A maroon train emblazoned with the gold FioRail logo sped out of the station in a rush of steam. When it was completely out of sight, Lucy finally relaxed the stiff and proper posture that she had held since they had entered Luin earlier that morning. "Did that just happen?" She asked in wonder. "Did I really just close a deal with FioRails' notoriously picky owner?"
"Was there any doubt that you would close the deal, Lady Heartfilia?" the young man beside her pulled out a silver pocket watch from his peacock blue coat with a bright smile. "You prepared for every possible argument he could use to disagree."
"You can call me Lucy. We're not working right now, Jeremy," Lucy said, tugging off the cream pillbox hat that didn't shade her eyes from the bright noon sunshine. Sunshine that made the painful glare from her white blouse almost blinding. "And of course, I'm surprised."
"You're always surprised when you're successful, Lady Lucy," Jeremy said with a teasing tone as he took the hat and offered her a pair of sunglasses from his satchel.
Smoothing her hair, Lucy huffed at the formal title but said, "Mr. Belvine hasn't accepted a business deal from anyone in over a decade. You were so worried about how our meeting would go that you were researching right up until today's meeting."
"I'm your assistant." Jeremy said, as they walked out of Luin's large train station that acted as one of the town's borders and entered the town's bustling streets where people's chatter surrounded them. "It's my job to ensure your success."
Lucy stopped at a small fountain for an instant to check her hair in the crystal clear water. "Jeremy, I couldn't have impressed that old man so much if you hadn't given me all that extra information." She turned to him. "Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me for doing my job." Jeremy looked up from his pocket watch with amusement. "And I don't think that Mr. Belvine will appreciate being called an old man, Lady Lucy."
"He has great grandchildren," Lucy shook her head at her assistant's subject change. "I still can't believe we've become actual business partners with FioRail. Maybe this will silence those meddling old men on the Heartfilia Konzern's board."
"We can only hope," Jeremy said and frowned at his notebook. "I thought that the meeting would take longer so I scheduled the carriage to collect some files from neighbouring Porthel. We'll have to wait at least an hour before we can leave Luin and return to the estate, Lady Lucy."
"An hour?" Lucy blinked and then grinned with delight. "That gives me a chance to roam around."
Jeremy stared at her with surprise. "You want to roam around Luin?"
"Of course, I hear Luin has some wonderful imports because it's the base of FioRails. I'm sure a little roaming around will give me some ideas for new profitable projects."
Jeremy's tentative smile twitched and flattened into a dissatisfied frown. "Maybe you should take the afternoon off from work and... act your age, Lady Lucy."
Lucy shook her head. "If I'm going to spend time away from the office then I need to make it worthwhile. I can't waste my time when the company is still rebuilding. Even though I've repaid all the debts that Father incurred, I..."
The ground shook with a rumble.
Distant thunder rattled in the distance as everyone on the streets picked themselves off the ground.
Lucy kept a hold of Jeremy's hands as she stood and dusted her ruffled black skirt. "Was that an earthquake?"
Jeremy's grey eyes narrowed behind his glasses as he looked around with ill concealed worry. "I don't think so." He swallowed audibly when something captured his attention. "Most definitely not an earthquake," he said with a rush of panic.
Lucy followed his gaze.
Golden sand rushed in from beyond the train station, covering it from sight as it flowed down into the streets.
Even as it flowed forward, the sand bubbled up to form towering humanoid figures at various spots.
Humanoid figures that moved, attacked and enveloped people and buildings whole.
It took a moment for the dazed Luin residents to react with screams of terror. "Monster."
"You need to get to safety," Jeremy tugged Lucy's arm, pulling her away from the panicked running crowds.
But the hard ground beneath their feet shifted into soft sand. Sand that turned into even more monstrous creatures in front of them.
Jeremy pushed Lucy out of the way just as a pillar of sand rose up where Lucy had been standing.
Lucy's eyes widened in horror as the sand enveloped her assistant. "Jeremy!" She ducked away from a wave of sand that came at her from the side and ran.
Through her panicked thoughts, a flash of memory from earlier pushed Lucy to go against the crowds towards the train station.
She ducked past the towering monsters and ran as fast as she could on the soft sand with a desperate purpose.
When she caught sight of the fountain that she had stopped at earlier, Lucy despaired.
The fountain's water was brown with sand.
With her legs already burning from running on the sand, Lucy kept going and hoped that there was more water than sand in the fountain as she dug into her vest pocket for the keys chained inside.
Static trickled through her fingers and the faint crush of waves filled her mind when she brushed against one specific key.
Certain that it was the key that she needed, Lucy yanked the key out as her boots slipped on the still slithering sand underfoot.
Sand scrapped against her cheek, the only warning Lucy had to duck down and away from the attack coming in from behind her.
Fear propelled her forward faster and as soon as she reached the fountain, Lucy plunged her key into the sand filled water, drenching her long white sleeve till her elbow. "I am the one who connects the Celestial World. Spirit answer my call. Open, Gate of the Water Bearer, Aquarius."
The water glowed with Lucy's magic and freed from the sand, rose into a pillar that morphed into a faint crystalline gateway.
A gateway that opened with a chime and allowed a stern faced mermaid to swim through.
"Why are you summoning me so early today? You said you had a business meeting to..." the summoned mermaid paused and slapped a sand creature away from Lucy with her tail.
"Sorry for calling you out here like this, Aquarius," Lucy said with relief. "But I didn't know what else to do. I had to keep my whip in the carriage because of the meeting and..."
Aquarius interrupted her by pressing cool fingertips to Lucy's cheek. When she pulled back, her pale fingers were covered in red.
Lucy pressed her damp white sleeve against her cheek and winced at the stinging burn of an open wound. "Can you do something about the sand?"
Aquarius slapped her tail against the fountain water. A swirl of water circled around Lucy and expanded, creating a barrier that glowed with the same power that filled Aquarius' blue eyes. "Sand magic of this level is no trouble for me. A beach means nothing to the ocean."
Lucy grinned with delight. "You sound so cool, Aquarius. And kind of scary too. I'll keep your gate open so you don't have to worry about that."
Aquarius smirked as she raised her golden urn high above her head. "Good, because I am going to destroy these small fry in one fell swoop."
As Aquarius pulled her magic from keeping the now invisible gate open, Lucy pushed more of her own magic into keeping the gate open by herself.
A spinning vortex of water gushed out of the glowing urn and slammed against the sand, creatures and all. They crumbled and got swept away in the wave of water, leaving behind a host of freed but unconscious people.
Lucy relaxed as she caught sight of Jeremy's vibrant blue coat in the distance amongst the newly freed people. "You did it Aquarius. You defeated all these monsters in one move."
Aquarius' face twisted into a stern frown. "Not yet. The mage behind that sand is still active. As long as the mage remains then these annoying sand creatures will come back." She paused as she glanced at Lucy. "Why are you smiling?"
"You're so different from when I summon you to chat over lunch. Battle really suits you." When her spirit sputtered, Lucy said, "So we just have to go and defeat the mage?"
Aquarius turned serious and straightened. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Why not?" Lucy said. "You can K.O the mage in one shot just like these sand creatures."
"Lucy, I'm sure your magic has already drained a lot. I shouldn't stay here too long like this."
Lucy huffed. "I've kept your gate open for over an hour when we usually talk."
"Summoning me in combat is different from keeping me summoned to chat. We usually share the magic required to keep the gateway open during those times. You use more magic to keep me here on Earthland when I'm using all my magic in battle. You know that." Her spirit looked at her as the water barrier around Lucy churned. "So, move your magic and I'll keep the gate open with you till you get to safety."
"No, I can... I'll do it," Lucy said. "I'll keep your gate open for however long it takes you to K.O this stupid mage. You just concentrate on fighting."
"We don't even know where this mage is," Aquarius said, looming over Lucy with disapproval.
A flurry of thunderous sounds broke their staring competition.
Well beyond the wet train station, a flurry of golden lightning lit up the sky. "That doesn't looks like normal lightning. And for so much of it to in one location," Lucy said, "must mean magic. Which means mages."
Aquarius looked out into the distance for a long moment before she sighed. "Fine. But promise me that you will close the gate and go to safety if you run out of magic before we deal with the mage."
Lucy nodded. A nod was not as binding as a spoken promise that Lucy had no intention of keeping. She jogged forward over soggy sand, the water barrier around her shrinking but not disappearing.
Every bedraggled person they passed, paused whatever they were doing to gape at Aquarius.
Speeding through the air above Lucy as though she was swimming, Aquarius radiated regal intimidation. The scales of her tail gleamed like jewels in the sun and her blue hair mimicked the water that followed after her.
Aquarius looked ready to hurt someone.
And Lucy couldn't help feeling a tinge of pride as she walked towards the sporadic thunderous sounds. She was the one keeping Aquarius summoned to K.O the mage who had been stupid enough to attack Luin.
"Your water reached pretty far," Lucy said as she trudged through soggy sand even though they were well away from Luin and into what had previously been marshland around the town.
"I ordered the water to deal with any sand creatures. I must have used too much magic if it continued on outside of my line of sight," Aquarius said, her voice sounding almost sheepish even as she stared ahead.
Lucy's mind boggled at the words. Aquarius had ordered the water with magic and the water had obeyed too enthusiastically.
"Looks like I spoke too soon," Aquarius said with a growl as they came upon a horde of moving sand monsters that blocked the way forward. "Keep going. There are mages up ahead."
A little intimidated but more intrigued by Aquarius' words, Lucy took a deep breath and ran straight at the throng of monsters.
The water barrier around her glowed and prevented anything from reaching her, even Aquarius' newest attack.
A roaring vortex of water rose up around the glowing barrier and expanded to decimate the sand monsters.
"The mages are worn out," Aquarius said, breaking Lucy out of her awed trance. With a clinical tone, she added, "They must be magically exhausted."
Without the towering monsters blocking the way, the mages in the distance were easy to see.
Three mages stood back to back in a circular formation and fought with a mix of magic that Lucy had never seen before. A green-haired mage facing Lucy, slashed at the monsters with a sword that trailed something purple and froze the monsters until a dress clad woman kicked them apart with a glittering impact. The only thing visible of the third mage behind them was a metal helmet of some sort.
Even as she moved forward, Lucy said, "They're not our enemy. And they've been fighting for a long time."
Aquarius hummed in agreement.
A golden lightning flash and another bang of thunder spurred the trio of mages to fight even harder with desperation in their tense postures.
"Can you get rid of the sand creatures without touching them?"
Aquarius scoffed and raised her free hand at the mages. "Who do you think you're talking to?"
A thin ring of water encircled the trio and expanded.
They reared back in surprise.
Aquarius straightened in the air and raised her golden urn.
The green-haired mage caught sight of her. His sword raced through the air and glowed purple just before a torrent of water rushed out from the urn and swept away the crumbling sand creatures.
Even though her body burned with exhaustion, Lucy moved forward as the water sank down into the ground. She panted slightly as she stopped in front of the defensive trio. "Are you all right?"
"You helped us," the green haired mage said, lowering his sword with a faint tremble. "Which guild are you two from? Wait, no, it doesn't matter. Please remove this water... barrier so that we can reach Laxus."
The tallest person of the trio, another male with the metal visor covering his eyes prodded the water while the lone female of the trio – a pale bespectacled brunette clutched at her right arm, the entire length of which was scraped raw and bloody.
Aquarius shot them an imperious look and dissipated the water barrier around them without a word.
The brunette fell forward, but before she could reach the ground, the helmeted male grabbed her. "Ever."
"I'm fine," the brunette gasped out, her face paling even more as she struggled to stand. "We need to get to Laxus."
"You're not going anywhere," the green haired male said, shrugging off his knee length maroon coat and draping it over her.
"Freed!" the woman yelled in outrage.
"Going any further would just get you even more injured," Freed said, his voice going soft but determined as he arranged the dusty coat away from her injured arm. "I have the most magic out of all of us, so I'll go help Laxus. You two stay here and gather your strength. Be our backup."
"Our?" the helmeted man said with a pointed deliberateness.
Freed stood and turned to Lucy. "Thank you both for your help. We will handle things from here."
The sane thing to do was nod, return an unimpressed Aquarius to the celestial realm and let the mages handle things. Especially since Lucy could feel the dangerous dip of her magic levels. "Aquarius is going to defeat the sand mage," Lucy said.
"What? Lucy!" Aquarius said, drowning out whatever Freed was going to say. "You shouldn't push yourself. Not when..."
"I'm fine," Lucy reassured her spirit, who was in much better condition than the mages. "I can keep you here till the sand wielding mage is dealt with."
"You heard him. You don't have to help them," Aquarius said.
"But I will. It's fine," Lucy said, even though her limbs felt heavy. "I came here to deal with the mage for ruining my schedule and eating up my free time with this sand attack... fiasco."
Aquarius gave her the usual 'I don't believe anything spewing from your mouth' look. A look that Lucy had become intimately acquainted with over the past year ever since she had found the gold key and summoned the spirit.
Lucy didn't falter and stared right back at her spirit.
Aquarius sighed, and her tail slumped with resignation at Lucy's decision.
"Let's go," Lucy said, with more bravado than she felt as she walked towards the much more sporadic flashes of lightning. Before I'm drained of magic, she mentally admitted. She brushed past the trio, courageous due to Aquarius' presence above her. With Aquarius' unfazed visage and the still glowing water barrier around her, Lucy couldn't help but feel brave.
Lucy blinked rapidly as she got closer to the occasional flash of lightning and accompanying thunder. But it was the angry curses along with the glittering pieces of glass cracking under her boots that really signalled she was going in the right direction. "This is so strange. I know that this was all marshland just this morning."
"It's unnatural," Aquarius said, a small portion of her water already churning towards the newest batch of sand monsters. "For a human to make and control this much sand in this terrain."
From a little behind them, Freed said, "That's because the man has stolen some experimental lacrima. He's a researcher gone rouge."
"Lacrima?" Lucy repeated the unfamiliar word, as the path in front of them cleared.
Ahead of them, surrounded by a much larger horde of sand monsters, a blond man cursed as he smashed a sand monster only to have three others take it's place.
"A crystalline substance that's usually made into an orb. It can be powered up with any kind of magic," Freed explained after a moment of silence. "The never ending supply sand has prevented us from dealing with the mage directly."
"So if you get the lacrima then he'll be easy to defeat?" Lucy asked as a bright flash of lightning struck a group of sand monsters.
Freed said, "That's the idea. Except the sand is defending him too well and no matter how much you get rid of there's more to take it's place."
Lucy nodded. "If Aquarius gets rid of all the sand..."
"Then we can finally reach him," Freed said. "Without the sand there to block us, he'll be open to attack." He glanced at Aquarius cautiously. "But using such a large scale water attack would be dangerous when Laxus uses lightning."
Lucy frowned at his worry, "Aquarius can deal with anything."
Already raising her urn, Aquarius' eyes burned blue with power. Instead of the usual torrent of water, a thick but agile stream of water snaked out and around the battlefield, dodging the lightning that flashed around and striking down the sand creatures.
Thrilled at her spirit's display, Lucy gaped, "You're really cool, Aquarius."
Aquarius smirked even as she directed the stream of water around the area to get rid of all the sand monsters.
Lucy stared at her spirit, acutely aware that she had never seen Aquarius in a real battle before. And at that moment, even though her magic levels were low, all Lucy wanted was to keep Aquarius summoned for much longer. To see more of this Aquarius.
With all the sand being rendered unmovable due to the water weighing it down or being turned to unusable glass, the mage behind all the sand finally became visible.
Covered in a thick veil of magic that lingered around him like a halo, the mage showed no visible expression at being confronted.
He didn't even say a word as he stared ahead.
Lucy shuddered and took an involuntary step back, unnerved by the mage.
Aquarius' tail at her back stopped Lucy before she could take another step.
With her golden urn back in the crook of her arm, Aquarius raised her free arm with a stern expression. The stream of water changed directions, coiled around the magic shrouded mage and turned into a pillar of water that reached the sky.
A blinding strike of lightning struck the pillar.
The water pillar lit up with a blinding sizzle, obscuring the trapped mage from view.
"It's been a very long time since I used an attack alongside a lightning user," Aquarius said with a tilt of her head, her voice almost wistful before she turned to Lucy. "I better go back. You can't keep me here any longer than this."
Lucy opened her mouth to protest.
Aquarius pinched Lucy's uninjured cheek and glared. "Do you think magical exhaustion is a joke?"
Lucy shook her head frantically and materialized the crystalline gate that she had been keeping open.
Satisfied, Aquarius let go of her cheek hand and curled her gleaming blue tail around Lucy in her customary farewell before she went through the gate.
The instant the gate closed and disappeared, the drain on Lucy's magic stopped and the water barrier around Lucy dissipated without Aquarius there to command it.
Even the towering water pillar gushed down letting it's prisoner fall to the ground in a twitching heap.
"Who are you, brat?" the blond mage, Laxus, said with a gruff voice as he appeared in front of her in a buzz of light. Light flickered under his exposed skin, making the lightning-bolt shaped scar on his right eye quite intimidating.
Though startled by his teleportation, Lucy bit back her automatic defence of 'I'm not a brat. I'm almost fifteen.' and straightened to her full height, which unfortunately didn't even reach his shoulder.
Before before she could respond, Freed yelled as he slashed his purple glowing sword, "Look out."
A trio of glass orbs rose above the electrocuted and unmoving mage and raced straight at them.
"Shit," Laxus said. A thin gold rope of lightning shot out of his palm and towards the orbs.
The orbs dodged and glowed with gathering magic as they got closer.
Purple runes glowed into an opaque barrier in front of them just as the orbs shot out a barrage of magic. Freed slashed his sword through the air once more, leaving a trail of purple runes that twisted and expanded.
In an instant the runes glowed and caged the orbs just as they glowed again.
The orbs' magic hit the rune cage and reflected back.
As the orbs shattered, Laxus turned to Freed with exasperation. "What took you so long?"
"My apologies, Laxus," Freed said and lowered his sword without dispelling the rune cage
But the blond waved his hand and looked behind with a smidgen of concern in his eyes. "Ever?"
"I'm fine," a worn and tired woman's voice said.
Lucy turned in surprise.
The injured woman from before limped forward while leaning against her other team-mate, her entire scrapped right arm looking worse than before.
"No, you're not," the helmeted mage said.
"I told you two to stay there," Freed said, his voice rising with real ire even as he moved to the brunette.
"Like the great Evergree would actually listen to common sense," the helmeted man said with a twist of his lips.
"Healer," Lucy said in concern. "We need to get you to town before you get some sort of infection." She looked around, trying to remember the way back to Luin.
The mages stared at her as though surprised by her words.
"Infections are bad," Lucy told them.
"Lady Lucy!" A voice called in the distance.
Turning in relief at the familiar voice, Lucy yelled to her running assistant. "Jeremy, these people need healing."
Jeremy, proving the extent of his usefulness, nodded as he reached her, "I brought a healer along with some others to help when I came to search for you." True to his word, a group of slightly soggy people appeared from the direction that he had come from.
When the group finally reached them, the healer, decked in the formal grey of his profession rushed to the mages once Lucy had waved him off.
"I'm fine," Lucy said to Jeremy's unhappy concerned look. "They really do need more help than me."
Jeremy glanced at Lucy for a long moment before he nodded reluctantly.
The healer tutted as he examined the brunette's arm. "We'll need to be at the clinic to deal with this. You need more salves than what I have on me right now."
Again, Jeremy demonstrated why she'd made him her personal assistant. "They should be bringing the cart along in a few minutes. The wet sand is a hassle to travel on."
"I can walk," Evergreen said, leaning away from the helmeted mage. A second later her eyes rolled back and she fell forward.
Her team-mates caught her with open concern and climbed into the cart with her without any complaint.
Jeremy stuck close to Lucy as the cart took all of them back to the town where still wet people were clearing up remnants of the attack.
"Is everyone in the town okay?" Lucy asked, taking in the heaps of wet sand everywhere. "How much damage did I..."
"There was nothing damaged by the water," Jeremy interrupted her as they got off the cart and followed the healer into a fairly large house.
"I still want to talk with the mayor," Lucy said, watching the mages bring in Evergreen, the electrocuted sand mage, and the floating rune cage with broken orbs. "I can't just walk away. It would damage our entire reputation to just leave when I played a part in this."
Jeremy sighed but nodded, as though he had expected nothing less. "I'll inform him of your request and I'll bring you a new outfit."
"It's fine. Unlike your drenched self, I'm fine. Only my sleeve is damaged. I'll make do until the coach comes by to pick us up," Lucy said as she sat on a wobbly stool inside the healer's abode. Jeremy huffed and only left when one of the other healers in the building came to check on her cheek.
"You're leaving?" Laxus said.
Lucy wanted to nod but the healer was cleaning the scrap on her cheek. "I have to. I have a meeting in Kunigi that I need to get to tonight."
"Which guild are you from?"
Lucy blinked. "What?"
His face twisted in irritation. "You helped defeat that sand mage, so you're entitled to a cut of his bounty."
Seemingly surprised by Laxus' words, Freed elaborated. "If you give us your guild name we will forward the amount to you."
"I don't have a guild."
"You're a free-roaming mage?" Freed asked in surprise before adding. "While there's nothing wrong with that, it's best to be part of a guild so that you don't have issues with the council." He glanced at Laxus, who was being examined by another healer and said," If you need a guild to join, there's ours. Fairy Tail. With the power you showed, you'll do good in a guild."
"I'm not a mage," Lucy said. Following their pointed line of sight, Lucy blinked and tightened her hold on Aquarius's key still in her hand. She tucked in back inside her vest. "I'm just..."
The door opened. "Are you the mages who saved our town?" Without waiting for an answer, a portly man stepped forward and shook Lucy's hand.
Catching Jeremy's hasty hand signals, Lucy said, "I'm afraid you're mistaken, Mayor. They are the mages who saved your town. I am Lucy Heartfilia, owner of the Heartfilia Konzern."
The mayor's eyes widened.
Taking advantage of his recognition, Lucy said, "I'm glad that the town is safe, but I'm sure clean up will be quite hard. As such I'm willing to pay for any charges that might come up from any water damage."
"That's very generous of you," the Mayor said.
"It's the least I can do," Lucy said. "I will also pay for these mages' treatment and stay here."
"That's very kind of you. I'm sure our healer will appreciate it."
"No," Laxus interrupted them. "We can pay for our own treatment."
"I don't doubt that. Consider it a bonus for the good work you did. And if it bothers you so much, you can pay as well. Healers always need money for ingredients," Lucy said, in a tone that brooked no argument.
Laxus didn't look the least bit satisfied and it was only the motion of the healer tilting his head back to examine his neck that kept Laxus quiet.
Freed had no such problem. "You did your fair share of work as well, Miss Heartfilia."
"Lady Lucy, the coach has arrived," Jeremy said, sparing Lucy from having to reply to the mage's words.
Lucy stood. "It was nice meeting you, Fairy Tail mages. I wish you all a speedy recovery."
As she sat inside her warm cushioned carriage in a fresh change of dry clothes, Lucy pulled out Aquarius' gold key and stared at it.
For the first time since she had taken up her father's position after his death, Lucy couldn't push away the encroaching thoughts of a magic filled life.
And more worryingly, she wasn't sure she wanted to.