Though the scenery blurred past the carriage's curtained windows, the brand new cushioned interior didn't jostle or jolt. If it wasn't for the smell of new leather, Lucy could have closed her eyes and pretended that she was back in her office.

She could have pretended that nothing was about to change.

But as her hand curled over her celestial spirit keys, Lucy reminded herself that things had to change. Her spirits deserved better. As their summoner, she had to do everything she could for them. Just like they had promised to do for her.

"We're nearing the town," Jeremy's reliable voice cut through her somber thoughts as he held the curtains aside completely.

Hazy morning light spilled in and highlighted the gold Heartfilia emblems embroidered on the carriage's plush silk cushions.

Downing the last of her warm tea, Lucy said, "I'll go by myself when we're at the border."

"But..." Jeremy protested.

"Townspeople are more likely to answer a young girl's questions if she's alone," Lucy said, placing the delicate teacup back on the tray. "And I have a lot of questions that need answering."

Jeremy didn't seem pleased but he said, "Fine. Are you sure you don't want us to wait for you?"

Lucy shook her head. "If things don't work out, then I'll rent a room for the night and catch the train back home tomorrow."

"We could just wait and prevent all that hassle," Jeremy said, the concern in his grey eyes hard to miss.

"It'll be an adventure. And, it's not like I'll ever be all alone," Lucy said with a deliberate pat on her grey vest where she kept her keys.

Before Jeremy could reply, the driver knocked on the outside of the carriage. Jeremy sighed and knocked back twice with his gloved hand.

The carriage slowed and came to a stop.

"Lady Lucy..."

"I'm going, Jeremy, and that's final."

Jeremy's solemn expression shifted into a smile. "I just wanted to wish you good luck."

"Oh," Lucy said sheepishly. She cleared her throat and said, "I'll mail you with an address if things work out."

"Everything will work out," Jeremy said with a confidence that Lucy didn't feel and held out her backpack.

When the driver opened the door, Lucy slung on her grey backpack and stepped out even though her entire body fluttered with nerves.

Jeremy squeezed her shoulder and smiled. "You can do this."

Beside him, the driver nodded with an even bigger smile. "Nothing's too hard for you, Miss."

Her nervousness didn't disappear but Lucy could ignore it just the slightest bit. With a thankful nod to the both of them, Lucy dusted her black skirt and walked away from the carriage.

The solid weight of the backpack pushed her forward through Magnolia Town's gates, bustling crowds and kept her moving towards the bright red and gold banner in the distance.

A banner than could only belong to Fairy Tail.

With no direct path there, Lucy consulted the many haphazard signs and navigated numerous roads only to end up in a bustling market. Distracted by the tantalizing scents, Lucy lingered to sample the wide selection of food stalls.

In between bites of sweet pastries and tender grilled meat, Lucy followed the trails of different gossip that floated around each stall. Heated gossip about competitors, inviting gossip about Magnolia Town and strangely enough sparse but fond gossip of Fairy Tail mages that she'd never seen in Sorcerer Magazine.

In the week and a half since she'd gotten her new keys, Lucy had tried and failed to find out more about Fiore's magical community. Other than what the magazines and a few magic journals printed, secrecy shrouded information about magic and mages.

Even the four Fairy Tail mages that Lucy had met a month ago were impossible to look into.

As though the mere act of remembering that battle were a summoning spell, the crowd parted and a long curtain of green hair glimmered against a sharp maroon coat a few feet away from her at the edge of the marketplace.

Surprised but grateful at people's wide berth around the mage, Lucy finished her last kebab skewer and moved. "Mr. Freed," she called out, hoping her voice would carry over the market chatter.

The tight line of his shoulders eased as he turned and recognized her amidst the bustling market crowd. "Miss Heartfilia."

"Just call me Lucy."

"And I'm just Freed," he replied, his sharp green eyes assessing her. "Do you need help with something?"

Lucy nodded as she stopped in front of the mage. "I've come to become a guild mage."

Freed's eyes widened and his tone turned incredulous as he asked, "Why would the owner of one of Fiore's biggest businesses want to become a guild mage?"

Sheepish that he'd successfully researched her, Lucy said, "Your team."

"My team?" Freed repeated in confusion.

"Your team made me curious about being a proper guild mage."

"But your business," Freed said with disbelief.

"I have reliable workers that I can supervise remotely even while I'm away, doing mage things," Lucy said, simplifying the goal of Jeremy's detailed ten-page plan.

"That's..." Freed took a deep breath and shot her a quick wry smile. "I think you'll do good in Fairy Tail."

"What about your team? Would I do well in your team?"

Freed reared back. "You want to join the Thunder God Tribe?"

Even though he didn't clutch his chest like that dramatic noble she'd had the misfortune of meeting months ago, Lucy smiled as she answered, "If that's the name of your team, then yes, I would like to join the Thunder God Tribe." When Freed just stared at her, Lucy faltered. "I can't?" she asked, her stomach twisting in worry at failing already.

"No, I mean, it's not my choice to make. It depends on Laxus and," Freed faltered and looked around the market as though searching for something as he lowered his voice. "There are other teams and mages in Fairy Tail. You could start your own team."

"Freed, what's the hold up? You were supposed to..." a brown haired woman, the one that Freed had called Ever back in Luin, stopped a few feet away from them. Clad in a green and purple dress, Ever shot Freed a questioning look as she pushed up her glasses with a gloved hand.

Beside her, a tall man clad in a haphazard mix of purple, blue and black clothes also stopped. Even though a metal visor covered his eyes, Lucy could feel his stare.

"What is it?" a gruff voice demanded from behind them.

"It's the brat from Luin, Laxus," the tall man said with glee as he moved aside. Five wooden objects raced up into the air from his back, glowed with magic as they zoomed around her and echoed his words. "Brat."

Laxus raised his scarred eyebrow at her. "Did you track us down for your promised share of the bounty?"

"No." Ignoring the troubled expression on Freed's face, Lucy took a deep breath and said, "I've come to join your team."

Everyone but Laxus sputtered. "I thought you weren't a mage," he stated, crossing his arms over his purple-clad chest as he towered over her.

Lucy straightened. "I am now."

"You think a newbie mage like you has what it takes to join my elite team?" The air around Laxus crackled, cutting off all sounds from the market place. "What makes you think you're strong enough?"

Keeping a hand on her vest so that she could feel her keys, Lucy said, "Aquarius can flood an entire town, Taurus can cut through metal with ease and Cancer is... well, Cancer."

"Three zodiacs?" Freed exclaimed. "You have three zodiac spirits?"

"What's the big deal?" Ever said as she eyed Laxus with a cautious look.

Freed's tension transformed into exasperation. "I told you already. The books said that only twelve zodiac spirit keys exist. Even Karen Lilica only had two in her entire career."

Everyone turned at Lucy.

"Does that mean I can join your team?"

Laxus narrowed his eyes. "What do you think?"

"I didn't hear a no," Lucy said, with a bright grin that was more relieved than anything else. "So that means a yes."

Laxus stared at her, his entire demeanour radiating danger.

Used to dealing with countless hostile looks after she'd inherited her father's position, Lucy stared right back, refusing to be intimidated.

"Did you join the guild?" Laxus asked.

"Not yet," Lucy replied. "Luckily, I saw Freed first."

"Fine," Laxus said with a strange look on his face.

The rest of his team turned to Laxus, shocked by the declaration.

Before anyone could speak, Laxus smirked and said, "But you'll need to get a guild mark from the Master."

"That's all I need to do?" Lucy asked in surprise.

"When you meet him, tell him exactly which team you're thinking of joining. And then, well, I won't have to deal with this." Laxus chuckled and walked away, his long fur-line black coat flapping behind him.

Even though she wanted to whoop for joy, Lucy's ingrained manners only let her smile instead. "That wasn't so bad!" She glanced at the trio of mages and floundered at their strange mix of expressions. "Right?"

"I'll go with Laxus and grab your bags. Evergreen, Bickslow, you two... take Lucy to the guild," Freed said, looking everywhere but at Lucy. "Let's meet up at the station."

"What?" Evergreen grit out, looking distinctly unhappy as she narrowed her eyes at Freed.

Freed stared back with an expression that could have been carved from stone but his green eyes flickered through through various emotions.

The wooden figures zoomed and hovered in front of Lucy's face, blocking the two mages from her view.

"Hello," Lucy said, unsure of what manner of magical creatures they were and unwilling to be rude.

"Hello," the figures chorused back as they swirled around her in dizzying patterns, making it even harder to know what they were.

"Well, let's go," Evergreen said, batting away the wooden figures. She shot one last sharp look to a chagrined Freed and beckoned Lucy forward. "We need to deal with this before we leave for our mission."

"A mission, already," Lucy said, unable to hide her delight as she walked beside Evergreen. "I picked a good day to join your team."

"You mean the guild."

Lucy shook her head. "I wouldn't be joining the guild if I couldn't join your team."

"You'd give up being a mage?" Evergreen asked, a frown of worry on her forehead, as they navigated a maze of side streets.

"I'd still be a mage to summon my friends but I wouldn't be a guild mage who went on missions."

"That's crazy," Bickslow said, from his spot on the other side of Evergreen. "You're crazy." The wooden figures chimed in with a chorus of 'crazy'.

Not missing a stride, Evergreen elbowed the taller mage.

Lucy looked down at her polished boots, sheepish at her actions. "I suppose I should have waited till we weren't in the marketplace before asking to join. Other people would have had the common sense to ask in a more private, formal setting."

"Other people?" Bickslow snorted. "No one else wants to join the Thunder God Tribe."

Curious, Lucy turned to the two mages. "Does Thunder God refer to Laxus?"

"Who else would it be?" Evergreen said, swiping her light brown bangs behind her ear. "Freed, Bickslow and I became a team to support Laxus."

"Because he's your friend?" Lucy said. "You're all really nice."

"Don't just make up your own explanations." Evergreen shook her head even though her lips curled up for a fraction of a second. "Well, here we are," she said and motioned to a brightly painted building decorated with numerous banners. Banners that bore the insignia of the Fairy Tail guild.

Unlike all the grand doors that Lucy saw and passed through regularly, the guild's simple wooden doors evoked a surge of nerves and emotions.

"What's wrong?" Evergreen asked as they neared the guild doors.

"This is kind of scary," Lucy admitted.

"This is scary?" Evergreen said in disbelief, stopping in front of the wooden doors. "After all that with Laxus and... you think this is scary?"

"I don't know anyone in there. And I don't really know if I..." she paused and took a deep calming breath. "I guess I'm just being stupid." Not wanting to hear the mages agree with that, Lucy pushed the doors open.

A cacophony of chatter hit her like a shock of cold water and Lucy would have probably stood there stunned for hours if Evergreen hadn't walked forward.

Evergreen strode past crowded tables, not even pausing to greet or acknowledge the curious looks aimed their way.

At the very back of the guild hall, a well-used bar lined the wall. Despite the bottle filled wall shelves, and trays of clean glasses ready to be used, only one person occupied the bar.

A diminutive man with a thick head of white hair sat cross-legged on the bar counter and puffed on a long wooden pipe as he read through a stack of papers. He looked up at their approach and his large moustache twitched as he said, "Evergreen, Bickslow, did you forget something?"

"No, we didn't forget anything." Evergreen's flat voice matched her even flatter expression. "Master Makarov."

Surprised by the icy response, Lucy took a minute to break the uncomfortable silence that had fallen over them. "They were just escorting me here."

Master Makarov puffed on his pipe and put his papers aside. "So I see. And how can I help you? Are you here to submit a mission request?"

"I'm here to join the Thunder God Tribe." When the man's bushy white eyebrows rose, Lucy hastened to add, "Master Makarov."

"Bickslow, Evergreen, I'd like to have a chat with this young lady," Makarov said.

Having expected some sort of interview, Lucy glanced at the two mages. "I'll see you two in a bit."

Evergreen stared at Lucy for a long moment, hesitation in her eyes but she sighed and turned.

As the two walked away, Lucy caught the tail end of Bickslow's whisper, "... change her mind."

If Evergreen said anything in reply to that, Lucy didn't get a chance to hear it because Makarov said, "So you wish to join Laxus's team?"

"I already did. Laxus approved my request in the market," Lucy said. "I just need to be an official guild member to make it official."

"Did Laxus tell you that?" Makarov asked, his stern eyes glancing behind Lucy.

Lucy nodded. "No one can say no to having some cool celestial spirits on their side."

"Celestial... ah, you're the one who summoned Aquarius during their previous mission." Makarov turned back to Lucy with surprise.

Lucy brightened. "They told you about Aquarius."

"In a manner of speaking," Makarov puffed on his pipe after a long look at her. "So you really want to join Laxus's team?"

Lucy nodded. "My spirits will be thrilled to go out on missions and use their skills with other mages. I might even have to renegotiate our contracts."

"Just your spirits?" Makarov asked, with a raised eyebrow.

"Me too. Even though I won't be doing that much work, I'm excited to see what my spirits can do." Lucy perked up and reached for her backpack. "I've brought some reference letters and a list of what I've studied."

Makarov blinked. "Why would I need reference letters?"

"Reference for my character, you know, to show that I'm a hard-working and trustworthy person," Lucy said simply. "That's what people have to do when they apply for a job. So I thought..." Lucy hesitated, suddenly unsure. "Since I'm applying to your guild, there must be a quality check somewhere. Because Laxus didn't ask for anything, I thought you'd do all the checking."

"Quality check." Makarov's lips twitched around his pipe for a moment before he shook his head. "I don't need letters to see your character. From how you talk about your spirits, I can tell that you'll be a good addition here. Someone who'll make a big impact."

"Me?" Lucy shook her head in disagreement. "I'm not even... I've only just started using my magic the way it's supposed to be used."

"It's not magic that makes an impact on people," Makarov said thoughtfully and glanced past her for a moment.

In a shadowed corner near the guild's main doors, Evergreen and Bickslow stared straight at them with pursed lips and stiff postures.

"Where would you like your guild mark? And what colour would you like?"

Lucy frowned at the duo for a moment before she turned back. "I think they have team colours. I saw two green marks and Bickslow's black one so I'll need to get a black one to balance the colours."

"Actually their team has two green and two black guild marks. Not many people see Laxus's black guild mark," Makarov supplied with a solemn nod as he motioned to his torso.

"Then if I get black or green, the uneven numbers will destroy their colour balance."

"You can choose a new colour."

"I could, but it needs to match their theme," Lucy considered what little she had seen of the team. "They have common colours with their clothes. But the ones that I could use for the guild mark are purple and maroon." Noticing Makarov's expression, Lucy glanced down at her hands, "Am I doing this wrong?"

Makarov shook his head. "It's nice to see someone put so much serious thought into their guild mark. So purple and maroon?"

"I like maroon but..." Lucy frowned.


Lucy hesitated until Makarov leaned forward and motioned for her to continue. "Not everyone can pull off maroon like Freed. But purple looks good on everyone. Whoever joins the team next, won't feel so bad about getting a purple mark."

Makarov smiled around his pipe and nodded. "Sounds reasonable. Where would you like your purple guild mark?"

As a young business owner, a 'proper' image was crucial if Lucy ever wanted to be taken seriously in the future. That meant the guild mark needed to be in an easily covered spot that she'd be comfortable showing if necessary.

That criteria ruled out having it on the back of her hand like Freed, or on her chest like Evergreen and it definitely ruled out putting it on her tongue like Bickslow.

Lucy unbuttoned and rolled up her white shirt sleeve. She pointed to a spot on her right forearm, close to her elbow.

"Think of the colour you want," Makarov said and pressed a glowing stamper down on her skin. A mere second later, he lifted it to reveal a purple Fairy Tail mark on her skin.

Lucy prodded the mark, marvelling at the lack of pain or irritation. "I'll need to start wearing some colours to match the team. My guild mark can't be the only spot of colour on me."

Makarov hummed. "You'll have to fix your wardrobe after your mission or you'll be late."

Remembering that the others were getting ready to leave for a mission, Lucy tugged down her sleeve. "Right! I can't be late to my first mission with the team. Thanks for the help, Master Makarov."

"Magnolia station is to the south west of here," Makarov called out as she walked away. "If you see the West Gate Park, then you're going the right way!"

When Lucy jogged through the guild's front door and didn't see Evergreen or Bickslow anywhere, she panicked until she remembered Master Makarov's words. Not having a compass with her and not seeing any helpful road signs, Lucy went left.

No matter how far Lucy went, the cluttered and tight packed buildings of Magnolia made her lose all sense of direction. Lucy lost track of how many people she asked directions from before she saw a large sign for West Gate Park just as a train's boarding call whistle rang in the distance.

Lucy ran.

She reached Magnolia's train station only to see an empty platform and the train already moving.

Lucy would have stopped running right then if she hadn't seen a hand with a very distinct maroon coat sleeve at one of the train's doors. "Freed!" Lucy yelled as she ran but the train's whistles and chugging down the tracks drowned out her voice.

But by some miraculous luck, Freed leaned out of the train door and saw her. He stretched his hand out, reaching for her.

Lucy raced towards him with a renewed burst of energy. In a nauseating blur of colour and speed, Lucy grabbed his outstretched hand.

With a strength Lucy hadn't expected, Freed pulled her into the moving train like she was nothing but a piece of paper. "You made it."

Lucy coughed and gasped for air, as her blood pounded and her legs throbbed.

Moments after her breathing normalized, Freed asked, "Are you still feeling unsteady?"

Lucy blinked at him in confusion, glanced down and dropped his hand like it was on fire. "Sorry!" She said and flailed away from him.

With a quick hand to her elbow, Freed steadied her and prevented her from falling. "It would be a shame to get injured now."

"Thank you," Lucy said, overwhelmed by everything that had occurred.

"There's no need to thank me," Freed said, glancing away from her as he straightened his pristine coat. "I just happened to be in this area to... get some fresh air."

Lucy stared at him.

Freed cleared his throat. "Right, let's go to the others." Without waiting for a reply, he turned and opened a carriage door.

"I told you there was no point looking, Freed," Bickslow said, his voice loud even from a distance.

"We should have waited," Evergreen said, "Just to be sure."

"There was no point!" Bickslow countered.

Annoyed that Freed's tall form hid her, Lucy leaned to the side as they walked to the only occupied seats of the otherwise empty carriage. "You could have told me that we needed to catch a train."

A startled silence filled the carriage door.

"I would have gotten the guild mark much faster," Lucy said as Freed moved aside.

"You..." Evergreen blinked and shook her head. "We thought," she glanced at Bickslow who just gaped. "Well, none of that matters now. You're here."

"That old man let you join," Laxus said from where he was curled beside the window, his voice gruff and one eye narrowed at her.

Before Lucy could say anything, the carriage door opened and the train conductor entered with a bellow. "Ticket check. Gets your tickets out and ready, please."

Lucy pulled out a small leather wallet, flipped it to the photo I.D. that she'd been given recently and handed it to the conductor just as Freed held out a handful of tickets.

The conductor looked between the I.D. and Lucy and bowed with wide eyes. "Ma'am. I don't know how such an error has occurred to such an esteemed personage. But I shall clear one of the First Class carriages for you to travel in complete privacy."

Lucy twitched. "I'm travelling with this group."

The conductor bowed again. "My apologies. I will ensure your entire group is moved to the First Class carriage with you."

"That's not necessary," Lucy said. "I'm fine where I am."

"But," the conductor protested.

"I'm fine," Lucy insisted with narrowed eyes.

"Of course," the conductor bowed again and handed back her I.D. "I will send the refreshment cart and other amenities in here right away."

"That's not," Lucy said but the conductor had already closed the door behind him. "Necessary." Aware of their curiosity at the strange situation, Lucy explained, "As the newest business partner in FioRail, I got this free-pass to ride any of it's trains."

Laxus scoffed and turned away, curling even tighter into his seat.

"Rich people are in a whole different world, huh?" Evergreen said, just as the train staff entered with carts of food and drink, along with an obnoxious amount of pillows and blankets.

Even though the staff left in a matter of moments, Lucy felt the urge to apologize for the inconvenience.

"What were you and Master Makarov talking about for so long?" Evergreen asked, interrupting Lucy's thoughts.

"He was helping me choose my guild mark colour," Lucy said as she sat down.

"Why would you need help with that?"

"You obviously have team colours with your clothes and your marks." Lucy said, "And from what I saw, I was going to get black to maintain the colour balance."

"Colour balance?" Freed repeated, sounding lost.

Undeterred, Lucy continued, "But Master said that Laxus also has a black guild mark. So, to preserve the existing colour balance and save the next person from having the same issue, we decided I should choose a new colour."

"Next person?" Bickslow repeated this time.

"I eventually found a nice colour, one that anyone could feel comfortable wearing."

Freed shared a look with Evergreen and said, "That's very considerate of you."

"What colour did you get?" Evergreen asked, leaning forward.

Lucy rolled up her shirt sleeve and showed off her new purple guild mark. "Purple suits everyone. Especially this Royal purple."

"It does," Evergreen admitted, her eyes fixed on Lucy with approval. "And I'm glad we finally have someone cultured enough on this team to recognize and name this colour."

Lucy beamed in response. "Even Aquarius likes purple. She was always partial to swatches in that colour range. Ah, that reminds me," Lucy pulled out a gold key from her vest, dipped it in one of the large water carafes, and pulled on her magic as she chanted the summoning phrase. Mindful of their last encounter and argument, Lucy spoke even before the gate opened completely. "I've joined a team to become a proper mage."

With her gleaming crystalline gate behind her, Aquarius looked around with unimpressed eyes. "This team? Why?"

"Because you already fought alongside them," seeing Aquarius's narrowed eyes glow, Lucy hastened to add. "And they have an interesting name."

Aquarius quirked up an eyebrow and repeated, "An interesting name?"

Lucy nodded. "The Thunder God Tribe."

Aquarius tilted her head in confusion. "They're followers of Zeus?"

"Who? No," Lucy motioned to the blond mage, who'd opened both eyes, with as much subtlety as she could.

Aquarius snorted and hovered in front of Laxus. "You equate yourself to one of the ancient gods and yet you can't even seem to handle a train's movement." She glared down at him with a smirk, revelling in his discomfort. "What makes you think that your team deserves Lucy?"

"Aquarius!" Lucy said, mortified at her spirit's words. "I've already joined the team."

Aquarius didn't looked remotely apologetic as she turned to Lucy. "It's not too late to change that."

"No, I've made my choice."

Aquarius stared down at her. "And this is your final choice?"

"Yes," Lucy said.

"Fine," Aquarius huffed after a moment. "You can summon me as per our contract, even if it's to help them."

Lucy smiled, glad to have Aquarius's approval, grudging though it was.

"Especially since you've got no one useful to summon," Aquarius said.

"Actually, I made contracts with Cancer and Taurus the day after you, you know," Lucy said.

"Those secretive little shits," Aquarius curled her fist even though her lips curled into a smile. "I'd heard that they got new summoners sometime last week. But they didn't say a word."

"I wanted to tell you myself."

Aquarius flipped her hair back over her shoulder and straightened. "I better go tell them how things will be from now on." With a quick touch of her tail against Lucy's arm, Aquarius disappeared back into the Celestial realm.

"She didn't even let me do proper introductions," Lucy said in dismay.

Laxus, who had been staring at the spot where Aquarius had left, frowned at Lucy and turned away as he closed his eyes once again.

Looking amused, Evergreen glanced away from Laxus. "Did you get Taurus and Cancer recently, after Luin or did I misunderstand that?"

Lucy nodded and pulled out her newest gold rings. "They're my newest friends."

"How did you get two rare zodiacs in such a short time?" Freed asked, his voice thick with disbelief.

Lucy thought about it for a moment and shrugged. "Magic."

Bickslow cackled and even Evergreen grinned as Freed sputtered.