"I'd say it's good to see you again," Natsu turned fully to face the blonde, his dark green eyes catching hers. "But I have too many questions right now." He wouldn't say he was satisfied in seeing her flinch, but he certainly didn't feel anything close to remorse.
"Would it help if I said I was sorry?" The woman spoke quietly, diverting her gaze to the ground next to Natsu's feet.
"Not really." Natsu shrugged indifferently.
"I am." She supplied. "I didn't mean to get you mixed up in this."
"But how else could this have gone?" Natsu countered as he took a step toward the blonde. "You knew that this was coming up. You knew that there was this huge competition to marry you, and not only did you not tell me a bit about it, you told me to find you. How else was this supposed to go?"
"I don't know!" Dimaria yelled back at him, startling the man. "I don't know how it was supposed to go. All I know is what I wanted to happen. I wanted you to find me. I wanted to stay with you in Fiore. I wanted to not be Dimaria Yesta, High Priestess of the Yesta clan, for fucking once!" She shouted, taking an aggressive step toward the dragon slayer. "I wanted to just be me! I wanted to just be Dimaria the nobody and not have to deal with all of this bullshit!"
"I get that!" Natsu took another step toward her, less than a few feet between them as his own simmering anger bubbled to the surface. "But why couldn't you tell me? Why would you make me go through so much to find you, if you knew I would still have to do this competition that I might not win?"
Dimaria was silent.
"Did you even want me to find you?"
She refused to speak, or even look at him, but the slight nod was at least a workable answer.
"Did you think I'd find you? Did you think I'd come?"
She shook her head in the negative.
"Did you think so low of our time together that I wouldn't try everything to find you? Did I not make as big of an impact on you as you did on me?"
She didn't respond physically or verbally to that.
"Why won't you answer me?"
"Because I can't!" The woman closed the distance, coming to stand face to face with the man. "I didn't expect for you to find me. I thought you would have gone on with your life and I would have gone on with mine, like we were supposed to. We were never supposed to meet."
"But we did!"
"And I have never been more miserable!" Dimaria stabbed a finger in to his chest as he stared at her in shock. "You went and made me happier in a few conversations than I've felt in years! Why couldn't you have not seen me? Why couldn't you have just not come to find me? Why can't I just stay away from you?" She finished as angry tears poured down her cheeks.
"Because you said we're drawn to each other." Natsu gently placed his hands on her shoulders, resisting the urge to hum when he felt the shock of warmth that greeted his fingertips. She turned a weary eye upon him and exhaled slightly at his touch.
"We're not supposed to be." She murmured quietly while breaking eye contact with him.
"What does that mean?"
"It means I was never supposed to go to Fiore." She supplied. "I was supposed to use the vacation time to return to my tribe and begin sorting out this whole stupid competition." She held a hand off to the side and rotated it slowly.
"But you didn't?"
"No." She gave a weak smirk. "I didn't. I got in to an argument with my mother on the first night and took the first brigantine I could to Fiore before my mother or the Emperor could stop me."
"Why would the Emperor stop you?" Natsu tilted his head in confusion.
"That's... That's not important." Dimaria supplied weakly. "What's important is that I broke the rules and went to Fiore, and then I made the mistake of meeting you."
"You're saying that meeting me was a mistake?" Natsu whispered, not even attempting to hide the hurt in his voice. Dimaria hesitated for a moment before shaking her head.
"I'm saying we weren't supposed to meet. I wasn't supposed to be in Fiore until-" Dimaria quickly silenced herself with wide eyes. Natsu turned a suspicious gaze to her.
"Until I was ordered to be." She replied lamely before taking a deep breath. "Nobody from the Alvaran military was supposed to step foot in the Kingdom of Fiore unless directly ordered to by the Emperor." She droned out, causing Natsu to raise a confused brow.
"I don't know!" She snapped, causing the dragon slayer to recoil in surprise. "I don't know why we aren't allowed to go to Fiore, only that we aren't allowed to go. When the Emperor found out I went to watch the games..."
"What happened?" Natsu asked. "What did he do to you for leaving?"
"Nothing too bad." Dimaria assured him. "We have to sell our harvest for about three quarters what it's worth. The clan is well off enough that it's not going to damage us for this year, but if it were to happen next year as well..." Dimaria finished off, eyes travelling to the ground at the dragon slayer's feet. "It would make for a very harsh winter for the clan."
"Why do you work for him if he's such an asshole?" Natsu asked, getting her gaze to turn back to him. Dimaria let out a small huff that could have resembled a chuckle.
"I'd say because I love my country, but having been all over the globe, I can tell you it's not that. I'm not really the gung-ho patriot type that wants to die for my country, so I guess it's not that. The best reason I could give you is that I don't really have a choice. My clan has had the high priestess serve in the Alvaran military for the last 400 years. I've spent my entire life being drilled in my duties as a priestess as well as being a soldier," Dimaria pulled away and walked over to a tree stump and sat down on it. "And I've hated it from the start."
"What do you hate about it?" Natsu asked as he walked over to stand before the stump, watching as Dimaria lost herself in thought, her finger idly tracing the grooves of the stump she sat on.
"..I love the power." She began after a short pause. "I love the feeling that flows through me. I love that using it makes my blood sing, and it only gets louder as I turn myself over to it, but I hate all of the things that came attached to it. All of the ceremonies, the promises, the duties, and all of the responsibilities that have been loaded on to my back since I was 10." She stood in a huff, nearly bowling Natsu over as she began to pace around Natsu's campsite. "All of the bullshit that I had to do. Everything they made me do..." Her pacing stopped. "I hate them."
"Hate who?" Natsu asked as she turned toward him once more.
"The Emperor... My mother too..." She mumbled as she rested her forehead on his shoulder.
"You hate your mother?" Natsu asked, gently wrapping his arms around her waist as she grabbed the lapel of his vest. Dimaria turned her head to the side as Natsu pulled her closer, sighing and shaking her head slightly.
"No..." She supplied. "I don't hate her. I just hate that she's so focused on tradition. I've done everything as she taught me, exactly like she taught me, and it just feels like it was never enough. She was never happy with me. All I ever wanted was to be free of her stifling me with all the damned traditions, and then when I turned 14 the Emperor came to the village. My mother had served the Empire before she became pregnant with me, and I guess she knew that it was my time. Before I could even figure out what had happened, I was swept away from the village and stuffed in to military fatigues and put in to the academy. They taught me everything there about serving. I learned how to march and how to fight. They taught me how to eat, sleep, and breathe Alvaran military conduct, and I'm not going to lie in saying that I loved it. It was a taste of the freedom I never got around my mother. Once classes were done for the day we had free time to do whatever we wanted, so long as we conducted ourselves appropriately as representatives of the Alvaran Military." Dimaria let out a chuckle. "I think my first month of free time was spent eating candy and drinking soda in the mess hall. I'm told I acted like a little girl who was left home alone for the first time, and I loved it. I did start to calm down after a while. They called it my 'Settling Period' and it was pretty damn good. I made friends too. I always had Darry and the other kids in the village, but even then I was always the future high priestess to them. Plus my mother never let me play nearly as rough as I wanted to." She snorted as she broke contact with him and returned to her stump. "'Conduct unbecoming of a priestess' she would say before forcing me back indoors to study etiquette or something else that was stupid. But I made friends in the academy, and they had no idea who I was. Sure they gave me a hard time for being a farm girl, but they were still some of the best friends I had from back then. Wish I had kept in contact with them..." She lamented lowly.
"What changed?" Natsu asked, sitting himself down next to her on the ground and leaning against the stump. Dimaria sighed again.
"Me. I changed. Though not so much that I changed as that I accelerated. They would release academy students for three months at the end of summer so that we could be with our families before starting the next year. But, for anyone that wanted the extra credit, they offered the light duty travel courses. I didn't want to go back home to spend three months under my dictator of a mother, so I signed up for the first position to get the hell out of the capitol and away from the village. They would take students who had certain certifications and post them at official positions to relieve men and women who wanted to go home for the season. We were kind of a relief force for non-essential members of the military. I ended up going to the northern border to work on some dinky little base as a laundry attendant. I spent three months as a 'stitch bitch' in a base that had no electricity or running water. Our orders and requisition forms, which were usually transmitted via lacrima, were sent to us in scrolls of paper. I hated it there, but I also loved it."
"Why?" Natsu craned his head to her, noting her gentle smile and the flicker of amusement in her eyes.
"Because it was my choice. Nobody made me sign the form to go out there. Not a single damn soul. That was all me, and even though I would go to bed with bleeding fingers from patching uniforms all day, I felt good knowing that I was doing something that I had chosen to do." She sighed lightly as she began to trace the rings on the stump once more, her gaze far away. "When the academy started back up, I suddenly had credit for half of my courses, so I got moved to the next year's courses. While my friends were learning the basics of gear maintenance and filling out requisition forms, I was being thrust in to combat courses. Turns out all the training my mother gave me was good for something. Without even knowing it, she had taught me the preferred combat style of the Alvaran military. I think it was because she had served, and in hindsight I was destined to serve as well, but I went in to that course with a level of skill that graduated me to the final combat classes that the academy offered. I tried my hardest to keep in contact with the people from my original class, but our schedules were so far apart, that I'd only see them occasionally in passing." She swallowed thickly as her hand stopped idly tracing the stump. "It was hard. I saw my classmates less and less, and the classmates I had in the advanced courses saw me as some little kid. Forget that I could thoroughly wipe the floors with them, I was just some outsider kid while they had all spent years training and learning together. Soon it came time for the break once more, and once more I signed my name for relief duty. The only difference this time was that I had my combat certification and was allowed on the battlefields. Alvarez has not been in any for of major conflict in 400 years, and I can only say that that statement is almost the truth. We were never involved in major conflict, but Alvarez has been in skirmishes all around the globe for the last century. My time as a relief was spent in Seven, during a conflict over mineral rights between Alvarez and Seven. Alvarez had struck a gold vein, but Seven claimed that because the vein was estimated to extend outside of the Alvaran territory, that the entire vein belonged to Seven. Alvarez of course fought this, and the two had conflict for about eight months before it came to a resolution. I got there right at the fourth month, when the fighting was the worst, and stayed until just before peace talks began." Her hand had found it's way on to his shoulder, grip firm as her eyes seemed to shimmer.
"What was it like?" Natsu tried his best to hide the wince at how strong her grip was on his shoulder.
"The best way to describe it was hell." Dimaria whispered. "We used the mine as our base of operations, getting supplies and troops smuggled to us from the local towns in the dead of night. They had us surrounded on all sides, and were constantly sending mercenaries in to try and route us out. If they had acted directly against us with their military, it would have been an act of war that Seven really couldn't afford. The fighting was awful." She shivered lightly and Natsu couldn''t hide his flinch as her grip grew even stronger. "They would find a way to get in to the mines and we would have to fight in cramped tunnels. We couldn't even use magic for fear of collapsing the tunnels around us. I saw a lot of men get killed that way, but they tried their hardest to keep me out of the fights. I would be running orders further back in to the mine or running supplies. I guess they all kind of agreed that a 15 year old girl doesn't need to be fighting and killing. I appreciate the effort, at least." She looked down at her hand, noticing her grip on Natsu before releasing it with a muttered apology and cradling her hand in her lap. Her gaze lost focus once more as she stared at her palm.
"You don't have to tell me any more." Natsu said cautiously, as if she was going to vanish at any moment; which she could do. Dimaria shook her head and locked eyes with the dragon slayer.
"You asked why I feel the way I do. I owe you an answer for coming out as far as you have for me." She nodded to herself before staring back down in to her lap. "They tried their hardest to keep me out of the fighting but every soldier on the front gets their time to fight. I was stationed on a rear patrol guarding coal miners when they hit. It was like there was a flash and then suddenly we were all fighting. I remember the sounds echoing off the walls as swords clashed, the miners screaming as they tried their best to flee from the area. I'm not sure how many men they sent in to the mine for that attack; but I do remember getting some room to breathe and looking around for my comrades, only to realize that they were gone. We had lost the lights during the attack, but the sound of fighting was gone. I could hear the mercenaries breathing, their gear shifting around, and their steps as they came toward me, and I realized I was alone. I think I was crying, but I remember my only thought as I was surrounded on all sides was that I was going to die, alone, in some fucking hole in a country that wouldn't even care enough to send my body back to be buried properly." Dimaria's tone warbled toward the end of her speech. Her eyes sharpened as she clenched her fist. "And then it happened. My magic had always been dormant, but I could get small flickers to happen. It always felt like I was trying to pull an ocean out of my chest whenever I tried to use it, but it wouldn't move like I wanted it to. It felt like it was asleep until that moment, and then my entire being changed. I wasn't tired anymore. Colors were brighter and sounds were sharper. My brain felt like it was moving at a thousand thoughts a second. I could tell exactly how many men were in there with me, 19, and where they were placed all throughout the room. I knew their exact positions and who was most tired in that group. My head felt like it was going to pop, and then I heard a voice behind my eye ask 'Why are you crying? You are not alone. I am with you, from now until the end of your days. Now let me guide you in how to fight like me.'" Dimaria unclenched her hand and looked at Natsu. "I know it sounds crazy, but this voice in my head showed me a lifetimes techniques in what felt like a second. I feel like I blinked and suddenly I knew what my magic was, how to draw on it, and every spell that my body was capable of using."
"What kind of magic is that?" Natsu asked, racking his brain for any type of magic that would be similar to what she had described.
"When a high priestess is born in the Yesta clan, they are born to a life of servitude toward the Yesta clan's god. They are tasked with interpreting the will of Chronos, the God of Time." Dimaria shook her head at the title. "But what they never told me, was that the high priestess was chosen as the host to Chronos, and that his soul would be bound to theirs along with his power."
"So that whole disappearing thing you can do..." Natsu began, his face twisted in thought. "And all of this..." He gestured to the still landscape around himself, noticing that the water from the river wan't just quiet, it was completely halted mid flow. His gaze turned back to the woman, who held a small smirk as she stood from her stump and cocked her hip. "All this is you?"
"Yep." She supplied proudly, before her posture shifted to a more demure one. "That day in the mine was the first time I had ever killed a person. Once command figured out what I could do, and that I knew how to control it, I was suddenly a frontline soldier. I spent almost two whole months fighting and killing, and suddenly I wasn't just some academy kid playing soldier for extra credit. I got a field promotion. Twice! I was suddenly given a squad and told to lead them. When my time came and I was on the first ship home, I imagined that I would be going back to my room, maybe touching up any reports that they needed me to. I was kind of looking forward to getting back to my dorm and just locking myself up with as much candy and soda as I could buy for the couple weeks I had until the academy resumed. Imagine my surprise when I get off the ship, and I have a Royal Guard escort wishing to escort me to the Emperor's palace. Long story short; the Emperor had been monitoring my reports and when he saw that I had activated my dormant magic, had decided it was time for me to fulfill my duty to the empire." Dimaria huffed and gestured to the jacket tied around her waist. "I have to wear that as a 'Declaration of my Status as a Member of the Royal Guard' and I hate it. I may have to wear it, but they never said how I had to wear it, and I'll be damned if I conform to every little thing they want of me."
Natsu snorted. "Rebel through and through, eh?" Dimaria gave a small chuckle at his question and nodded.
"I've had to do a lot of bad things, Natsu." Her smile fell as her eyes grew distant once more. "I've hurt people, ruined homes and families, and I've killed people. I've killed a lot of people; and I want to say that I've hated every moment of it, but I don't want to lie to you. There's been times that I won't say I enjoyed it, but I won't say that I felt bad about it either." Her gaze turned sad as she looked at him. "I know that it probably ruins whatever image you must have of me, but it's just who I am. I won't be a coward and blame my upbringing for it, and I won't lie to you and pretend to be someone that I'm not."
"What do you want?" Natsu asked her, throwing the blonde through a loop. Dimaria gave him a long pause before sighing deeply.
"I want to be free. If I want to travel, I want to be free to do so. If I want to settle down and have a family, I want to be free to do it. I want to be free of this stupid tradition and all the manners, free of whatever this indentured servitude to the empire is. I don't want to be caged by the Emperor and treated like some attack dog to release on enemies of the empire. The simplest answer I can give you, Natsu, is that I want my freedom."
"And if I manage to win this stupid contest, do you think you would be able to change yourself? To stop the killing and straighten out? Do you think you could still live your dreams if I was able to win this?"
"I... I'm not sure..." Dimaria hesitated. "I'm not sure if I'm able to change, but I can tell you that you're the only person that I'd be willing to change for." She smiled shyly at him.
"So does that mean we could try that whole dating thing that couples always do?" Natsu returned her smile with one of his own. Dimaria let out a giggle, surprising the dragon slayer at how feminine it sounded.
"I think we skip the whole dating thing and skip right to marriage if you win this." Dimaria extended a hand, which Natsu took before yelping in surprise when the blonde suddenly yanked him in to a hug. "But if you'd like, we can call this our first date and see how compatible we are until you either win or lose." She placed a kiss on his cheek, snorting at the small blush she could catch on his tan cheeks as his arms wrapped around her. "How does that sound?"
"Well..." Natsu paused, turning his gaze to meet the blonde's . "I think that I'd be willing to do that, I just hope you don't change your mind on this when I win."
"You sound so sure of yourself." She chortled in amusement, a light blush on her cheeks forming when his smile turned slightly feral.
"Of course I am! I already know I'm going to win."
"And what makes you so sure of that?" She asked as she broke the hug and backed away a couple steps. Natsu's response was to slam a flaming fist in to his open palm.
"I'm going to win because I have to. For you."
Natsu enjoyed the way that her cheeks flushed before he blinked and she was suddenly gone.
The sound of rushing water and rustling wildlife suddenly invaded his senses, causing him to wince slightly. He turned back to his pack before slinging it over his shoulder and walking back toward the village.
"Gonna have to get used to that."
Natsu's first sight upon entering the village was that of the Yesta matron waiting for him, flanked by a guard on either side. Her gaze was firm on the dragon slayer as the man stood before her, bowing slightly. She nodded back at the man.
"Did you enjoy your little excursion in to the hunting grounds?" Rona asked, her tone devoid of any emotion. Natsu gave her a toothy grin.
"Sure did. Love the fish here. They taste delicious with those spicey redberries. What are they called anyway?" His head cocked to the side slightly, eyes catching the flash of distaste across the matron's visage.
"They're known to my clan as Ignis Cherries. They are renowned for their spice, so not many would be able to consume them as they are."
"Well I guess I'm not like most people than." Natsu supplied.
"Indeed." Rona's gaze remained neutral, but the dragon slayer could hear the curt tone. Years of annoying Erza had honed him well on how to be an annoyance. "Traditionally, those cherries are used sparingly in foods, and are mostly used to repel the local hostile wildlife."
"Traditionally, huh?" Natsu questioned, noticing Rona's stiff nod. "Well I guess it's a good thing I hate traditions. Too stuffy, and never any room for fun." He noticed immediately the anger that sparked across the woman's gaze before she plastered on a fake smile, all to easily compared to the eldest Strauss sibling when she was a step away from twisting him in to a pretzel.
"I see. Well, young Dragneel, I fear I must retire from our delightful conversation. Do stay in the camp tonight so as to not miss the announcement for the first challenge tomorrow. It will be announced at first light, as is the tradition to kick off the festival of the harvest. Until then, young Dragneel, I wish you the best of luck."
"Thank you, Miss Yesta," Natsu supplied a shallow bow once more. "I look forward to getting to know you better when I win this."
He turned away and promptly made his way back to camp, smirking as he heard her grind her teeth behind him.
So I'm not dead. Things have happened in my life, generic excuse here, but i ended up in a slump and losing my motivation to really do anything. I'm not going to go in to any details, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to start writing again as I get back in to the swing of life.
Sorry it took so long and I'll see you all next time,