairy mark.
"I need you!"
There was a moment's pause before a voice called from above.
"Aye mam!" The voice called out merrily.
Soon enough, flying down from the sky at top was a rather unusual sight. The voice belonged to a small cat with wings. Or rather, a blue colored cat…with wings. The cat banked sharply, circled the courtyard twice before fluttering to a halt just above Lucy.
"Hi Lucy!" Happy said with a cheery smile and polite bow, "What's up?"
"I need your help Happy," Lucy said, "Erza's having me go another round with Freed."
"We get to fight Freed!? Cool!" Happy exclaimed in excitement, finally noticing the aforementioned swordsman.
"Hi Freed!" Happy smiled, "Ready to have your butt kicked?"
Freed smirked knowing Happy's taunt was good natured.
"That depends Happy. Are you ready to be casted off like last time?" Freed retorted, taking a defensive stance.
"Bring it on Freed, Lucy and I will get you this time!" Happy challenged, his body quickly being enveloped in a white light. In a flash, and puff of smoke, the magic cat had transformed to his human form.
He appeared to be a young boy who was on the cusp of becoming a teen. He had short blue hair that covered his brow and had a surprisingly fit, athletic build. He wore a black, form fitting tank top and a pair of grey shorts held up by a belt with the Fairy Tail emblem as a buckle. A pair of bandages were wrapped around his ankles and wrists. He still possessed his feline features in the form of cat ears protruding from his head and a slender tail that rose from beneath his shorts.
Wielding her sword with a flourish, Lucy readied her sword into a combative stance while Happy bounced on his feet, ready to strike.
"Ready Happy?" Lucy asked.
"Aye!" Happy cried and launched himself at Freed.
The familiar performed a spinning high kick that Freed managed to block with his forearm. However, the attack made Freed slide back as the soles of his boots screeched loudly on the paved stones of the courtyard. Happy may have seemed unassuming and harmless, when in reality to possessed amazing speed and strength. With his foot still firmly planted onto Freed's arm, Happy grinned as he front flipped up and over Freed and landed in a crouch; swiping his foot out to knock the swordsman off balance.
Freed jumped before Happy's attack could connect and performed a quick back flip of his own. He rose just in time to lock blades with Lucy.
"Not bad," Freed said as he pushed against Lucy, "you're familiar has improved since last we sparred."
"That's Happy for you Freed," Lucy retorted through gritted teeth, "he isn't a slouch when it comes to fighting."
"Aye!" Happy called out, suddenly appearing from behind Freed.
Before the green haired warrior could react, Happy smashed his elbow into Freed's back, making him gasp in surprise and giving Lucy the leverage she needed to swipe Freed's feet out from under him and cause him to fall flat on his back.
With Freed down, Happy planted his foot onto Freed's sword arm, immobilizing him while Lucy leveled her blade with Freed's neck.
"Well now…" Lucy announced triumphantly, "this seems familiar."
Happy snickered in amusement.
Freed exhaled heavily out his nose before smiling.
"Well done Lucy," Freed said, "you're improvement is really starting to show."
"Thanks." Lucy replied as Happy stepped off of him and helped him to his feet.
"Although, had this been a real battle, you'd be dying in a pool of blood right about now." Freed stated, dusting off his shoulders.
"Hey, I'll take my victories where I can get them." Lucy replied with a grin.
"It would never come to that," Erza announced, partially drawing her own sword, "because you, Freed, would be dead before you could so much lay a finger on the Princess."
"Of that I have no doubt." Freed thought.
"Alright Lucy, I think that is enough for today. You may spend the rest of it at your leisure." Erza announced.
"I suppose I'll have Juvia make me another bath before we start to pack…we have a big couple of days ahead of us after all." Lucy sighed.
"Can I come along this time too?" Happy asked, beaming up at Lucy.
"Of course," Lucy smiled, "I promised you that you could come with me and Juvia if I ever had to do something like this again. And now it's time to keep that promise."
Lucy bent down and tapped Happy on the nose, a wicked glint in her eyes.
"And if this new guy I'm meeting acts like a creep towards me, I'll let you kick him this time."
"AWESOME!" Happy cried out as he literally jumped for joy, "If anyone acts really creepy around my master, I'll kick them all the way to the moon!"
Lucy couldn't help the laugh that escaped her lips.
Erza, Freed, Bickslow and Evergreen on the other hand…could only sweatdrop. They remembered the last time Happy had kicked someone who was being-in his words-"pervy" towards his master. It took them hours to pull the guy from the rafters and the poor man had to be kept in the castle dungeon not because of his actions towards Lucy…but to prevent Happy from killing him.
Hopefully, things with Lucy's latest suitor would go without Lucy's father having to explain to the man's family why their son was nearly pummeled to death by a magical familiar.
The next day…
The carriage rattled lightly along the dirt road as Lucy looked out the window as the countryside passed on by. From where they were traveling on the road, she could see the deep, lush forests that lined the river and the bright sheen of the water beyond. Happy, still in his human form, had fallen asleep with his head on her lap while Juvia sat across from Lucy, silently sewing a small doll together. It was a hobby of hers that she had picked up when she was little and enjoyed doing on long trip such as this.
The carriage, flanked by a small contingent of guards from the castle, had set of before the sun had risen that morning. Lucy and her entourage were now a good ways through their trip and the driver of the carriage expected that they would reach the river/trade town of Hargeon a day early.
Which was a good thing, Lucy had mused, as it would give her better time to prepare for her meeting with Bora.
"This is our first time coming this way Lucy-sama," Juvia spoke up, "Juvia doesn't think we've ever taken this route before."
"You're right. I've never been this close to the river before so it's nice getting out here for a change." Lucy said.
"Juvia is surprised that we haven't seen many people at all since we began our trip." Juvia said, pausing in her sewing to look out the window.
"In fact, she's never heard of this "Hargeon" town before today. And the road…it doesn't seem as well tended as the other roads we've travelled."
"Well…not many people live by the river because they're afraid that the demons from the Tartarus Empire will come back someday." Lucy said.
"I don't blame them. Considering that the river is the only thing separating or land from theirs, I'd be a little nervous too. But for Hargeon Town, the people there don't really seem to be bothered by the fact. The river here is strange because instead of going south, it runs north and that makes it easy to move goods up stream rather than on the road. So someone got the novel idea to make a trading post there and it quickly flourished into a trade town."
"That is really interesting." Juvia said, "Juvia can see why Duke Bora chose to meet at this town. It isn't that far from Crocus, nor is it far from Magnolia."
Lucy nodded, before sighing to herself.
"I just hope my parents were right about this guy, otherwise I won't speak to them ever again."
"And you say Juvia is the dramatic one here." Juvia said with a giggle before both girls began to laugh.
It was then that the carriage stopped.
"Hmm?" Lucy said, "What's going on?"
"Are we there yet?" Happy mumbled, the stopping of the carriage having woken him up.
"No Happy, we're still on the road." Lucy said.
It was then that the driver and one of the guards appeared at the door. Opening the door, Lucy poked her head out.
"What's the matter? Why have we stopped?" Lucy asked.
"My humblest apologies my Lady," the driver said, "We appear to have run into…an unexpected problem."
"A landslide has blocked the road the fork up ahead. There is no other way around it." The guard said in turn.
Lucy craned her head to look ahead and up the road. Sure enough, where the road forked, the main road was buried beneath a mountain of dirt and rock courtesy of the nearby hillside.
"What do we do? If we can't go around, how are we supposed to get to Hargeon Town on time?" Lucy asked while the driver grimaced.
"I've consulted my map and there is a way to get to our destination. However, I am hesitant to take it." The driver replied.
"…It's the other road at the fork isn't it?" Lucy said with a knowing look.
"Yes milady. Ordinarily, I would have no problem with taking a route such as this…but given the land we travel on…I'm hesitant to consider such a task." The driver said.
"I'm…I'm terribly superstitious and being so close to the river is not helping."
Lucy frowned but did not berate the driver.
"I'm sorry to tell you this, but we have no choice. I'm expected to be at Hargeon Town and I do not want to let down both my family and Duke Bora. You're going to have to find your courage and put your superstitions aside until we reach out destination."
The driver swallowed hard but nodded in a resolute manner.
"I…I understand Princess." The driver said.
"I'll tell my men to be more alert." The guard said, "Just because we're going a less traveled route doesn't mean we're the other ones out here."
"Very good Sergeant, thank you." Lucy replied, closing the carriage door.
After a moment, the carriage began to move again before veering off to the left and down into the woods that led to the river.
"Did you guy's hear all of that?" Lucy asked Happy and Juvia.
"Aye." Happy replied while Juvia nodded.
"…Happy," Lucy said, "Stay alert, same to you too Juiva. The Sergeant had a point when he said that we may not be the only ones out here."
"Bandits." Juvia whispered, making Lucy grimace.
The briefing form the other day came back to mind as she remembered the Captains and Advisor Makarov telling her father that there had been bandit activity near the borders of her families land. Makarov didn't think they'd gotten near the river but that didn't mean they wouldn't have tried to do so.
Lucy began to bite her lip, a nervous habit of hers. A sense of dread had suddenly made its way up her spine.
They had been traveling on the alternate route for over an hour now when it happened.
The carriage had just rounded a bend in the road when the driver suddenly screamed in agony. Before Lucy, Happy or Juvia could react, a series of arrows had shattered their way through the windows of the carriage.
Lucy cried out it pain when one of the arrows flew past her shoulder but cut in the process. Happy, with surprising speed, had caught or deflected the rest of the arrows away from Lucy and Juiva.
"Ambush!" One of the guards cried out.
"Bandits!" Cried another, "Bandits!"
"Protect the Princess!" The Sergeant called out, "Get that carriage moving!"
The sound of tree branches breaking reached Lucy's ears despite her panicked state and she looked out the window just in time to see a tree trunk supported by ropes come flying from out of the three tops, swoop down and smash head on into the carriage.
The carriage tumbled end over end on its side before violently colliding with the tree line adjacent to the road at the bottom of steep incline. The impact sent Lucy flying from the carriage and she landed in a heap with pained cry. Disoriented, Lucy slowly began to push herself up onto her hands and knees and the muffled sounds of battle played out in her ears.
Steel clashing on steel.
Cries of agony.
It was overwhelming.
Standing on shaking legs, Lucy did her best to regain her focus.
"H-Happy!" Lucy cried out, finding her voice, "Juvia!"
"Lucy!" She heard Happy call out from up on the roadway, "Hang on, I'm coming!"
"Water Whip!" Juvia's voice echoed out accompanied by a series of pained cries.
Lucy let out a relived sigh. Her friends were alright. They'd be with her soon enough and-
"Well now," a voice said, making Lucy gasp in fright as she spun to her right, "what do we have here?"
Standing before Lucy was a bandit. He fit the description of the rugged, dirty, and menacing lot of men and women Lucy had heard about countless times in the past.
The bandit licked his lips which quickly split in a leering grin as he brandished his sword.
"Well, you're a pretty one now ain't 'cha?" The bandit sneered, "And if I heard correctly, I heard one of 'em guards say you were a princess. If that and that dress you're wearing are anything to go by, that means you're loaded. And…you ain't so bad on the eyes either."
Lucy took a step back but readied a defensive stance as her training with Erza and the others made her muscle memory flare to life.
"Stay back!" Lucy said, "I'm warning you!"
"Aw, the little girl thinks she can fight. Come now love, don't make this harder than it has to be." The bandit continued to sneer.
"Back off. I'll have you know that I've been trained to fight by some of the best soldiers in all the land. I'm more than capable of handling a thug like you."
"Is that so!?" The bandit cackled, "Prove it!"
Lucy smirked as she reached for her key ring….only grasp at the hem of her dress. Puzzled, Lucy looked to her hip and found that her belt, whip and keys included; were gone. They had come loose in the crash.
Seeing that whatever weapon Lucy had been reaching for was no longer there, the bandit seized his chance and rushed Lucy, taking her by surprise. The bandit tackled Lucy to the ground and pinned her hands above her head while bringing his sword to her neck.
"What was all of than about handling me?" The bandit cackled as Lucy frantically squirmed beneath him.
"Get off!" Lucy cried, "Let go of me!"
"Oh don't be like that." The bandit chuckled as he set his sword off to the side, his hand now free to trail down her side as he played with the strings of her corset.
"I think you need to be punished for trying to start a fight with me." The bandit leered.
With her mind in full blown panic and realization as to what the bandit was about to do to her, Lucy did the only thing she could think of.
"LUCY KICK!" Lucy screamed as she jackknifed her foot upwards…and right into the bandits crotch.
The man let out an explosive, pained gasp as he eyes threatened to pop out of their sockets. It was all Lucy needed to free her hands and straight punch the bandit square in the nose with all the force she could muster.
The sickening crunch of the nose breaking marked Lucy's successful escape as she scrambled out from beneath the bandit. Freed of her would be attacker, Lucy made an immediate dash for the woods.
"YOU INSOLENT LITTLE BITCH!" The bandit hollered, clutching his nose with one hand and his sword in the other.
"WHEN I CATCH YOU, YOU ARE GOING TO SCREAM FOR DEATH BY THE TIME I'M THROUGH WITH YOU!" The bandit roared as he stumbled to his feet and quickly gave pursuit of Lucy.
Lucy pumped her legs as fast as she could move them, blindly crashing through the brush and ignoring the low tree limbs that swatted and cut her as she tried to lose her pursuer. Her heart pounded in her ears, her lungs burned as they tried to suck in as much air as possible and the furious calls of the bandit followed her.
In fact, they seemed to be getting closer and closer.
Looking over her shoulder, Lucy let out a frightened cry when she saw the sun glint off of the bandit's sword; he was just a few yards behind her. But, in the process of looking over her shoulder, Lucy failed to notice the ground dip down into an incline. With the topography suddenly changing, Lucy could not stop herself from tripping forward and rumbling down the incline…which stopped at a sheer drop.
With nothing to slow her rapid descent, Lucy let out a terrified shriek as she barreled over the edge of the drop…and into the cold, rushing water of the mighty Ishgar River.
Lucy flailed helplessly beneath the surface of the water before she finally surfaced with a violent gasp for air only to be sucked under the water once more; the powerful current swiftly dragging her along the river.
She was subsequently smashed against rocks, swept through rapids and dropped down small waterfalls. How she managed to survive, let alone catch breathes of air, did not matter to Lucy as the water began to slow and she drifted towards the banks of a small little inlet along the rivers edge.
Her body ached, her muscles screamed and her lungs burned, but Lucy managed to pull herself together and swim to the shore. Battered, bloodied and bruised as her feet touched the stony bottom, Lucy trudged her way up and out of the water…before falling to her knees and collapsing on to the soft, sandy shore. Exhaustion swiftly overwhelmed Lucy and she welcomed its embrace as her eyes fluttered closed and she drifted into unconsciousness…
…With a startled gasp, Lucy awoke.
She did not know how long she had been out but the sun had now begun to set, the sky having changed from brilliant blue to soft, warm shades of red, orange and yellow.
With a grunt, Lucy pushed herself over onto her back as starred up at the sky. Blinking slowly, it took her a minute to remember what had happened. The ambush, her plunge into the icy water of the river to fighting to stay afloat, it steadily came back to her.
Wincing as she pushed herself up onto her elbows and then onto her hands and knees, Lucy crawled over to the water's edge to gauge her appearance in the reflection of the water. Her hair had come loose and hung in a tangled mess down her back while a deep purple bruise marked her cheek.
The cut from the arrow had long since stopped bleeding but it was rather deep and ragged looking. She could still move her arm and manipulate her shoulder so it wasn't that bad of a wound. Her arms were a canvas for splotches of bruises and her abdomen and legs ached with a sharp pain each time she moved. Lucy was sure there fine sets of bruises in those spots as well.
As for the rest of her appearance, her dress was water logged and tattered with most of it having been ripped away in the river. Her heels were still strapped to her shins and the important, more private areas of her body were covered…all in all Lucy was just glad that she hadn't wound up stark naked.
Gritting her teeth past the pain, Lucy stood on her feet and took in her surroundings. She knew had moved somewhere upstream that much was for certain. She hadn't been dragged as far as Hargeon Town but she hoped that she was close enough that it wouldn't be long enough. With any luck, it would only be a couple hours hike to the outskirts of the town and from there she could call for help or see if the others had survived the attack; to know if Happy and Juvia were alright.
Thinking back to her cat eared companion, Lucy realized she could have called out to Happy and summon him to her. But the idea was quickly crushed when Lucy attempted to summon her magic, only to realize how worn out and exhausted she really was. She couldn't use her magic even if she tried.
Sighing in resignation, Lucy quickly summoned what was left of her strength and turned around to face the forest and begin her trek…and realized something she had overlooked.
"Since when does the river face in the opposite direction?" Lucy said to herself. She turned around to face the river in search of an answer. Squinting her eyes, Lucy could barely make out the opposite bank of the land beyond. Last she checked, she had been on the right side of the Ishgar not the…
Lucy paused as her eyes slowly widened in realization where her skin visibly paled. The dread from before returned in its crushing entirety.
She had been on the right side of the Ishgar not the left.
She had been in the Ishgar Alliance…not the Tartarus Empire.
Her body silently shaking in fear, Lucy knew she was in it deep this time for she now stood in the land of demons.
All manner of panicked and fear driven thoughts rushed through her head in that singular moment. Was she being watched? Did the demons know she was trespassing on their land? How in the nine hells was she going to get back home? Did anyone know she was alive?
On the verge of a panic attack, Lucy forced herself to calm down. Her training with Erza had kicked back in and slowly Lucy calmed herself down with a series of deep, practiced breathes.
There had to be a way back across without getting herself spotted or worse, killed, by whatever demons may be lurking around (if there were any at all). Looking at her spot on the river, Lucy saw that she couldn't stick to the shoreline as it was too narrow and rocky for her to cross. She would have to go inland and follow the river from there. Perhaps the river narrowed or became shallow enough for her to safely cross further upstream.
With that thought in mind, Lucy once again summoned her strength, along with her courage, turned around and stepped forth into the demon realm.
Lucy's first impressions of the Tartarus Empire had changed rather quickly as she trekked through the woods. She had imagined, and had expected, the land to be barren, inhospitable and swept with fire and blackened rock.
She expected a literal interpretation of Hell to be perfectly honest.
To see the land contrast so sharply against all the tales and descriptions she'd heard of the place was a bit of an eye opener.
The forest she was walking through was made up of a unique combination of magnificent, towering redwood trees and equally large birch trees. The forest floor was covered by all manner of tree leaves along with lush green underbrush.
And most of all, the forest was teeming with life. Birdsong filled the air as the winged animals moved from tree branch to tree branch, rabbits scurried from one hiding spot to the next and Lucy even saw a few deer grazing while paying her no mind.
It was all so different from how she had imagined it. Perhaps there was no supposed grain of truth to what she had been taught after all.
But, so lost had she been in admiring the beauty of the forest that she did not see a swift change overcome it. A mist had formed at ground level, hiding the forest floor while the sky above began to darken.
An owl hooted before it flew off to a different perch and it was this sudden sound that made Lucy notice the change in her environment.
And then it had become quiet.
The feeling of being watched tugged at her senses and Lucy became aware that she was not alone.
She was being followed.
Swallowing hard, Lucy slowly and cautiously took in her surroundings once more.
She had not seen them at first as her eyes panned past them, so perfectly still had they been standing that they practically blended in with the environment. But on her second sweep is when she saw them. Freezing in place as her heart began to pound in ears while her blood drew cold, Lucy found herself starring eye to eye with five of the largest wolves she had ever seen in her entire life.
The predators, coated in black, grey and tan colored hair with burning, hungry eyes stared back at Lucy. It wouldn't have taken a genius to realize that the wolves had already sized Lucy up as an edible and very vulnerable prey.
The Alpha's lips pulled back in a snarl, exposing razor sharp teeth before the others did the same as they began to growl at Lucy.
The human on the other hand, acted on the first thought that crossed her mind…meaning she ran like a bat out of hell.
The wolves gave chase as Lucy bolted away from them, the terrified princess once again pumping her legs as fast as she could move them. Doing her best to not trip in the slowly fading light, Lucy weaved her way in and out of trees while vaulting over hollowed, fallen trunks of others.
But it was of no use. The wolves were with her every step of the way to the point where their jaws snapped at Lucy's heels once or twice. It had been enough to spur Lucy on further but evens he realized the chase would have to end at some point.
That end came in the form of Lucy tripping on the root of a tree and stumbling forward before collapsing onto the ground. She swiftly turned herself over and scrambled backwards until her back hit a tree as the wolves encircled her, leaving no room for escape.
Eyes wide in fear, Lucy watched as the wolves pulled their lips back while saliva began to drip from their hungry mouths like water from a faucet. The chase had only further deepened their hunger and they were intent on claiming Lucy as their meal.
It was at this point that Lucy came to a heartbreaking conclusion.
She was about to die.
She was about to die in one of the most horrible ways imaginable and as the dinner to a pack of wild animals none the less.
Images of her friends and family flashed through her mind as Lucy found herself starting to hyperventilate.
She would never see any of them again.
She was going to die.
She was going to die.
She was going to die!
The wolves moved in for the kill and Lucy couldn't stop the terrified scream that sprung from her lips…
Time seemed to stop as the sudden roar echoed out through the forest. It was a deep and menacing sound that shook right to the bone and made Lucy nearly jump out of her skin.
Whatever it belonged to sounded close…very, very close.
The wolves had paused mid stride while Lucy had gone absolutely rigid; petrified by whatever had made that sound.
The first indication that owner to the deafening roar was nearby was felt rather than seen. The air had grown hot within the blink of an eye to the point that it was sweltering. But despite the overwhelming heat she felt, Lucy could see her panted breathe fog up in the air as if she were out in the middle of a blizzard.
Then came the rustling of leaves.
The snapping of fallen twigs and branches on the ground; the heavy stomping of feet that grew closer and closer.
The wolves began to back away from Lucy, their eyes focused on something behind her as they crouched lower to the ground. Two of the wolves let out whimpers of fear as the air was filled with a spine tingling hiss.
Then out of the corner of her eye, she saw it come into view.
Or rather, she saw him.
It was a man Lucy realized, not an animal that had made an appearance.
He was tall with broad shoulders and a lean frame. He had hair that was a surprising shade of salmon pink but was blackened at the tips. A black and red cape covered his shoulders and hid the rest of his body from sight.
The man paused, looking over his shoulder at Lucy and it was then that she his face for the first time.
He had a sharp features that were almost hidden beneath the red, scale like skin that surrounded his eyes. His upper forehead, mouth, jaw and neck were covered by what appeared to be a blackened, natural armor that constituted as his skin. He had no mouth to speak of, only sharp, flat, diamond shaped teeth that ran the length of his lower jaw and maxilla that formed a menacing maw.
And his eyes…dear Mavis his eyes. The sclera were black as night with the iris's glowing a fierce, burning, red with the pupils practically being nonexistent. Those eyes penetrated Lucy down to her core and she couldn't help the involuntary shiver that shook her body when looking into them.
The man's eyes narrowed slightly as he silently gauged Lucy before he looked back to the wolves.
Four of the wolves had backed off but the Alpha stood his ground, growling and snarling at the newcomer. The man hissed again before his cape unfolded and flared out behind him. It was then that Lucy realized that the "cape" wasn't a cape at all…but a pair of wings that resembled the ones found on a dragon.
Now Lucy could clearly see the man's muscled body and what he wore beneath his wings.
He wore a black, armored vest with attachments that covered his shoulders and tassets the clung to the hips and were rigged to his thighs. The armor, which once possessed a polished sheen was now dulled and battle worn from what could have only come from years of continuous use. On both the shoulder guards were two symbols, both colored a bright crimson. On his left shoulder were three letters in simple script: E.N.D.
On the right shoulder was what appeared to be either an emblem or unit marking, set in the style of two crossed, hollowed out hammers with two equally set bars running parallel to them. However, three slash marks ran diagonally across the emblem, as if someone-maybe the man himself-had purposefully destroyed the marking.
His arms were uncovered but had the same black armor that protected his jaw and mouth while the same went for his hands, the armor having turned his fingers into dagger like claws. The skin of his arms that was exposed had the exact same scale like patterns that adorned his face.
A heavy belt held up a pair of baggy, charcoal grey slacks that were tucked into a pair of well-traveled, black high top boots. A pair of black shin guards covered the front of the boots and ended just below his knees.
And finally, attached to the belt, sheathed at the hip, was a double handed broadsword.
He was intimidating; terrifyingly so.
Lucy's breathing was still rapid and heavy as she swallowed hard. She couldn't remember ever being as frightened as she was now. Which was odd she realized considering the thing had just saved her from a painful, grizzly death. She should've been grateful but then again…there was no telling what this thing had in store for her when the wolves were gone.
The wolf barked and snapped its jaws at the newcomer only for a guttural growl to rumble up from deep in his chest as his maw opened and he hissed once more, his stance becoming combative. The air became heavy as the man flared his magical aura and Lucy found herself choking at how oppressive it was. It felt as if someone had dropped a pallet of bricks onto her chest and was trying to compress her into the earth.
The aura did nothing to dissuade the alpha from attacking as it suddenly leapt forward, mouth open and going for the jugular. And just as quickly, the wolf was tossed against a nearby tree as it let out a pained yelp. The man's right arm was extended out at his side, hand curled into a fist having struck the wolf with a powerful backhand.
"Piss off!" The man snarled…but his maw did not move when he spoke.
On shaking legs the wolf regained its balance and slowly began to back away in defeat despite the defiant glint in its eyes. The pack promptly turned tail and ran away from the man and disappeared back into the woods from whence they'd came.
The man sighed heavily as he lowered his wings and let them once again regain their shape as a cape. The aura he'd been casting summarily faded away as did the crushing pressure. He then turned around and faced Lucy, slowly walking over to the still petrified woman.
Then something odd happened. The glow of his eyes softened and his maw quirked up in what appeared to be a gentle smile.
He extended his hand out from beneath his cape…no wings…whatever they were, and held it out to Lucy.
"Are you alright?" The man asked, his tone soft and holding a slight hint of concern.
Lucy blinked once.
Surprised didn't even begin to describe how she felt. Here was a man, who looked like a killing machine and who had just singlehandedly swatted a wolf like it was nothing, and he was asking if she was alright. Confused, exhausted both mentally and physically, and over all overwhelmed, Lucy did one thing and one thing only.
In a rather unceremonious display, Lucy's eyes rolled up into her head and with a slight groan she slumped onto her side.
"Whoa, hey are you alright!?" The man said in alarm.
But Lucy was already halfway to slipping back into unconsciousness.
"Oh come on, I'm not that scary!" The man groaned, his voice now distant, "Oh…dammit."
And with those words, darkness enveloped Lucy's world.
A/N: So, what do ya'll think? Am I off to a good start?
As I said, I had the idea for this story on my mind for a while now and having finally written it out, it may seem a little rough around the edges. But, the more I write for this, the more concise I will become with the style for this story.
Also, I know it's fairly obvious who Lucy's savior was. Natsu has made his first appearance and the next chapter will start off with his point of view and lead up to the point where he finds Lucy along with a few other things. Natsu's appearance-for this chapter-was inspired by how I portrayed him in my other story "When the END comes" and it's been set in my mind that that's how Natsu will look in his etherious/demon form.
Oh! Before, I forget, here are some quick translations for some of the last names mentioned for Loke, Aquarius, Porlyusica and Bora. For Loke and Aquarius, "Estrella" and "Cascada" are Spanish for "Star" and Waterfall." Porlyusica's last name, "Lachäwr", is Welsh for "Healer." And for Bora, "Il Bugiardo" is Italian for "The Liar." They're simple, if a little transparent last names but hey, they get the job done.
Now, in regards to updating this story, there will be not set pattern for it. I usually mix up how I update my stories so it's not really set in stone how I'll carry this out.
Still, I hoped you enjoyed the first chapter as there are more to come.
Next time CHAPTER 2: Time, Fate and the land where Demons live
As per usual, if you guys have any comments or questions, please put it in your review and I'll make sure to respond to you in the next chapter. If you have anything else that you wish to ask me or clarify, you can PM me and I'll do my best to respond ASAP.
Until next time; read, review and most importantly of all, HAPPY READING!