Chapter 1: Prologue
The only way I could say hello to Sir Strips-a-lot was to punch him in the face. That was the only possible way I could start the day. Though sometimes I decide to kick him in the face instead, or steal his underwear without him knowing, or—
"GRAY, YOUR CLOTHES!"
…Or Lucy could butt in. It worked for me either way.
I should probably introduce her, huh? Her name's Lucy, and she's one of my closest friends here in the Fairy Tail wizard guild. She's kind of funny when she freaks out over every little thing, but she can get really scary sometimes. (She's so stupidly easy to tease, though!) She's also a total bookworm, and she's working on her own novel, even (though she's being a selfish prick and not letting any of us read it). Lucy is a seriously spunky girl; I'll give her that. Oh, and I just love her reactions to me and Happy breaking into her house. It's priceless! (Happy? Oh, he's just my talking blue cat buddy with magic wings. He loves fish!) I don't get what the deal with her is with that, though. What's so wrong about welcoming your friend home after a long day of work? Huh, I guess being closed off comes with coming from a rich family.
Wait, what the heck was going on, anyway? Was I on the ground? Yeah, I think I was. I think somebody knocked me out; maybe that's why I couldn't remember.
What was I supposed to be doing again?
"Screw that! I'm gonna tear Pinkie a new one for socking me in the face!"
"Can't you give that a rest?! You and Natsu have some unfinished work to do! And you're supposed to help him up and keep fighting, not kick him while he's down! And besides, that was an accident!"
"Like hell it was!"
"Of course it was! Now put some clothes on!"
Oh, right; I must've punched Gray in the face like I always did. I couldn't remember why, though. Did he almost goose me with his Ice Lance, or insult me or something…?
…Wait a sec; who cared about that?! He just insulted me!
"What'd you just call me?!" I snapped as I leapt to my feet, completely ignoring the huge knot on my head. I was vaguely aware that I'd just woken from an injury-induced nap, but I didn't care about that at the moment.
And c'mon—for the last freakin' time; my hair isn't pink! It's light-ish red! People around me must be freaking colorblind if they can't even notice that!
"Need me to spell it out for ya, you fire-breathing idiot?!" Gray yelled as he butted his head against mine.
"No, I don't!" I growled as I pushed back. "Besides, you really couldn't afford to lose any more brain cells trying to figure it out anyway!"
"I dare you to say that again!"
"You wanna go, you erotic icicle?!"
"I'll take whatever you've got, slanty-eyes!"
Yeah, this black-haired, bare-chested guy I was screaming at? His name's Gray, he's an ice wizard, and he likes taking his clothes off for some weird reason. He doesn't even notice it sometimes. (Remember how I said I sometimes snag his underwear without him knowing? Yeah, you know why now.) Oh, and for the record, I'm a way stronger wizard than him. Fire trumps ice any day of the week, baby! He's just too stubborn to admit it, but if you dare tell him I said that, I'll hunt you down and deep-fry your butt when you're not looking!
Lucy stepped in at that point and shoved the two of us apart. If I'd been any angrier than I was then, I wouldn't have realized that she had some major guts butting into one of our bouts because she usually suffered severe repercussions as a result. (And half the time, we don't even realize it's happened until afterwards.) But hey, we've been buddies for a long time; she's used to that stuff. Happy keeps telling me that she probably just gave up on stopping us a long time ago, but what does that verbose feline know, anyway? For crying out loud, he's a talking cat with wings.
Speaking of which, where was that cat, anyway?
"Listen up, you two," she ordered with her hands on her hips and wearing that classic glare that she picked up from Erza (she's another friend of ours, but…I'm not entirely sure you want to meet her), "if you're gonna beat each other to a bloody pulp, then you can do it some other time! We've got more important things to do right now, remember? Like trying to shut down this dark guild that we're being paid to do?! Stop screwing around just because Erza isn't here right now, you got that?!"
I started and stared around at the people we were supposed to be beating up staring at our little scene with confused expressions. Everything was in shambles; tables were burning and broken, the walls were frozen, and there were smoking holes in the floor.
Oh, yeah; that was what I was supposed to be doing! I completely forgot. I will admit that forgetting things is…kind of my schtick.
Yeah. Schtick. I do mean exactly what that word means. Go look at a dictionary if you don't believe me.
"All right, fine!" I huffed, crossing my arms. "I guess I can kick his butt later. Gotta take these clowns out first."
Even with Lucy glowering at us, Gray wasn't about to let this go so easily. "Hold up a second; my blood's still boiling! If we can't duke it out right now, let's at least have a contest to see who beats up more thugs!"
A grin spread across my face at the prospect as I cracked my knuckles, fire flickering from my fingers. "Sounds interesting! Let's set some conditions up, then! The loser has to play gofer for the victor for a week! That cool with ya?"
The streaker smirked. "Fine by me. I can't wait to see the look on your face once we're done here!"
Lucy just palmed her face and moaned something that sounded like, "Fine, do whatever; just put some clothes on first, Gray" as we charged at the mob of dark wizards. I wasn't too sure; I was a bit busy punching people at the moment to really care. I wasn't about to let that icy freak beat me!
I frowned in annoyance as another crowd of lackeys crowded once I'd mowed down the first. Geez, these guys were dropping like flies, but they just kept on coming. They kept popping back up like annoying weeds!
All right, time for Plan B.
"Heh, you guys are really asking for it now!" I proclaimed with glee as I began charging up another shot. "I'll be making sure that none of you are left standing after this one!"
"You can't keep this up forever!" one of them shouted as he charged at me with fire flickering in his hands.
"Yeah, there's no way you'll beat all of us!" another one howled, brandishing a steel spear. "We'll take you down by sheer numbers!"
"Go ahead and try!" I goaded enthusiastically with the crook of a finger. "It doesn't matter how many of you come at me at once—you're all going down!"
The first goon roared and a flare of crimson flame shot in my direction like a laser. The range was actually pretty wide; it took up about a third of the whole room. I could only hope that Lucy and everyone else wouldn't be caught in the blast once it connected.
All at once the torrent of fire completely surrounded my entire body, but I felt no pain. I grinned at the possibilities with which I could take those guys out now that I had these flames at my disposal.
Being a Fire Dragon Slayer comes in handy sometimes. Kind of like now.
I opened my mouth and sucked as much of the fire as I could. With each passing second, I felt increasingly invigorated and power began welling up inside of me. This fire tasted really gross, though—man, that guy was a lame excuse for a fire wizard. The energy I got from it wasn't as nearly as much as what I got from even ordinary fire.
Oh right, did I ever tell you that I could eat fire? No? Heh, it comes with the title. And before you ask—yes, it does fill me up; and no, I won't tell you what it tastes like. I don't want you trying a stunt like that; you'll only kill yourself.
"Whew," I remarked as wiped my chin after swallowing the last of the flames. "With this disgusting fire, I can't believe you actually made it as a fire wizard. You're actually even worse than that Dory guy I fought once!"
Sorry, I can't remember that guy's real name. Sue me.
That same dude looked absolutely freaked out after seeing me eat his fire, and I couldn't help but laugh at his expression. That reaction got me every time! I'm not ashamed to say that I love doing that to show up any other fire wizard who stood in my way, and for real—I love how they panic once they realize that their attacks don't affect me at all.
Say what you will about me; it's still an effective way to catch them off-guard. Plus it's funny!
"Well, I shouldn't complain, huh?" I laughed as I enveloped both my hands in flame. "After all, you did give me a meal before I got to kick your butt! Thanks for the grub, buddy; I've got a major fire in my belly thanks to you!"
I then rushed at the crowd of thugs before they could even so much as make a peep. The fire in my hands extended into wide whips of flame as I drew near them, and I swung them at the enemy as I rushed through their ranks shouting, "Fire Dragon Wing Attack!" Screaming blackened bodies flew everywhere in the wake of the explosion, and I turned around to observe my handiwork when I realized (with minimal chagrin) that I tore half the place down.
And Lucy chose that moment to lecture me about it. "Geez, Natsu; can't you do anything without blowing up the buildings?" she scolded me as she approached. "I always end up not being able to pay my rent on time because of you destroying everything you touch! I thought I'd have it easier this time since Erza's away on a different mission right now on behalf of the Master, but I should've known that was too good to be true…"
"So what; least I got the job done," I said off-handedly with a shrug.
"But now we're not gonna get paid because we have to foot the repair bill with the reward money for everything you blew up!"
"We can just go on another job if you need the money so badly."
"It's not that simple with you around!"
"She's right, you know," Gray agreed out of nowhere. He still hadn't put a shirt on yet…or pants, for that matter. "You really gotta think about the collateral damage, you bonehead."
I scoffed and turned my back to him. "Like you have any room to talk. You destroyed the half that I missed!"
I wasn't even lying. The half of the place that wasn't charred with soot was completely decorated with icicles sticking out of the rubble and ice cubes littering the floor. Yeah, this guy had some nerve lecturing me when he couldn't even follow his own stupid advice. Not to mention the fact that he just couldn't keep his clothes on for longer than five minutes.
But besides that, I still felt like I was forgetting about something…
Then Gray butted into my thoughts again. I get the sneaking suspicion that he does that on purpose.
"Shut up, you pyro! You're not in any position to lecture me!" he snarled.
I turned on him lividly. "You're just upset because I downed more bad guys than you, huh?! Afraid to play the gofer boy?"
"What does that have to do with anything?! I don't exactly see you acting happy about it anyway!"
"Who says I have to act happy over beating someone like you? You're not worth the trouble!"
"GUYS!" Lucy shouted at last, making the both of us reel in terror. "Seriously, cut that out! And besides, Happy's missing!"
I blanched. Shoot, so that was what I forgot! "He's missing?!" I cried in shock. "He must've gotten separated from us in the middle of that mess!" I grabbed a fistful of hair in each hand and moaned, "Ohh, what am I gonna do?! He's not gonna talk to me for weeks for abandoning him like that! This is all your fault, Gray!"
"Why the heck is it my fault?!" he retorted.
Lucy grabbed my collar and held me in place so I couldn't take off on my own. "Listen, if you keep panicking like that, you're never going to find him. Calm down and follow your nose, okay?"
I struggled some more, trying to break free as she was talking, but it was no good. Our little blondie was stronger than she looked.
"Okay, I will!" I surrendered hastily as I continued trying to fight free. "I would've done that anyway! Can you let me go now? I gotta find Happy!"
"Not until you relax!" She yanked on my collar for good measure, making me choke.
"C-can't…breathe…" I gagged. "Okay…I'm calm now—let me go, Lucy –!"
She finally let me go, and I made a break for it the minute her fingers left the fabric. I dashed into the closest hallway, following my nose. Being a Dragon Slayer, I had a good nose—all my senses were sharper in general, actually. It really comes in handy whenever I'm looking for someone, like now.
"HAPPY!" I screamed through the corridors. "WHERE ARE YA, BUDDY?! HAPPY!"
"Natsu, wait for us!" Lucy's voice echoed behind me somewhere, but I didn't turn around to check. "Slow down!"
"Don't just take off like that, you idiot!" Gray this time. "You trying to get yourself killed?!"
Like hell that was going to happen. There was no way I was gonna die like that. I'd promised that I'd never let myself get killed.
I kept following that familiar scent down the same corridor. I was so fixated on finding Happy that I failed to realize something important until I'd run for about another minute.
The smell wasn't deviating. It just kept going straight ahead. And it wasn't being obstructed by any other scent, which should've been the norm—because if he'd been kidnapped, there would be at least one more scent lingering around his, but there was none. There was something weird going on…it was almost like Happy had come down this way on purpose.
What the heck was going on?!
Don't you just hate it when you get worried sick about someone, but then realize that they're not in any real danger and feel really stupid afterwards? In this case, both sides can be equally guilty of being complete idiots.
But this was mostly Happy's fault.
"You stupid cat! What the deal; making me worry like that?!" I yelled furiously. "We thought something bad happened to you!"
We found him at the large storage room where those thugs kept their stolen goods, sitting in one corner and nibbling on a piece of salmon. That infuriating feline now circled my head just out of my reach so I couldn't reach him. Rgh, it was frustrating how he had wings! He wouldn't let me grab him and swing him around like a lasso for making us panic!
"I keep telling you, Natsu!" Happy tried to explain in his high-pitched voice. "I was only following something here! The smell was strange!"
I growled in annoyance as I narrowly missed grabbing him again. "Yeah, right. I didn't smell anything other than your fishy breath while looking for you!"
Happy dove behind Lucy and peeked over her right shoulder, effectively turning her into a shield. "Just hear me out for a minute, okay?" he pleaded. "I wasn't trying to worry you guys, honest! I really did smell something weird, so I came this way to check it out! But as soon as I got in this room, the smell wasn't here anymore!"
"And then you decided to just sit here eating fish?!" I demanded while balling my fists. "Look, if you didn't find anything, you should've just come straight back to us!"
Happy stuck his head out farther. "I tried!" he said indignantly. "But the door just closed on me all of a sudden, and I couldn't get out!"
That stopped me for a minute. That shouldn't have happened, since every member of this dark guild was at the front lobby of the building trying to chase us out. Was it some sort of magic trap?
"Seriously, Happy?" Lucy asked urgently. "Was someone at the door when it closed on you? Did you hear anything like a lock clicking?"
Happy shook his little blue head and raised a paw. "There wasn't anyone there! I swear it on the sack of salmon in my secret stash!"
"That's weird," Gray mused, his fingers rubbing his chin. "Though I guess we should've expected something like that in a dark wizarding guild. No thief would be stupid enough to leave their treasure unguarded. Happy must've just triggered their security system."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Lucy agreed. "It's only natural for a thief to not want any of their stolen goods get taken back."
My arms were crossed during this little discussion. I wasn't really paying attention to what they were saying, but something didn't make sense. A magic trap to keep intruders from escaping with their treasure was definitely a good reason for this happening. But there was something else about this situation that just couldn't be right.
"Hold on, you guys," I said at last, prompting them to look at me in surprise. Didn't blame them, really—I hardly ever had any helpful input in serious conversations. "Something doesn't feel right about this whole situation."
"What're you talking about?" Gray asked half-heartedly. "This better not be something stupid."
I felt a tic going in my forehead at that insinuation, but I decided it would be better to try and kick his butt later. "Shut up; I'm serious! This is important!"
"Yeah, I'm sure it is," Lucy assured me while throwing a dirty look in Gray's direction. "So, what's wrong, Natsu?"
"Well, I guess it's just bothering me personally," I began, scratching my spikes as I spoke, "but what about that weird smell Happy mentioned earlier? He said he followed it here, didn't he? And I didn't smell anything funny while on the way here. Don't you think that's at least a little bit odd?"
The three of them then stared at me with completely dumbstruck and flabbergasted expressions. This usually didn't bother me, but the fact that they were doing it in unison was kind of unnerving.
"Wh-what?" I spluttered self-consciously. "I'm just saying!"
"Natsu…" Gray wouldn't wipe that weird expression off his face as he continued while pointing a shaking finger in my direction, "Natsu actually said something…reasonable for once!"
"This is a moment for the history books!" Happy added with his paws over his mouth. "The world just turned upside down!"
Lucy was trying to straighten her expression as she berated the two of them with, "Geez, just how much do you guys have to belittle him, huh?"
I felt my face grow hot (though not by much; my body was naturally hotter than a normal person's for obvious reasons). "Are you guys calling me stupid?! I think you are!"
"No, of course not!" Lucy assured me quickly. "We just didn't consider that observation you made. No offense was meant. Right, you guys?" she added as she turned to Gray and Happy.
Gray crossed his arms and smirked at me. "Impressive for an impulsive goofball like him."
"Aw, shut up, stupid snow cone," I grunted, turning away with a pout.
"Well, anyway…" Lucy turned serious again. "Natsu does have a good point. Happy said that he followed a strange scent here, but it vanished the second he entered this room. And considering the fact that Natsu has a really good nose and he didn't notice it at all does say something."
"That's true," Gray said thoughtfully. "Do you guys remember what the client said about this job when we took it? I don't remember any strange happenings being mentioned in that conversation."
I didn't remember anything weird happening when we met the client, either. Then again, I probably hadn't even paid attention. I'd just shot out of the house once the words "shut down this dark guild" had popped up in the conversation. Don't blame me; I do love me a good brawl.
"Well, the client said something along the lines of, 'The official job is to shut down this dark guild, but I would like you to ask you a personal favor—you must retrieve a certain bracelet those thugs stole from me'…" Lucy mused. "Something along those lines."
I was confused. "Wait a minute. A retrieval request?"
Gray sighed irritably. "You'd know that if you didn't charge out of the place before the client finished explaining the job, you moron."
As much as that ticked me off, I had no proper defense for that. A derisive "Hmph" was all I could manage in retaliation.
"If that's really the case, then that bracelet should be somewhere in this room, right?" Lucy went on. "Maybe that's the weird smell Happy picked up. It's probably magical, too; that might be why the smell vanished. It might be something the client did so that it'd be easy to find if it got lost."
"But why by smell?" I asked. "If it was tryin' to get someone to find it, then wouldn't it be smarter for it to get a person to find it by seeing or hearing it instead? What if some random animal ran off with it?"
"Natsu, you're starting to scare me," Happy said nervously over Lucy's shoulder.
"What?" I was confused. "How? I'm not doing anything to scare you."
"You're thinking too much," he explained with watery eyes. "This isn't like you, Natsu. What happened to you?"
I felt another tic going in my forehead at that remark. "What; are you calling me stupid now?!"
"No, you just do better when you're not thinking! And you're good at not thinking, so stop thinking!"
"Make up your mind!"
"I did! I told you to stop thinking!"
Lucy sighed and reached over to snatch Happy out of the air. "What am I, your babysitter? Why can't you guys behave for just five seconds?"
I huffed in indignation and turned away with my arms crossed. "Well, Happy was the one who started it," I grumbled.
"Forget about that for now." Gray out of nowhere. Seriously, how does he do that? "Let's just find this stupid bracelet and get outta here."
I hated to admit it, but Gray was right. We still had a job to finish, and standing here arguing wasn't doing anything to help us. Not to mention, I was really starting to not like the vibe of this place. I wanted out of here. There was a cold feeling creeping up in my chest, and I can't tell you how uncomfortable that is for somebody like me. It's like your body gets dizzy and nauseous all on its own even though your head feels fine. It was as if there was an ethereal rope of ice squirming around in the chambers of my heart. It felt…disgusting.
And no, I'm not talking about my motion sickness. That's something totally different!
"All right, I guess we oughta," I relented, trying to ignore the sick feeling. "Let's get this over with. There's something about this room…I'm not feeling too good."
My friends just seemed to notice that I wasn't looking too great.
"What's the matter, Natsu?" Happy asked from his place in Lucy's grip. "Are you feeling okay?"
"You do look kind of pale…" Lucy noted nervously. "What's wrong?"
I shook my head and massaged my chest area gingerly. "I dunno, but it feels gross. My chest just feels odd, is all." Just then a thought struck me. "Wait a sec. You guys don't feel it?"
"Feel what?" Gray crossed his arms with a skeptical expression. "You're not pulling our legs, are you?"
"Yeah," Lucy murmured, fear leaking into her voice as she held Happy close to her chest. "I don't feel sick or anything, though…I'm kind of scared now."
"What's going on…?" Happy wondered.
That was what I wanted to know. Why was I the only one feeling sick? That wasn't right…this couldn't be right…all of us could feel disturbance in magic energy. Why was it only me who felt it?
"Maybe we should retreat for now," Lucy suggested, looking to all of us in turn. "I mean, we can't really do much if Natsu's not feeling well, right?"
"No way," I said sharply, shooting her down immediately. "We need to finish the job we came to do! We can't just leave like a bunch of cowards just 'cause I feel funny! That'll make Fairy Tail look bad!"
"Reputation aside, you really should sit down and rest somewhere, Natsu," Happy cut in, and he wasn't his usual plucky self this time. I must've looked pretty bad if that was the case. "You really do look sick. We can just sit outside for a little bit and come back in once you feel better if you want."
"But that's the same thing as running away!" I protested.
"Come on, Natsu! We're worried about you!" Lucy snapped. "Don't blow us off like this!"
That one stung. As in, literally stung. There was a sudden spark of pain in my heart that made me wince and double over despite myself. It was brief, but damn it all if it didn't hurt like crazy.
I coughed in surprise as I grasped my chest. "What the—"
The cold feeling in my chest grew, and the squirming intensified. Something was sloshing my blood around in there and making me feel sick. And it felt solid…like something really did find its way into my heart, and was now trying to fight its way out.
That pain…was like nothing I'd ever felt before.
"Natsu!" I heard Gray shout in alarm. "What's going on?! Stand up!"
What? Was I back on the ground now? When did that happen?
"Can you hear me? Say something!" That was Lucy. I was sure of it. But why did she sound so far away? And why did she sound like she was terrified?
What was this strange sensation? Nothing made sense. Nothing. I couldn't feel anything, grasp anything. Everything escaped me…and I felt so hollow, so blank…so empty.
Except for the pain. This terrible, excruciating, awful pain…
The pain wouldn't escape. It stayed to torture me.
And I hated it.
The moment I acknowledged it, I began regaining feeling. It wasn't instantaneous. It kept growing, slowly but surely. I could feel myself again. My hands, my arms, my shoulders…my whole body was curled in on itself.
That's right; I remember now. I had a body. That's where the pain was coming from. I had to make this pain go away. I wanted it to go away. But…how could I do that?
If you don't like something, destroy it.
What was that? That wasn't me, right? Did I think that just now? Who was that? It sounded like me, but at the same time…it wasn't me.
Who are you?
Oh, no one important. That aside, what's the matter, tough guy? Isn't destroying things what you do best?
Destroying things…yeah, I was good at that. I did that a lot…but people didn't like when I broke things.
Yeah…but no one likes it when I break things.
True enough. But you've got a reason to destroy this time, and this won't hurt anybody.
Of course. Your whole body hurts now, doesn't it?
I contemplated that. Well…yeah. It does hurt. It hurts a lot.
The answer should be simple then. You always destroyed things you didn't like. That's practically your mantra.
It is? That doesn't sound like me.
Oh, really? Who are you, exactly? What do you really sound like? Have any idea?
I didn't know. Um…
Hmm…well, I guess that doesn't really matter right now. Your body's hurting you. Destroy your body. Then, you'll be free from the pain for good.
I frowned, and for a moment I was surprised. That's right; I had a face, too. How could I have forgotten that?
Destroy my body…doing that would make the pain go away?
Hold on…something about that was wrong…
That…that can't be right. If I do that, won't I die?
My life was tethered to my body. If I destroyed my body, then I would die. I knew that even in this state.
With my help? Please. If I'm there, you won't have to worry about dying. I can't die.
Exactly what I said. If you let me out, then I can make it so you can't die. That's all.
Let you out? Out of where?
Oh, I'm sure you've been feeling it. I'm inside your heart.
You are? More feeling returned. I managed to get a handle on myself. So that was you? Dude, that was real gross; you know that? What's the big idea?
Don't be such a wuss. That was just a knock on the door. I was trying to get your attention.
Uh-huh. How long have you been in there, anyway? I never noticed anything until now!
Never mind that. So, what d'you say? Care to lend a hand to a friend?
I don't remember ever having somebody like you for a friend.
Hey, now; that's cold. We're as good as friends now, right? We're practically the same guy. C'mon, hear me out.
Knock it off; you're annoying. And weren't you the offering me help a minute ago?
…Ugh, you're impossible. Guess it was a bit too soon. I can't believe this is the other me…
What? What are you talking about?
Don't worry your little head over it. Well, I guess I'll leave you alone for now, take another crack at it at a better time.
Hold on! What the heck are you talking about? You didn't answer my questions! Why now? Why me? And who the heck are you?!
Now, now; don't get ahead of yourself. All the answers will come in time…though I don't think you'll like it when it does. You'll be really upset. Upset enough to probably…oh, I don't know…kill your friends.
What?! Yeah right; as if that'll ever happen! I'd never hurt my friends!
I assure you…it will. See ya around, Natsu. Say hi to Jellal for me if you see him…ah, there's one more thing I should tell you before I hit the road, so to speak.
Better be a straight answer, buddy.
Ohh, now you decide to get all friendly?
I wasn't being friendly!
Pipe down there, partner. Can't take sarcasm to the face, can ya?
Tch, whatever. So anyway, you were saying?
Oh, right. Well, if you tell any of your precious little friends about our little chat…they'll be sorry. And you worst of all. Keep this conversation within the confines of your mind if you don't want to hurt your friends, yeah?
You wouldn't dare.
I definitely would…since I know you won't. Just a warning. Now wake up already.
Wake up? What're you—
"Natsu!" Lucy shouted desperately. "C'mon, wake up!"
I gasped as my eyes snapped open. I had been asleep, weirdly enough. I couldn't remember when that had happened.
My friends' faces were right above me, their expressions ranging from distraught to relieved.
"NATSU!" Happy tackle-hugged my face the minute my eyes opened. Not how I wanted to be greeted.
"Ow, what the—" I pulled him off my face and held him up. "Happy?"
"You're okay!" he wailed with tears streaking down his little blue face as he struggled to hug my face again. "We were worried! I was worried! I'm so glad you're okay!"
"What just…" I sat up with a bit of difficulty thanks to Happy being in my right hand. "What happened?"
"No idea," Gray put in. He sounded pretty shaken up, too, though he was doing his best to hide it. "You just collapsed out of nowhere. We've been trying to wake you up for the past couple hours. Why'd you have to go and scare us like that, you idiot?"
A shock went through me at that, and I stared down at the blanket, for once ignoring Gray's biting remarks. That conversation had taken up a whole lot more time than I realized. And right before that…I couldn't remember too well. All I knew was that …I didn't feel right. I mean, I was still me, but it felt like I was missing something important from myself, an essential part of me…if that makes any sense.
I also just noticed that we weren't inside the storage room of that dark guild anymore. The walls weren't gray; they were yellow now.
"Wait, where are we, anyway?" I asked, looking around.
"We're at my house," Lucy answered me. "It was closest." She looked nervous again. "So…are you feeling okay? What happened to you?"
I definitely did not feel okay. And I wanted to tell them so—and everything about what had happened if only to have some sort of answer—but I couldn't take any chances. If that weirdo in my head had been telling the truth, if I squealed on them about our chat, my friends would be in trouble.
Without meaning to, I raised my hand up to my chest again, right above my heart. The writhing pain wasn't there anymore.
Happy, who had been sitting on my lap when I'd accidentally dropped him, looked confused. "Is something wrong, Natsu?" he asked me quietly.
I stared out the bedside window. The sky was dyed in mixtures of orange and red thanks to the setting sun. It had gotten pretty late while I'd been out.
"No…I'm fine," I lied through my teeth, lowering my arm. "What happened to the mission? Did you guys find the bracelet?"
Judging from the looks that they gave me then, I could only assume that they hadn't. I wasn't as irritated as I probably should've been (I hate backing out on jobs), but this time around, I didn't really have the wherewithal to call them out on it.
"So that's how it is, huh?" I muttered, half to myself. "Okay then."
I lifted the blankets off of me and got out of bed, surprising everyone.
"Natsu, you should be resting right now," Lucy implored me, concern welled up in her brown eyes. "You're welcome to stay the night if you want…"
I shook her head even as she was talking, and she trailed off.
"What happened to the prissy princess who'd kick me out at a second's notice, huh?" I half-teased. The smile on my face right now felt fake, even to me. "Don't worry about it; I'm just fine! Thanks for the help, but I'm going home now. Get plenty of rest yourselves, okay?"
"Happy," I called as I picked up my travel pack that had been next to the bed and walked to her door. "Let's go, buddy. We're going home."
"A-aye." He flew over to my side as I left the building and walked in the direction of home.
As I trudged along the street next to the river that ran through our small town of Magnolia, I couldn't get the strange words that the voice inside my head had said to me out of my head.
Hey, now; that's cold. We're as good as friends now, right? We're practically the same guy. C'mon, hear me out.
Guess it was a bit too soon. I can't believe this is the other me…
All the answers will come in time…though I don't think you'll like it when it does. You'll be really upset.
Upset enough to probably…oh, I don't know…kill your friends.
Kill your friends.
I stopped in my tracks.
Happy turned around to check on me. "Natsu?"
I balled my fists so hard my knuckles turned white. There was no way that could happen, right? There was nothing in all of Earth Land that could get me to kill my friends. The stupid voice in my head had just lied to me in order to mess with my head; that was all.
But…why did I feel so scared? Fear wasn't a bad thing. Gildarts had taught me that. Being scared was a good thing, because that way you could pinpoint your weaknesses and try to overcome them.
This felt different. I knew I wasn't scared of the voice in my head, or any of my friends, even though I'd just run from them. I tried to ascertain the source of this apprehension, but I couldn't think of anything that felt right…
I started and looked to Happy, who was floating in front of me, the confused expression mixing in with the ever-present concern.
"S-sorry about that, Happy," I apologized. "I guess I was distracted…"
I could tell by the look on my furry feline friend's face that he could tell I was hiding something. I shouldn't have been surprised. I'd raised him from an egg, after all. We knew each other inside out.
"Hey, Natsu," he began, a solemn look on his face, "did something happen while you were asleep? Like a bad dream or something? 'Cause it looked like you were having a nightmare the whole time to me…"
I wanted to hit myself for making it look so obvious, because, well…he was right. Sort of. It did happen to me while I'd been asleep…it hadn't exactly been a dream, but it had definitely been a nightmare in some sense of the term.
"Yeah," I managed to say. "It was a bad dream, all right."
"What was it about? You can talk to me about it if it makes you feel better."
My heart clenched in terror at his suggestion, and the memory of the disgusting feeling of the cold something writhing inside my heart refreshed itself in my subconscious.
Keep this conversation within the confines of your mind if you don't want to hurt your friends.
"Natsu?" Happy was sounding seriously worried now, which made the feeling of dread in my gut spike in spades. "Won't you tell me?"
His imploring words were too much. The fear overflowed—and I snapped.
"I told you; I'm fine!" I retorted more harshly than I'd meant. "Listen, Happy. I just need time to get over it on my own, okay? Just quit bothering me and go bug someone else!"
I then took off without waiting for an answer.
The farther I ran, the more ashamed I felt. I shouldn't have blown up at my friend and left him behind. I wanted to go back and apologize, but my legs wouldn't listen when I told them to stop and turn right back around.
They just kept on pushing me forward, farther away from Happy, farther away from Lucy and Gray and everybody else in Fairy Tail. It wasn't until I got to the front steps of my low stone house, my face streaked with both my sweat and my tears, that I figured out why I hadn't been able to stop.
I was scared of admitting that that voice could be right. I was scared of hurting my friends if I did the wrong thing. I was scared…of myself.