A/N: Hello everyone! I'm still alive, still kicking, and I am so terribly sorry for the very, VERY long absence.

College was seriously kicking my ass with the amount of work that was dumped on me and even though I was writing, the majority of my time and energy went to papers, studying, and my internship (it's college folks, you've got work to do). I've also been taking Civil Service tests for Law Enforcement as that's the career I want to pursue.

For those of you who don't know, this past semester was my final semester of college: I am officially a college graduate with a four year degree. I'm home now and even though things have been busy in my personal life, I've still had time to write so don't expect me to disappear completely. Now, as to getting a full time job and in regards to law enforcement…I'll address all of that at a later date when I feel the time is appropriate to do so. Or, more to the point, when I know what's going on.

I just feel really bad for going this long without posting anything. Hell, it feels weird having time to just write for fun again. More to the point, I can't thank you guys enough for being so very patient with me and for putting up with my crazy schedule and BS. To everyone who has left a follow, a favorite, or a review; from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all of your support.

Last time we got a look at the underwater world and the hidden kingdom of the waterfolk; Fiore. We're introduced to Lucy, a young mermaid who is one of Queen Mavis's guardians and her heir to the throne. We also met other merfolk and sharkfolk and get a look into the underwater lives they lead. And, surprise, surprise, Laxus Dreyar is not only alive, he's become both a merman, a husband, and soon to be father. Meanwhile, Natsu has an encounter in a lagoon, nearly blowing the cover of three young and curious waterfolk while having an interesting encounter with a tiger shark. Now, both parties are curious as to what is going on around the islands and have begun a search to get to the bottom of things. However, a bloody encounter will soon force two worlds to collide, and two old friends to reunite…

As usual before we continue, here is a shout out to you ladies and gents who were kind enough to leave a review last time around:

Mandariinike: Hello and welcome to the story! I'm glad you're enjoying this little AU I've cooked up!

ToastedWeirdBrain: Hello and welcome back! I'm happy everything was too you're liking.

TigerArrowGirl: Hello and welcome to the story! Lucy's magic is similar to her spirit magic but that will all be revealed and explained upon soon. Natsu and Lucy will meet and it will be one hell of a reunion when the time comes.

Guest: Hello and welcome, glad you like everything so far!

Guest: Hello! Glad you like the story; don't worry, they'll meet soon!

Guest: Hello; if you're referring to Disney's Little Mermaid, then not necessarily. It's a mixture of different mermaid stories and AU's.

SulliMike23: Hey dude, always glad to hear from you. It's nice to see a familiar name pop up in my stories. The ending to this story hasn't been decided upon…yet. This story is part Little Mermaid, part whatever the hell goes on in my head. Yep, there'll be one hell of a reunion soon and this chapter will serve as a catalyst to that meeting.

Azraela's Fire: Hello and welcome; glad you like the story!

Wapii: Hello and welcome to the story. Well…without spoiling too much, to answer your question; yes, he is. But not in the way you're thinking. Trust me, it will all be explained in due course and it may be a bit of a surprise as to who Natsu really is. I'm glad everything was too your liking!

Guest: Hello! Sorry to keep you waiting; here's some more!

Lollilollicandypop: Hello and welcome to the story! I'm glad my details are helping make the story play put easier for you and I'm sorry for the late updates; just been very busy!

Ladyritsu: Hello and welcome to the story! I'm happy to hear that you are enjoying things so far!

Nalucreep: Hello and welcome to the story! Glad you are enjoying things!

AllHailNatsuDragneel: Hello and welcome to the story! Sorry for the long wait!

So without further ado, let's continue with our story!

XXXX

CHAPTER 3: In Search Of…

XXXX

Then…

Natsu stared down at the beach, his head titled to the side slightly while his brow furrowed in curiosity. He wasn't so much focused on the ebb and flow of the tide as he was the strange girl he saw pop out of the water, crawl onto the beach, and then dive back in…only to return minutes later. He wondered what she was doing that was making her come to and from the shore in such a repetitive manner. She kind of reminded him of a sea lion, he thought with a smile.

He had first spotted her when he came to this area of the cliff. Igneel had told him not to venture too far from home but being the curious six year old that he was, he'd gone off one day while Igneel was in town and decided to do some exploring. It had been three days ago when he had been lingering near the top of the cliff that he spotted something moving in the water below. Carefully moving to a better angle, Natsu could only stare in wonder as he watched the girl swim about in the cove below, playing with a pod of dolphins, before finally making her way ashore.

He had kept quiet and only watched, marveling at how she crawled about like a seal one moment before diving back into the water with the grace of the dolphin's she swam with. Was she one of the mermaids Igneel liked to tell him about in the stories he read?

Was she a real live mermaid!?

He had pondered that question for three days until finally, as of today, he decided he would go down and talk to her. She had just ducked back down into the water so now was his chance to make his way down to the beach. After carefully navigating the steep hillside, Natsu made his way to where he had watched the girl toiling around.

There he found a small pit having been dug into the sand. And it was filled with green and blue crystals; crystals he'd never seen before. It looked as if the girl was stashing them away, but for what?

There was a loud splash and Natsu looked up to see the girl riding the surf in, or to be more precise, riding inside the surf. The wave crashed down and the girl slid out gracefully on her belly and glided across the wet sand.

Natsu let out a soft gasp. She had no feet, no legs; only a tail with brightly colored pink scales. She had short blonde hair cut into a bob that framed her heart shaped face. Natsu had never seen someone so…so…pretty. No, that wasn't the right word. Igneel was always telling him to use the big words he taught him whenever he really wanted to describe something. This girl was…gorgeous, striking, angelic…beautiful. Yeah…those were the right words, Natsu reasoned.

It was then that Natsu realized that the girl had a small pouch tied around her waist…and that her tail was quickly receding into her body to reveal a pair of legs. It was weird seeing such a thing…but then again, Natsu thought it would seem weird to anyone. Especially the grownups…they freaked out whenever something weird happened.

The girl crawled back up to her hole and it was then that she finally noticed the pair of feet standing before her. Slowly looking up, the girls mouth parted in shock, her brilliant gold colored eyes going wide and she let out a surprised, "Eep!"

"Hi!" Natsu grinned brightly, "What'cha doin'?"

The girl quickly back peddled towards the water, but in her haste, she tripped over her feet and fell onto her rear; spilling the contents of her pouch.

"Oh no!" The girl cried in alarm as she frantically scrambled to save the spilled crystals that she could.

Seeing the girl's panic, Natsu quickly slid down on his knees and grabbed as many of the crystals as he could too before the surf washed them away. Luckily, he managed to grab most of them. The girl frowned upon seeing how little she had collected until Natsu presented his open palms to her, a gentle smile on his lips.

Blushing slightly, the girl shyly took her crystals back and pocketed them once more.

"Thank you…" She muttered.

"Your welcome." Natsu smiled, before extending his hand, just like Igneel taught him.

"I'm Natsu; what's your name?"

The girl looked to Natsu's hand, to him, to the hand, and then back to him. Slowly, cautiously, she took hold of Natsu's hand and blushed harder when his much warmer fingers wrapped around hers.

"I'm…I'm…I'm Lucy. I-It's nice to meet you Natsu…t-thank you for saving my crystals."

"No problem!" Natsu grinned, giving Lucy's hand a quick shake, making her wince slightly. For a boy her age, he had quite the grip!

"Why are you grabbing all of those crystals? Are you making something?" Natsu asked.

"Uhm….yes…I'm trying to make a necklace but I need to find the really pretty ones in order to make it. I bring them here to safely put away the ones that I've collected. But…it's been hard finding the right ones."

"Hmmm…must be a super special necklace if you're looking through all of those crystals. I know! Why don't I help you go look for the right crystals and then sort them out? I can swim for a really, really long time."

Lucy blinked in surprise but then smiled a hesitant smile. When a mermaid made a promise necklace, they weren't really supposed to ask other water folk for help. It was a special task only one could take on their own. But this boy…he wasn't a member of the water folk now was he.

"Okay." Lucy smiled, gesturing to the water, "Follow me."

"Cool!" Natsu beamed as he threw off his shirt and sandals. Igneel would be confused and maybe upset that he got his shorts wet but then again, Natsu could always claim he fell in the creek or something like that.

As he waded into the water, Natsu watched as Lucy's legs turned back into a tail and fins.

"Hey Lucy, are you a mermaid?" Natsu asked.

"…Yes." Lucy said hesitantly after ducking underwater to wet her hair.

"Cool!" Natsu grinned, "I've never met a mermaid before."

Lucy giggled, "You're a human then, right?" Natsu nodded, "I've never met a human before."

And together, the two young children searched and scoured the cove for Lucy's treasured crystals. But soon enough they stopped searching altogether and began playing; first with games of tag, then hide and go seek, and finally make believe.

It was an afternoon filled with laughter, imagination, and the beginning of a friendship.

"Hey Lucy?" Natsu asked, propping himself up on his arms while still staring at the setting sun. He'd have to get back home soon or his dad would get worried.

"Hmmm?" Lucy hummed, rolling onto her side to look up at Natsu.

"You want to come back here tomorrow and play some more?" Natsu said, turning to face the mermaid.

Lucy blinked in surprise before she smiled a bright smile and nodded her head vigorously.

"Yeah, you bet!" Lucy beamed, taking Natsu's hand into hers, "We'll go exploring again! It'll be so much fun!"

XXXX

Now…

"If this is your version of fun," Makarov grunted as he helped load the supply crate onto the boat, "I think you're overdue to get your head checked out."

"I'll have you know that I only have a few screws loose, thank you very much." Natsu said as he set aside another crate into the catamaran.

"And they haven't rattled my brain just yet!"

"That's up for debate." A passing fisherman said with a cackle, having heard the conversation.

"I think I can hear the wind tunneling."

"Oi!" Natsu said with a grin, "If I wanted you're opinion I would've asked for it!"

"Honestly, where are you going that you're going to need all of this crap? You have your father's outrigger, why not use that instead?" Makarov said as he popped a kink in his back.

"Because the outrigger can't hold a weeks' worth of supplies. I'm going to need the space if I'm going to be looking around the outer islands." Natsu replied, setting down two large jugs of fresh water.

"Ah, yes. Tell me my boy, what in the Sam Hill compelled you to undertake this little trip of yours." Makarov said as he added Natsu's bed roll and blankets to the catamaran.

"…I saw something the other day that I can't explain." Natsu said after a slight pause.

"And I intend to figure it out."

"…You sure you're feeling alright? You're not holding your breath too long under water are you?" Makarov arched his brow, making Natsu snigger.

"You just worry about yourself old man. I'll be fine; I survived six years of hell after all." Natsu smiled as he took a step back to observe the catamaran, hands on his hips.

"I think that's everything. Like I said, I'm going to be gone for a week, possibly longer. If anything happens I know how to find my way back."

"Just be careful kiddo," Makarov said, "there's only so much this old heart can take."

"Pssh," Natsu scoffed, "Makarov, if anything, you'll outlive us for a while longer. Care to help me cast off?"

Soon enough, Makarov was waving to Natsu as the young islander guided the catamaran out of the port. Whatever crazy idea he'd gotten into his head, Makarov hoped it didn't get the lad hurt…or worse. Natsu had a tendency to set his mind on things and once he became focused, it was hard to break him away. Whatever Natsu had seen had obviously gotten his attention…but whatever it was, Makarov could only guess.

Sighing heavily with a shake of his head, Makarov found himself reminiscing about the days of his youth when he too would take to the waves in search of his next adventure. A sudden change in the breeze made him arch his brow and look to the sky before turning his attention to the surrounding islands.

"Hmmm," Makarov hummed with a frown, "the winds of change. Something's about to happen Natsu, be ready for whatever that may be."

Once clear of the harbor, Natsu set the sails and let the wind carry him past the barrier islands that formed a corridor into the harbor. He'd head back to the lagoon and start his search there, searching the waters for that tiger shark. He still couldn't comprehend the fact that the thing not only understood him but could interact with him as well, all the while choosing not turn him into its lunch. It was disturbingly abnormal behavior for a shark as was the fact that it seemed to be protecting something….or someone.

He'd never tell anyone this lest they think him a lunatic but he stood by the fact that he had seen a very human hand slip by him in the churned up sand when he dove into the water that day. Whoever was out there did not want to be found; his experience in the war told him that much. But that didn't deter Natsu. Tiger shark or not, whatever had been hiding in the tall grass that day may very well be connected to that mysterious woman he had seen days earlier.

There was a connection to all of this; he could feel it. And he was going to get his answers one way or another.

If the lagoon didn't yield any clues then he'd sail around the outer islands and follow the schools of fish and whatever aquatic life lay beneath the surface; for where there were fish, there were sharks. Sharks were predominantly solitary creatures but that didn't mean they couldn't be tracked down. There were ways for finding sharks. Perhaps he'd get lucky and find his mysterious tiger shark in the process.

The islanders had a deep reverence and fear for sharks; they were the masters of the seas and it would do no one any good to piss one off. To the ordinary man, tracking down a killing machine was an idea of pure insanity, especially since tiger sharks were rated as the third deadliest shark in the world (the Bull Shark and Great White taking second and top place respectively). Any one of those sharks could clamp its jaws down and shred a man to pieces without mercy.

It was paramount to maintain a mutual respect between man and shark.

But to Natsu, it was just another thrill of being a part of the islands. Besides, his luck had held out for him so far-as had his unique abilities-why should they run out now?

With that thought in mind, Natsu let his hand skim above the top of the water and enjoyed the feeling of the wind through his hair.

XXXX

Upper Reef, Fiore…

Lucy let her tail lazily flip back in forth in the water. She lay on her back on her bedding of soft grass and sand, resting her head on her arm while her free hand gently traced the yin and yang dolphin tattoo Mavis had bestowed upon her; the mark of the queen.

She was still coming to grips with the fact that someday down the line, she was to be queen of the water folk. The thought was as thrilling as it was nerve wracking and Lucy wished more than anything for it to be nightfall; for the stars to fill the sky. They would bring her comfort, help put her mind at ease like they always did as she floated on the surface above. She wouldn't be returning to the islands anytime soon and she could already feel herself missing her private beach.

Her friends had been nothing short of surprised at the news of her future coronation and they had quickly cobbled together a party in her honor, in addition to Jellal and Erza's bonding and the announcement of Laxus and Mira's child. If there was one thing the water folk were known for, it was their parties that stretched on into the late hours of the night. And for the alcohol that was salvaged from human ships.

In general, spirits were at an all-time high and the feeling made Lucy smile despite the unease she felt. She loved her friends and her people and she'd do anything for them. The prospect of being their queen, however, was still a daunting one.

Her fingers bushed against her necklace as it swayed in the ebbing of the water and Lucy's smile quickly softened, her eyes becoming downcast.

"What would you think about all of this, I wonder." Lucy murmured aloud, "What would you think...Natsu?"

A memory of a boy with the brightest smile and vibrant colored hair filled her mind's eye and Lucy promptly shook her head to rid herself of the memory. No; she shouldn't be thinking about him. He had broken his promise and her heart; she didn't care about him anymore! He had forgotten her…and she needed to forget him. A task that was easier said than done.

For years he had haunted her dreams, never quite disappearing. She knew for a fact that the others hadn't forgotten him either although they had done very well at not mentioning him over the years. She knew it was not just for her sake but theirs as well.

That whole incident had become an old wound no one wanted to reopen.

"Are you alright Lucy?" A voice asked from above.

Lucy opened her eyes to see Wendy floating above her and she smiled at the young mermaid.

"Oh! I didn't sense you Wendy, please come down." Lucy beckoned with a smile, "I'm fine…just overthinking things that's all."

Wendy settled onto the sand next to her quasi sister and tucked her knees against her chest while she gently reached out and traced her fingers around Lucy's tattoo. Wendy had always looked up to Lucy and the other mermaids in her life. From her mother to Levy and Lucy, Wendy thought of them all as her sisters. It made her heart swell to no end knowing that she was going to be an aunt, that Mira was having a baby, and that Lucy would become her queen.

"Wow, I still can't believe that you're going to be queen. That's so cool Lucy!" Wendy beamed.

"You and me both." Lucy sighed as she sat up and began to braid Wendy's hair. Wendy leaned back into Lucy, enjoying being able to spend time with her.

"It was nice of you to stop by," Lucy continued, "I would have thought you'd be out with your friends or maybe even with your brothers and Levy and Kagura."

"I'm meeting with Romeo and Chelia later on today; we're going back out to the islands. Gajeel and Levy are meeting with a few of the other expecting parents, Levy said something to about checking on the babies; and Rogue and Kagura made plans to go hang out with Minerva, Sting, and Yukino."

"The islands?" Lucy double blinked, "You kids know you're not supposed to go out that far; what if a human were to see you?"

"Sorry, we know." Wendy smiled sheepishly, "But the reef gets so boring around here that we need someplace fun to go. Besides, we're careful."

Lucy shook her head, "You're lucky your brothers or your parents don't know that you've been out that way. You could get in serious trouble."

"You go out there all the time." Wendy countered.

"Yes, but I can handle myself. If you were to be caught by a human, gods know what they would do to you and your friends."

Wendy frowned and rested her chin on her knees. Lucy sighed and gently ran her hand up and down the young mermaids back in a soothing motion.

"What are they like?" Wendy asked, "Humans I mean."

Lucy paused and frowned slightly, "Why do you want to know?"

"I've never seen one before. But…Levy told me that you, her, my brothers, and a bunch of your friends used to be friends with one. Like Laxus, before he became one of us. Is that true?"

"Did she now?" Lucy said, her eyes narrowing slightly.

She was silent for a moment as she continued to braid Wendy's hair. Wendy felt Lucy tense and she bit her lip, hoping she didn't upset her soon to be queen.

"We were friends…once. But that was a long time ago. In the end he turned out to be like just the rest of them. A liar."

"What?" Wendy winced at the venom in Lucy's voice and looked over her shoulder to see that she had finished her braiding and had drifted over to a nearby rock. She had a faraway look in her eyes and her one hand clenched and unclenched slowly while her other had gone to her necklace.

She had felt her heart skip a beat at Natsu's words and not in the good kind of way like it usually did around him.

"…What?" Lucy whispered.

No…he had misspoken. That couldn't be right…he…he had misspoken, that was all.

Natsu bit his lip while tears filled his eyes; his hands balled into fists and shook at his sides. He swallowed hard and tried to speak, the words hardly moving past the lump in his throat.

"I'm sorry Lucy…my dad…my dad says you and I can't be friends anymore." Natsu finally croaked.

"What? No…No!" She cried as tears welled up in her eyes, "We can still be friends Natsu! I don't care what my mommy or my queen say! You're my bestest, best friend remember!? My promised one! We're meant to be together, forever and always!"

Natsu flinched, as if struck by a mighty punch; his countenance one of torn heartbreak.

"I'm really sorry Lucy." The young boy lowered his head in shame, "My dad told me to forget about you and the others…he's really upset and told me to never come back here again; it's too dangerous for me to be with you and the others. We can't…I can't be your promised one anymore."

"No!" Lucy protested as hot tears streaked down her face. She made to grab Natsu's hand but the boy stepped out of reach, trembling and shaking his head.

"G-Goodbye Lucy." Natsu choked out and quickly turned on his heel and ran away.

"Natsu!" Lucy called out, "Natsu!"

The boy didn't look back as he ran up the hill, away from her.

"No! You promised Natsu; you promised!" Lucy sobbed as she as she fell onto the sand.

"We made a promise! You said it was really bad to break a promise Natsu, you said so; you promised we'd be best friends forever and ever!"

Lucy's heartbroken sobs filled the air only to be sporadically broken by pained coughs due to her crying so hard. Her hands began to claw, at first out of frustration, and then furiously punch at the sand as a new emotion overcame her: anger.

Unbridled anger that made the blood in her veins boil.

"Liar…Liar…Liar," Lucy seethed, "Liar, liar, liar, liar!"

Her head snapped up, catching the final glance of Natsu's retreating form.

"LIAR! YOU'RE A LIAR NATSU! I HATE YOU!"

Had Natsu stayed with Lucy, he would have seen the whites of her eyes turn black-her tears now streaming like ink down her face-and the once radiant gold of her eyes turn a fierce, burning orange. Her canines turned dangerously sharp.

"DO YOU HEAR ME NATSU!?" Lucy roared, "I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN, EVER! YOU CAN GO TO HELL FOR ALL I CARE! I HATE YOU!"

Her voiced echoed around the cove and was carried on the wind, no doubt reaching Natsu's ears.

"I. HATE. YOU!"

"Lucy? Lucy are you alright?" Wendy's voice snapped her out of the painful memory.

Lucy blinked rapidly before massaging her temples, "Sorry…I'm fine."

Wendy wrung her hands slightly and her tail fin twitched in an uneasy manner. Lucy sighed heavily and turned her back to Wendy.

"Stay away from humans Wendy. Just…stay away from them."

"Lucy, I-"

"Leave." Lucy's tone left no room for argument and Wendy bowed her head and offered an apology.

"I'll see you later Lucy…if…if you're feeling better later, Levy and Gajeel invited you and Anna to dinner; Gray and Juvia will be there too along with everyone else."

Lucy didn't respond and Wendy knew she best take her leave to give Lucy some time to cool down. She'd struck a nerve and she didn't like it when Lucy got angry; she became really, really scary when she got angry.

And so Wendy left Lucy to her solitude, gliding away from the kelp forests and making her way to the "border" that separated her world from the humans. There she found Romeo and Chelia waiting for her.

"So, what did Lucy have to say? Did you get a chance to ask her if she knew about any humans like the one we saw?" Romeo asked.

"No," Wendy shook her head, "I tried to but she got super defensive about it and told me to stay away from humans."

"Sound and reasonable advice." Chelia said, crossing her arms, "Honestly Wendy, why are you so deadest on trying to figure out who that human was?"

"Because of how the shark reacted to him." Wendy said, "Because of how he moved and swam in the water. You saw how quickly he nabbed those fish and held his breathe."

"Not to mention how quickly the shark warmed up to him. Was it just me or did it look like he could actually talk with the shark?" Romeo added.

"That's the point." Wendy pressed, "Humans can't do any of that. He acted more like one us than a human!"

"Is that even possible?" Chelia asked, "I've never heard of a human who could do all of that."

"I don't think anyone ever has. Which is why I want to find him. If we can do that, maybe we can get some answers."

"And then what, let the whole ocean know about him?" Chelia rolled her eyes, "C'mon Wendy, think about it; the guy is probably going to run off screaming when he sees us. We pop up, say hi, and the guy will think he's lost his mind. And more to the point, where would we even look? The guy could be anywhere by now."

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." Wendy said, a little too quickly for Chelia's liking.

"We could get in a lot of trouble for this. I don't think the queen would be too happy with us trying to talk to a human." Cheila said, her unease evident.

"Only if we get caught." Wendy said, smirking slightly to herself; she felt like her brothers then and there.

"There's no telling us otherwise." Romeo affirmed.

"Nope." Wendy said with a pop of her lips.

Chelia sighed heavily and shook her head. How they managed to get themselves wrangled into all of this was beyond her. But she wasn't going to leave Wendy and Romeo to go off on their own.

"Alright…" Chelia said, raising her hands in defeat.

"Where do we start?"

XXXX

Three Days Later…

Natsu sighed heavily as she trudged his way out of the water, his lunch and dinner slung over his shoulder in a net.

He was almost towards the end of the northern half of the Tenrou Island chain. After three days of searching every lagoon, every stream, every salt and fresh water inlet, and every cove and beach, Natsu had thus far come up empty in his search for the ever elusive…well, whatever the hell he was looking for.

He had come across plenty of tiger sharks but none of them were the one he had seen days earlier; they were all small fry compared to the "Guardian." At least, that's what he liked to think of it as since it was obviously protecting something.

He knew for sure that it had white scales but when he took the time to think about it, he had never seen a fish with that sort of scale coloration before. Most fish had silver scales that reflected light to almost look white but the scales on his mystery fish were pure white; like freshly fallen snow. And then the more he thought on that, the more would see the things fin look more and more like a webbed hand …but that idea was simply ridiculous. It was impossible, really.

At this rate the thing was going to look like a mermaid in his mind's eye than some obviously rare fish.

"This is not one of dad's stories," Natsu muttered as he gutted and descaled his catch, "this is real life. Those things don't exist."

His eyes narrowed slightly as he distinctly heard Igneel's voice fill his mind with tales of the water folk and many a grand adventure.

He silenced the errant thoughts by grabbing two small branches he had cut down and quickly used his knife to sharpen the ends to fine points. He impaled the fish on the skewers he had made and placed them over his cooking fire.

Natsu ran his hand through his damp hair and retrieved his water bladder from the boat before settling beneath the shade of a palm tree. The island was relatively large with varying terrain; sandy beaches, natural tall grass trails, palm trees, volcanic rock formations, salt and freshwater streams. But it was cozy and in between the rest of the islands he needed to search. He'd hit the last of the bigger ones tomorrow; he could see them from his spot and they were just a hop and skip away. From there he'd scout out Crocodile Cove and turn back towards Tenrou, heading south to the rest of the island chain.

Taking a drink of water, Natsu sighed once more.

"Those things aren't real dad," Natsu said aloud, "I was going out of my mind because of that shark and just imagined seeing a…hand."

The thought of the shark made him uncomfortable because it also brought home the fact that over the last few days, the aquatic life around him had acted similar to that damn shark. Stingrays would come out of hiding and circle around him; sharks would come in for the kill only to pause at the last minute and gently rub past him; hell, he barely escaped a small pod of dolphins from trying to play a game of tag with him.

It was all…troubling. Animals had been drawn to him in the past but nothing near the rates as the last few days. It almost seemed as if the interactions were escalating.

He didn't know what to make of it so ergo, he did his best to ignore it all. It had to be the weather or something that was making the animals act weird.

The smell of cooked fish caught his attention and Natsu quickly scrambled to the fire to make sure his meal didn't burn. Once the fish was secure, Natsu grabbed the sea bass he had selected and took a large bite out of it.

The fresh food put him at ease and Natsu sat back down beneath his palm tree. Things may be getting weird around the islands but he knew there had to be a reasonable explanation to it all. He just had to find it first.

XXXX

"What's that smell?" Chelia asked as she sniffed the air, "It smells like fish but it's…different."

"Delicious is what it is." Romeo smiled as his eyes closed with a pleased hum. He wiped his mouth to prevent himself from drooling.

Wendy had to admit, the scent that had wafted in on the breeze was definitely making her salivate to the point where she would start drooling if she didn't get a grip.

They had managed to sneak out again for a third day, this time under the guise that they'd be out late to help Romeo and Wendy with their hunting skills. If they were gone for a night or two, no one would be overly concerned. Wendy didn't think anyone bought the story anyway.

She heard the whispers the adults said to one another, saying how the three of them were really sneaking out for some…private time together. It wasn't something that was frowned upon and although uncommon, there was no law that said a merfolk or sharkfolk couldn't have more than one mate. If the teens were simply exploring the idea of bonding and courtship, no one would fault them.

Despite the blush that always warmed her cheeks, Wendy didn't have the heart to tell the adults that they hadn't been exactly wrong. Oh well, let them think what they wanted to think.

Either way, the three waterfolk intended to make the most of the free time that they had. So far their search for the elusive human had come up empty. This was the farthest they knew humans would venture within their own islands so there was always the possibility that someone would be out here.

The morning and early afternoon had been spent searching the islands top to bottom and now the three teens were resting on dryland beneath the shade of a few trees. They had laid there for a while, munching on clams and mussels and drinking from coconuts. When that was done, and enjoying the break, Wendy had felt adventurous and decided to tickle Chelia's exposed feet. Chelia's laughter spurred Romeo to join in and a full on tickle fight had ensued. But somewhere along the line, the tickling had changed into kissing and neither of the teens had minded in the least.

After all, they were taking a break so why not relax while they could before continuing their search.

Then the wind had shifted and brought with it the new smell and made them stop what they were doing. It was close, they could sense that much; most likely coming from one of the larger nearby islands.

"Do you think it could be a human?" Romeo asked.

"Possibly." Wendy said, "Levy told me that humans do this thing called 'cooking'. It's where they heat up their food with fire to make it more edible."

"Then let's go check it out." Romeo said, "It's what we came out here for and it's the best lead we've had in days."

"Agreed." Wendy said, having forgotten about the afternoon meal, tickle fight, and bonding.

"But let's be careful, we don't know how many humans may be out here."

"Then I've got an idea; why not cross over onto land and sneak our way to whoever is out there. Follow our noses and all that." Romeo added, earning a smile from the two girls.

"Let's do it." Chelia grinned, "C'mon, follow me!"

Chelia dove into the water and was soon gliding over the surface. Romeo made to follow but was stopped when Wendy grabbed his arm and stopped him so she could peck him on the cheek.

"I like the way you think." She smiled softly and winked before she dove in after Chelia, leaving a flustered Romeo to follow her.

They followed the scent across the water to the island, noting how it did seem to come from the other side opposite of them. They entered the island via a tidal pool which connected to a stream before hopping out and back onto dry land. Wendy was glad that the ground on the island was made of sand and soft earth; she hated going barefoot and stepping on rocks. Keeping to the underbrush, the teens followed the scent of cooking fish towards the northwestern edge of the island.

"The smell is getting stronger," Wendy said after taking a strong sniff of the air, "I think we're close."

"Then let's be extra careful…and keep your voices down." Chelia said in a hushed tone. Romeo and Wendy nodded and together, the three water folk staggered their movements, doing their best to not step on fallen branches and leaf piles.

They eventually came to a small ridgeline that offered an overview of the beach and surrounding shoreline. From their perch, they could see the remaining islands that dotted the shallows before the sea stretched on towards the horizon.

And below them, on the beach, was a boat moored to a palm tree and accompanied by a loan human. A human with salmon pink hair.

"It's him!" Wendy whispered, fighting to keep her voice down.

"Well I'll be damned," Chelia added, "what are the odds."

"So that's where the smell is coming from; it's his cooking fire." Romeo said, "But what is he doing out here?"

"Fishing? Traveling? Who knows; whatever it is humans like to do?" Chelia guessed.

"It doesn't matter, we've found him…now we just need a way to approach him without startling him." Wendy said.

"Pft, good luck with that." Chelia shook her head, "Last time I checked, we don't exactly look like normal humans."

"Well, we have talk to him somehow." Wendy pressed.

"…Would you prefer before or after the sea snake bites him?" Romeo asked, pointing down at the human.

"Huh?" Chelia and Wendy asked and upon further inspection, found that indeed a yellow bellied sea snake had slithered its way onto the beach and was approaching the human.

Sea snakes, although friendly towards waterfolk, had a reputation for being aggressive with humans.

Sea snake venom was known for being notoriously toxic and could kill a grown man in mere minutes within being bitten. Wendy remembered Levy telling her stories of how humans used to hunt sea snakes and use their venom to coat arrowheads or needles. The weapons used wouldn't necessarily kill the intended target; the venom would do all of the work. Wendy was debating whether or not to try and call the sea snake off and warn the human or stay hidden and hope the human was paying attention.

Self-preservation made her stay in the underbrush.

The sea snake drew uncomfortably close to the human and Wendy bit her lip in tense anticipation, dreading when the human would flinch in the wrong way and the snake would lash out.

But, to her surprise, something else entirely happened.

The human did indeed flinch when he noticed how close the snake had gotten and was reaching for his spear when he paused, noticing how the snake had paused in kind. Wendy was seeing a parallel between how the tiger shark had interacted with the human the last time around and how the snake was acting now; it seemed curious more than anything.

Then, cautiously, the human extended his hand and the snake slowly coiled itself around his arm.

"You'd better not bite me," the human spoke, "because if you do, the last thing I'll do is skin your hide."

The snake offered no response, remaining coiled for another minute before untangling itself and sliding back onto the sand. The human sighed heavily and ran his hand down his face.

"You too huh?" The human said, taking a bite out of his cooked fish.

"First the shark, then the rays, then the dolphins, and now sea snakes. What's next, is a freakin whale going to beach itself just to say hi to me? Maybe I'll get lucky and a pack of orca's can use me as a toy."

The human did hide the bitterness in his voice, lamenting his apparent misfortune in being able to connect with aquatic life. Although considering the behavior strange, Wendy didn't think it was something the human should be frowning upon. He had a gift, something that made him special in her eyes, and she wished more than anything to both understand this human and encourage him to develop his gift.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say that snake thought he was one of us." Romeo whispered.

"But that's impossible. There's no way he could have waterfolk blood in him. I mean look at him, he's clearly a human." Chelia countered.

"Maybe he's an exception." Wendy replied, leaning further forward…and feeling the loose ground underneath her hands begin to give way. It was then that she realized that she had been so mesmerized by the human and the sea snake that she had been leaning forward to get a better look. Her hands had dug into the soil…loosening it.

Before either Romeo or Chelia could grab her, she toppled forward, end over end down the ridge. She let out a startled cry while Romeo and Chelia called out to her. She came to a tumbling stop and found herself sprawled out on the beach.

"What the hell!?" She vaguely heard the human cry out in alarm.

Wendy groaned as she pushed herself up on her hands and knees, shaking her head to clear it.

"Holy shit, are you alright; that was one hell of a fall." The humans voice sounded closer now and she looked up to see him approaching her.

It was in that moment that Wendy realized how imposing the human was up close. Between his muscular frame, penetrating eyes, and scar lined skin, he looked very different out of the water. Wendy felt the curiosity and bravery that she had previously held had fled her.

Undoubtedly having taken in her appearance, the human averted his eyes out of what she assumed to be decency.

"What are you doing all the way out here? Are you alright? What happened to your clothes?" The human asked.

Wendy swallowed hard and slowly stood, backing away as she did so. It was hard to stop her hands from shaking in fear. The human glanced back at her, noticing her movement, and frowned.

"Hey, look, I'm not going to hurt you if that's what you're thinking." The human said. Still keeping his eyes averted, he extended his hand to her.

"Look…if you're hurt or in trouble, I'll help you."

A rock sailed through the air and landed at the human's feet, making him curse in surprise.

"Wendy, run!" Chelia called out, having sprung from cover. Romeo too had risen and threw another rock.

"What the hell! Hey!" The human yelped as he dodged the incoming rock, "What the hell are you doing, you're going to hurt me doing that!"

Wendy saw her opportunity and bolted back to the ridge, her natural agility helping her ascend the uneven terrain.

"Hey wait!" The human said in alarm, "Stop!"

Wendy scrambled up the ridge and looked over her shoulder, only to let out a startled gasp when she saw that the human was pursuing her, making his way up the ridge with equal skill.

"Run! Wendy run!" Chelia cried out and Wendy pumped her legs faster.

She leapt over the crest of the ridge and nearly tumbled into Romeo, who caught her. He took her by the hand and together, they darted in the brush and trees with Chelia keeping pace.

"Kids wait!" The human called out, "Wait!"

They ignored him. They ran across the island, crossing water, leaping over rock, and pushing past brush as they tried to evade the pursuing human. But he didn't relent, seemingly hell bent on catching up with the mysterious teens who had popped out of nowhere.

"Stop!" The human called out again, "We're nearing the cliffs; it's a sheer drop!"

Wendy could smell the sea in the air and new that safety was nearby. The brush and trees began to thin out, the ground became rockier, and she could see the land began to fall away; the sparkling blue of the ocean beyond.

"Jump for it!" Chelia cried out as they sprang out of the jungle. The human had been right, though. The rocky ground only lasted a few more feet before suddenly dropping away into a shallow water cove beyond. That did nothing to slow their speed. If anything, the drop off spurred them on, moving faster until at the last possible moment, they leapt into the air and dove for the water.

XXXX

"No!" Natsu cried out when he watched the three teen's swan dive off the cliff.

Had they lost their minds!? First they appear out of nowhere, then they run off leading him on a frantic chase through the jungle, and now they had seemingly leaped to their deaths. The water around the island was shallow, shallow enough that if one were to jump they wouldn't kill themselves. But that didn't rule out injury and the last thing Natsu needed was three injured teens on his conscience.

He had only been trying to help. How was he supposed to react to a girl who had no clothes on, came tumbling out of the bush, and looked at him like he was a monster. She could be a runaway slave or someone out of their mind, thinking he would turn her back in or hurt her even more for that matter. The same probably went to the other two she was with.

And now it seemed he had done just that; scared the hell out of them and inadvertently drove them to their deaths.

Natsu forced himself to skid to a stop and carefully edge his way towards the edge of the cliff. Peering over the edge, he expected to see three bodies floating motionless in the water. But instead, he found nothing.

No blood turning the water red.

No bodies floating limp and broken.

The three teens had seemingly vanished.

"What in the hell?" Natsu asked as his eyes scanned the open water. The water of the cove was shallow, at least twenty feet at most, and it was clear all the way down to the bottom. If the teens had survived and has sunk all the way to the bottom, he'd still be able to see them.

But then Natsu saw that the cove wasn't as empty as he had initially thought at first glance. Anchored near the mouth of the cove was an old heavy frigate. The ship looked like it has seen better days but was none the less seaworthy. The sails were drawn down, suggesting the crew were taking time to either rest up of make repairs. They were crazy, however, for bringing a ship of that size around this part of the island chain. The waters were shallow making it hard to navigate or make a speedy passage.

Then Natsu saw the flag of the ship flutter in the breeze. It bared a familiar symbol, one that he'd seen the week before.

"Sylph Labrynth." Natsu said aloud, "So those crazy treasure hunters are still hanging around after all."

It made sense now as to why the ship was this far into the shallows. Those treasure hunters were more than likely looking for anything valuable-not that they'd find anything out here-while more than likely still continuing their asinine quest for Fiore.

In the cove below, long boats sat in the water with Sylph Labrynth members casting fishing lines and nets. Most likely fishing for a grouper, flounder, or maybe even a seal.

Movement in the water caught his attention and saw three figures glide beneath the surface. At first glance they looked like seals or dolphins, but the more he focused on them, the more he realized that wasn't the case. They didn't move like seals or dolphins; their movements were more streamlined but not as quick.

Apparently he wasn't the only one who took notice as he heard a Sylph Labrynth hunter call out to his companions and begin pointing at the water. The figures tried to slip beneath the longboats and make a break for the mouth of the cove, for open water, but it wasn't to be. Spears and arrows were tossed and fired into the water, one of the figures floundered and its companions quickly turned to help. Nets were cast and the figures were caught then hauled into the one longboat.

For a moment, all was still as the treasure hunters marveled at what they had caught. Focusing, his keen eyesight dialed in on a scene that made his jaw drop. The treasure hunters had caught the three teens he'd just been chasing. Only...they had changed. Somehow, between now and then, their legs had been replaced with long, slender tails and fins.

Now instead of human…they looked like…like mermaids.

No…it wasn't possible. He had to be seeing things! It had to be a trick of the light or shadows or…or something!

Before he could second guess himself, the teens began to thrash about in the nets. The treasure hunters let out jovial cries and quickly gagged and bound their captives. With their prisoners secured, the treasure hunters drew anchor and set off for their ship.

Realizing what was happening, Natsu's mouth drew into a deep scowl while his temper flared within him. As confused as he was to what had just transpired, Natsu pushed it aside and focused on what he knew. And that was that two young women and a young man had just been captured by a treasure hunter guild that didn't have the best of reputations. Treasure hunters who weren't above harming or even killing others to get what they wanted.

And if they thought those three teens were mermaids then…

Natsu didn't even want to think about what would be done to them.

They needed help and they needed it fast. It would take him too long to get back home and assemble a rescue party. By the time they'd have caught up with the treasure hunters, it may very well be too late for the teens.

No.

Only he could help them. With that thought at the forefront of his mind, Natsu gripped his spear tighter and turned on his heel, making a run back to the beach and his boat. Saving those teens was his top priority now and a plan was starting to form in his head; his errant questions and confusion having been pushed back till later.

There were only a few navigable routes out of the norther shallows and Natsu knew them all by heart. Given the size of the hunters ship, the most likely route they'd take would be away from the island he was on now and towards to the "gateway islands"; the last two remaining large islands in this part of the chain that led directly to deep water. They'd have to travel slowly, lest they run their ship aground, so the trip would take two days at the most.

Plenty of time for Natsu get ahead of them and plot out his rescue. If he timed it right, he'd be able to strike right as they reached deep water, allowing him and the teens to slip into relative safety and escape onto the islands. From there, he'd island hop away from the treasure hunters until he got the teens to Tenrou Island, where they'd be safe.

It was a rough plan but it was a plan none the less. He had two days to fine tune and improvise if need be. Two days to call upon the warrior's spirit within him and summon the strength to do what needed to be done.

Two days to hope those three teens were strong enough to hold out for that long. Because if they didn't, those two days would soon turn into an unbearable nightmare.

XXXX

A/N: And there you have it folks. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, this took me way longer to get out than I would have liked! I apologize if things seem weirdly worded or out of place with this chapter; having a million thoughts in your head and balancing out other stories tends to do that. Hell, this took me longer to write than I had planned on!

I blame this on my crazy personal life, my work schedule, police/security testing, and a slight case of writer's block/procrastination. Both way, I was able to get this out to you all and I once again am very, VERY SORRY FOR MAKING Y'ALL ENDURE THIS WAIT. Thank you all for having the patience of saint's!

So, this chapter was on the shorter side of things but there were important details in it none the less. We get a better look into Natsu and Lucy's past while at the same time, we've learned that something is changing within Natsu. But what could that change be? In the meantime, Romeo, Wendy, and Chelia have been captured by Sylph Labrynth and it's up to Natsu to save them. And it won't be long until the waterfolk are alerted to the capture of the three teens. And epic clash is about to ensue; one that will change everything.

In the meantime, I'm still going to be working on updating my other stories. I'm trying to make a set pattern here to help balance everything out. In case you are unaware, I've recently started a new story called "Vice" so feel free to check that out. With that said, here's how the updates are going to go: I'll update Vice next, followed by Vendetta, then Between Light and Shadow, and then I'll work my way back to this story. So expect a series of updates over the next few weeks. Hopefully I can keep this as my update schedule from here on out but we'll have to see.

Next time, CHAPTER 4: Battle

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!