CHAPTER 4 - Blue
The first thing she noticed was blue.
Lucy had followed behind the Other, her small feet moving quickly to catch up to his longer gait. She turned the corner, passing through the hallway when he didn't speak, only to falter when she realized he had led her back to the open courtyard in the center of the keep.
Her neck craned as she looked up to see the last dredges of evening light fading beyond her vision, the sun dipping below the horizon to make way for galaxies of glittering stars. An endless stroke of midnight painted the sky, deep swaths of indigo chased by rivers of sapphire – ethereal as they wove together in some long-forgotten dance. Constellations drooped heavily with their sterling pearls, iridescent in a sea of dark. They robbed her of her breath, drowning her in that cobalt expanse.
The view was clearer here – crisper than at home. She didn't know if it came from a lack of obstructions or if the Edge's magic extended to the heavens themselves. She was simply awash in the moon's gleam, silver and solitaire in the celestial tapestry upon which it hung.
The patter of footsteps alerted her to the presence standing beside her, forcing her to tear her eyes away from the sky above. Lucy blinked at the man from where he paused a few feet away.
He was watching her with all the focus of a predator considering its prey – jade eyes sharp.
"You are a bizarre creature." He muttered.
Lucy recoiled at that, her bare feet cool against the whispering grass in the middle of the low-light garden.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"You… have the weirdest reactions." He shrugged, nonchalant as the corded muscles of his shoulders flexed at the motion. "A minute ago you were yelling and now you're just standing there with your mouth hanging open."
She pursed her lips, arms crossing around her torso defensively.
"Excuse me for taking a moment to appreciate the view." She snapped, turning on her heel so she was facing him squarely.
He canted his head at that, his messy locks falling across his temple like rosy fronds – the corners of his eyes crinkling as he hummed. His gaze flicked upward to the source of her distraction before returning it to her.
She glared back, huffing when he simply continued to observe her.
"What is it now?" She asked, leaning her weight on her right leg as her hip jutted out.
He was silent for a second before his lips quirked.
"Nothing, just… you're strange."
"I am not the strange one here."
He chuckled, the sound dark and rasping in the stillness of the night – the breeze stagnant in the warm air.
"So easily slighted." He grinned, shoving his hands into the pockets of those baggy pants – shifting the bandages on his bare torso just slightly as he moved.
She squawked with indignation, fire lit her honeyed irises – tempering the bronze there.
"Pray tell," she asked dryly. "How else should I react to your stipulations?"
His smirk widened, something dark in his features as he took a quick step towards her – the another. A cat with a mouse.
She stiffened at his approach, pupils blown wide as she pressed her back against the delicately carve pillars that encircled the yard – the sandstone smooth as her tunic slid against it. He paused in front of her, his form towering over her smaller one – a foot away as he met her gaze. She swallowed tightly as she noticed the points of his canines peeking through his lips.
"See, this is what I mean." He purred, the sound coming from deep within his chest – silken as the sound reverberated through her, causing her to shiver.
"What?" She breathed.
He blinked, the slits of his eyes elongating, oblong and reptilian. "You act so afraid one moment and then berate me the next."
"If you would stop harassing me, I wouldn't have to." She quipped snidely, only to slam her hand up to cover her lips as she realized she was only furthering his point.
He blinked at her owlishly as his breath stuttered, and to her utter surprise, he started laughing.
Head thrown back, the sound was full bellied, his tenor low as his guffaws died to a snicker. His pupils relaxed even as his irises gleamed, the emerald broken by sparks of ember. He cocked his head, lips stretched wide – the faint indentations of dimples softening his otherwise angular features.
"See, strange." He raised one slender brow, as if daring her to contradict him.
She didn't, lips pressed firmly together – unable to keep up with his mood swings.
It was certainly a shift from his demeanor that morning.
Her stomach curdled at the thought, reminding her why she had followed him out of the cavern in the first place. Lucy slipped along the column so she was no longer caged in, taking a few paces to create distance between them. He let her, choosing instead to lean against the spot she had vacated – stance relaxed.
That didn't surprise her, she had no doubt he could stop her easily if she began to wander too far.
Not that it mattered, trapped as she was in this stairless castle in the sky. The thought weighed heavily on her.
"Why did you bring me here?" She inquired, all prior anger evaporating.
Tired – she was tired of asking questions he never answered.
She couldn't see his eyes from where she stood, his face half-hidden behind his fringe. His jaw clenched for a moment, and she had the distinct feeling that he could read the change in her voice. Then he sighed, the lines of his shoulders dropping as he brought one hand up to ruffle his bright locks.
"I already told you, I take care of my own." There was weariness there, as if he too, had no interest in another argument.
"Why do you keep saying that?" She whispered, sweeping an errant curl behind her ear. "You speak in tongues."
He straightened, eyes narrowed in skepticism. She could see his irises again – a tumultuous tempest within.
"You really have no idea what you are, do you?" He continued only after he saw her shake her head. "Truly? This isn't just you acting weird?"
She scowled at the barb but chose to remain silent, dipping her chin once sharply in an affirmative.
He made an odd sound in the back of his throat, carding his fingers through his hair – a nervous gesture she was realizing.
He looked at her again with careful consideration.
There was another beat of silence before he raised his hand and settled it flat against the colonnade. For a moment, nothing happened, but then a pale red glow began to spread from where his fingers lay against the rock – the light seeping into the crevasses and carvings like molten copper.
She was frozen on her spot as she watched the liquid heat curl and flood the etchings until the entire courtyard was filled with light – hidden illustrations in the design blooming to life. Images of raging seas weaving around the posts, figures of water rising from their depths. Forests sprouted between the creases between the flagstones, children with big eyes and long lashes peeking out behind the foliage – more animal than human.
She looked higher, watching as that lava script crept to the upper levels – winged creatures, smiling with eyes of starlight between the constellations and planets depicted there. They seemed to race across, almost alive as they spun – twirling and twisting along beside serpentine beasts who soared above it all.
She turned to him, a shiver crawling down her spine when she saw that liquid fire alive in his eyes as he maintained a connection to his magic.
"You call us Others, but you know nothing about us." He told her, watching her carefully as her eyes flickered across the illusions and back to him.
"They paint us as red-eyed savages in your kingdom, but this?" He gestured to the carvings, "This is what we really are."
"We were here a thousand years before man ever reached our shores, and yet they claim we are the outsiders." He clucked his tongue, shaking his head in distaste. "What would your people say if they realized so many of their greatest citadels are built on the ruins of ours?"
Lucy's throat felt dry as she cleared it, her brows drawn.
"There is nothing like this in Bosco. I would have known if there were relics like—"
"—Would you have?" He interrupted, the smirk on his lips mocking. "Do princesses have such free reign around their cities?"
She bristled at that, the dull throbbing of her ribs still present. She tightened her arms, fingers brushing against the sore spot with her fingers – unintentionally drawing his gaze to it. His eyes flashed for a second, the flame returning before they fell flat.
He exhaled tightly.
"The bowels of your castle are built on an existing foundation. Your ancestors probably thought nothing of the carvings on the rock, but for people like me it was a message. All I had to do was get my hands free to slip through doors that have been long-hidden."
Lucy swallowed. She wanted to ask why none of the Others kept in the dungeons had ever done the same but decided on a more pressing question.
"Why are you telling me this?"
He massaged the back of his neck – cracking it once before rolling his shoulders.
"Because I want you to understand, and because I know you don't trust me."
Lucy pushed away from the corner she had moved to in favor of stepping forward, back to the center of the green. The edges of her loose pants trailed across the ground – it appeared that her earlier visitor was a bit taller than her. Bidding her time to chew over his words, she knelt to fold the hem so she could move more easily.
He was watching her as she straightened, waiting for a response.
"We have no recording of this, no great battles of conquest." She offered, tone careful.
"There wouldn't be." He sighed. "I said ruins. We had abandoned them well before your kingdom was founded. The fighting came later."
She let her eyes flicker over the pillars, wishing she could copy down the patterns in her sketchbook.
"What pushed you out then? Beyond the Edge?"
He chuckled at that. He observed her for a moment with bronze ringed eyes before releasing his hold on the stone. Instantly, the light dissipated – the coolness seeping back in.
"Do you actually know what the Edge is, princess?"
"I-it's what separates our lands. The border."
"In a sense yes, but not quite." He took a few steps closer so they were both in the center of the courtyard. "It's a river – one safeguarded by an ancient queen, enchanted to remain glowing even when there is no other light source.
"It's harmless, of course, but unsettles those who do not share our blood. It distracts and averts those who aren't Roh to keep them from crossing."
She turned the name over in her mind, cataloging it.
He grinned, the white of his teeth clearly visible – as if he knew she was dying to question him further.
"Two-fold." His hands returned to his pockets. "We created it to keep them out, not to keep us in."
A solemnness she hadn't yet seen crossed his features, bitterness shadowing his eyes. "We are an old race, born from the Land and once blessed by Her, but now we are withering. Our numbers have been falling steadily until all that is left of us is this sanctuary here. Fiore is the last bastion of a once great civilization."
Bitterness settled in the air between them. Lucy shuffled her feet, scuffing her toes in the dirt.
"If you chose to banish yourselves, then why prey on humans on the frontiers?"
All trace of his smile evaporated, eyes cold and hard as pewter – the colour physically wrenched from within his irises until they went dark.
"We do not." He bit out, jaw clenching. "We once freely moved across the lands, but a few centuries ago a mortal king met and loved one of my kin. She rejected him and he didn't take kindly to it. We didn't take kindly to him either."
He tapped the flagstones lightly, a quick spike of power flaring among the upper sections of the pillars, highlighting the winged creatures before fading once more.
"I don't know what lies he told your people, but we have permanently severed ties with the Temporal Lands ever since."
Lucy bit her lip, chewing the inside of her cheek – trying to reconcile his words with her own history.
"Why tell me this?"
He made that odd sound again in the back of his throat, rolling his eyes.
"I heard you questioning Lisanna this afternoon. She's under the impression that I've been too harsh with you." He scoffed, clearly disagreeing with the druid's assessment.
"You were spying on me? How dare you!" She yelped, stumbling half a step, brows raised sharply. She hadn't seen him anywhere, was he hiding behind the door? The windows?
He lifted his hands in front of him in placation, countenance unchanged as he regarded her exasperatedly.
"I got back home at the tail-end of your conversation, I just have sharp senses." He waved, gesturing to the roof. "Lisanna must have heard me, because she came to annoy me right after she left you."
Lucy ground her teeth. She vaguely recalled the other woman's expression and how she kept glancing up at the ceiling, distracted. The blonde swallowed thickly, narrowing her eyes at him as she circled him once – giving wide berth. He remained in place, lips quirking slightly.
"I don't hate you, by the way." He told her. "She told me you might be scared to talk to me. I'm sorry I lost my temper, it's been a rough couple of days."
She had nothing to say to that.
"You are such a skeptic." He drawled, scratching lightly at his abdomen, just above his beltline. "I've got no reason to lie to you."
"You could be trying to trick me, lull me into a false calm so I trust you before you snap." She groused, frustrated by his easy stance in the face of her suspicions.
In a lightning move she couldn't follow, he was in front of her – less than a handspan between them. Her heart stuttered, her joints locking. She blinked, only to find him behind her, his breath heavy on her nape. Adrenaline spiked through her veins, waiting for his temper to falter, for him to reach out and—
Another second and he was gone again.
This time he reappeared a respectful distance before her, slouching as he leaned his head against a nearby pillar.
"I wouldn't need to play games if I wanted to hurt you." He murmured, his words cutting in the quiet. "The sooner you realize that, the easier this will be."
She faltered, her breath heaving as she glared at him – her nerves humming on high alert.
"You are a brute," she hissed.
He shrugged one shoulder.
"Maybe, but I'm not a monster."
Her mind flashed to the castle burning, of the screams of the knight's guard and the dead silence of the hallways that followed. She saw the crumbling ruins of the library, and the panicked look in Flare's eyes as she disappeared through the smoke.
Then she remembered his face when she'd first seen him, red flowing from a cut at his temple – the ravaged skin of his back and torso, and the bandages still wrapped securely around him despite magical healing. She thought of how he'd taken her hand and pulled her from the wreckage.
She considered what he had told her tonight, of his people and their past. What he had claimed about her and why he had dragged her across the Edge.
"Maybe not, but you still owe me answers."
He inclined his head, hooded eyes watching her carefully. "That's fair. What do you want to know?"
"You called me changeling."
He smiled, incisors digging into his lower lip.
"That's not a question."
He chuckled, throaty and rasping as he rolled his wrists – pushing off against the wall to meander closer, never losing eye contact.
"Changeling, Síofra – cradle robbed. You've heard the legends?"
She sucked her teeth, fingers fidgeting with her sleeves.
"Human infants taken and replaced by the Others with one of theirs. I never really believed it, not even your kind could be so cruel to abandon your own children."
He canted his head. That seemed to amuse him, as everything she did appeared to that evening. He was a far better mood now than he was that morning.
"Don't you mean our kind?"
He snickered softly when she stiffened, her heart pounding in her ribcage.
"You expect me to believe I was born here, then taken over the border to – to what exactly? Punish my parents? Act as a surrogate until you came to recollect me?"
"No," He denied. "You were right not to believe the stories, nothing but lies."
Lucy's shoulders sagged in relief, arms crossed over her chest. "Then I am human after all."
"I didn't say that either."
"I didn't notice in the hall, there were too many people – but when I saw you again in the library…" He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "The scent is unmistakable. Roh blood runs through you as surely as it does mine."
"That's impossible, I have my father's eyes and—"
He cut her off before she could get further, ruffling his hair as he spoke.
"—Gods. I warned them I wasn't the right person to tell you." He muttered, "There aren't any missing younglings from this city, there haven't been in decades. You weren't born here, and you weren't switched."
"Then what are you try to tell me?" She cried, nails digging into her palms. "And who warned you? About what?"
He ignored the second question in favour of the first.
"No one replaced you, but you aren't human. I called you changeling because you've been hiding in plain sight, thinking you were one of them."
"You make no sense."
"That beast you call king is likely your father," He explained, tapping his nose. "But whoever your mother was – she was definitely Roh."
The world was spinning.
Too much, it was too much.
"My mother was human, queen of the realm." Her chin wobbled. "I remember her, she looked just like me. She was from – she was…"
She thought of the diary that still sat in the room she had awoken in. Of all the happy memories and fairy tales it recorded. Fables she'd thought, fiction.
"They used to say she came from an eastern territory, a foreign house – from Stella."
The Other said nothing.
"It's never mentioned anymore." Lucy wet her lips. "No one talks about her."
Despite the gossiping courts and the cut throat politics of the Golden Plains. No word of their ruler's late consort.
"You really think I'm a…"
She couldn't finish the sentence. He let her struggle with it by herself for a moment before sighing, carding his fingers through his coral locks.
"Changeling, halfling. Whatever you prefer to call yourself." His voice was steady.
The silence stretched taut between them.
"Can you prove it?" She whispered. "All the stories about your people, the river – of why you helped me. It means nothing if I'm not what you say I am."
Green met brown, their eyes locked as she waited for him to speak – to end this charade once and for all. No more riddles, no more games.
She wanted the truth.
He opened his mouth, the points of his canines visible as he hesitated, working his jaw. He glanced up at the stars, then at the building around them – gaze distant before it flickered back to hers.
"I can try to show you."
He closed the distance between them until there was only a few feet left.
"When you see me, how do you feel?" He asked quietly, waiting for her answer – watching her with eyes of crackling wildfire.
"What do you mean?" She squirmed, wrapping her hand around her forearm as she rubbed her wrist.
He took a step closer and she took a step back.
He rocked back slightly on his heels, the soles of his feet buried within the grass. His pants hung low on his hips as he rubbed his stomach, the muscles tight and hard under his bronzed skin. Her eyes crawled up further, her lips turning down at the strips of linen bound around his back and torso, the clean white marred by red in places. His other hand was tangled in those strange bright locks, half shading his temple.
"Are you afraid?"
She hesitated, worrying her lower lip.
He canted his head, the sage in his irises overcome by shards of slate – storm-forged.
"You're not sure?"
"I feel that I should be."
He snorted at that, shaking his head. He paused for a moment, drumming his fingers against his thigh.
"I don't think you are, not really." He said suddenly. "If you were, you'd be hiding in your room instead of standing out here with me."
"Well I…" She furrowed her brow, curling a piece of her hair around her index. "That would be rude."
A smirk crept up his features, dripping with amusement as he gave a shallow bow, his abdominals bunching despite the lacerations there. He didn't so much as flinch as he waved his hand in a small flourish.
"Then I thank you for your time, your highness." He simpered, his gesture a mocking parody of the courtiers from home.
She bit the inside of her cheek but the softest notes of mirth bubbled up from her throat regardless. Eyes wide, she covered her mouth.
It was too late, he'd noticed.
His answering grin was feline.
"And she's capable of laughter, who knew?"
It took effort not to roll her eyes as she crossed her arms again, pose defensive.
"Do you have a point to make, or not?"
He held his hands out in surrender, still smiling as he approached her again. This time she stood her ground. His eyes flashed with something like approval before it vanished again.
"May I try something?" He asked, hesitancy seeping into his expression though a bit of humour remained in the lines of his face.
"What is it?" Lucy questioned, russet eyes narrowing.
He shook his head. "Nothing bad, just trust me."
"I don't see any reason I should."
"I am nothing if not a gentleman, I wouldn't hurt a hair on your head." He winked at her, grin roguish.
She simply continued to look at him blankly. Rolling his eyes, he shoved his bangs off his forehead only for the locks to fall right back. He scowled.
"On my name and on my blood. I swear I mean you no harm."
She blinked, twice.
Those were binding words, a soul-oath of the old gods.
"You jest." She accused, though her voice waivered.
She regarded him carefully, the serious set to his jaw and tension in his shoulders. She sighed, before nodding her assent. He smiled at her again.
"Give me your hand."
When she remained silent, he cleared his throat – garnering her attention.
"What do you have to lose?" He whispered, extending his fingers out for her to take, just as he had that night in the fire. He let them hover in the space between them as he waited for her to consider.
Then she stepped forward, placing her hand in his.
He gave it a squeeze before shifting his grip, grasping her wrist firmly and tugging her closer. He dipped the fingers of his other hand beneath the sleeve of her tunic, his touch sun-soaked and warn against the milky white. His thumb pressed against the pulse point in the crook of her elbow, tracing the vein down to her palm. She shivered, his heat settling into her bones as her heart stuttered.
He peeked up at her slightly from beneath long lashes, crisp pine among wisps of fog – a forest coming to life in his irises. His look was careful, considering – as he mumbled something under his breath. The words were too soft for her to hear, something raspy in an unknown tongue.
Then suddenly, his fingers pressed down on her palm and a jolt vibrated through her like fire – her skin glowing for a moment before the golden light disappeared. She sucked in a sharp breath, stalk still as she fought the instinct to pull away from him – fear acrid in her mouth despite his words. Despite his promise.
She heard him mutter again and glanced up to find those eyes on her once more.
"What was that?" She said, voice hoarse.
"I sent a pulse of my power through you. Did you feel it?"
"Yes, it was like…" She paused, wetting her lips as she grappled for the right word. "It was as if I was burning, but it didn't hurt, it just – I felt like I had become fire."
He nodded, a bit breathless in his own right – as if he hadn't believed his own insinuations until that very moment.
She furrowed her brows, internally cataloguing her body's reactions. She felt tingly but besides that…
"No. That's all. Will you explain what you are doing now?"
"In a minute," he assured, still watching her. "I want to try one more thing."
"Okay," she said slowly, bobbing her chin.
The air around them began to buzz, sizzling briefly like a mirage. She shuddered at the abrupt warmth, her fingers curling as she realized she was bending towards that heat – towards the Other instead of away from him. She stumbled slightly, but his arm came up instantly to catch her around the waist, dragging her closer to him.
She yelped slightly, placing her hands on those broad shoulders to balance herself, glancing up at him. There was a faint line of a scar near his temple, along with a sprinkle of faded freckles across the bridge of his nose – oddly delicate in contrast with his angular features. She met his gaze – laugh lines visible as he hollowed his cheeks, amusement clear in his eyes – liquid and mercurial.
"Um, sorry…" She mumbled, a flush creeping up her face as her words drifted off, looking at him askance.
"Natsu." He squeezed her side once in acknowledgment. "My name is Natsu."
"Thank you, Natsu."
"No problem," He chuckled, before inhaling deeply. "And sorry for this."
She furrowed her brows.
"Sorry for wh—"
He cut her off, leaning close and using his grip on her waist to pull her flush against him. His free hand came to grasp her chin between his fingers, dipping down as he captured her mouth with his own.
Lucy gasped. He took advantage of the moment, canting his head as he molded his lips to hers and sighed.
It was not quite a kiss.
Her eyes slammed shut as the world went white, sparks crackling between them as his power thrummed – barreling down as he breathed raw energy into her. Like a match to paper, something ignited deep within her, long dormant embers flourishing as his magic stoked a blaze in her veins.
It was overwhelming, her nails digging into his shoulder blades as she clung to him – an anchor as the flames surged through her. It seared, lighting her afire, molten in her blood as her heart raced. It was scorching, unlike anything she had ever felt. She quivered – her skin felt hyper sensitive, agitated.
Natsu made a noise in the back of his throat as his hands came up to grasp her wrists, breaking her hold on him as he pulled back. She panted, sucking in great heaving lungfuls of air as she noticed him take a step back, unsteady.
She buried her hands into her shirt as she looked up at him with wild eyes – the heat was still there, lingering as it raged within her chest.
It was as if a star itself had taken up residence between her ribs.
Awake, she felt awake.
She gaped at him.
"What did you do?"
Thank you so much for stopping by to read the latest update, I hope you enjoyed it. There was so much going on in this chapter, and Natsu was responding to her every question with another. Poor girl, it's hard to pin down a dragon's answers. I know Natsu is rather more eloquent than his normal self as well - but there is a reason for that too. I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially with everything he has revealed here, and where on earth you think this is going next. Do you like it? Do you hate it? Should I stick to my day job? Let me know what you think ^.^
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