The dungeons were a cold, dark, damp and gloomy place. Moss, grim and feces stained the stone walls, as water leaked from each and ever crack and crevice. From where it originated from, no one knew, nor would they ever want to know. The bars of the cells were jagged from age and rust, yet still strong enough to keep those locked on the inside at bay. Hay lined floors, and apart from that, the only other object in the cells were buckets for excrement. Though, none of them appeared to have been emptied in quite some time.
Natsu found himself being pulled down one of the narrow hallways, the only light emanating from torches that aligned the walls. Torches that had smoldered into nothing more than burning coals than full on flames. A horrid and rancid smell filled the air of the dungeons, enough to make Natsu want to hurl, but his gut was in too much pain for him to do so. Eventually they came upon a cell, small and narrow, the back nothing more than jagged rock, as Natsu was thrown in with the sound of the screeching door shut behind him.
Natsu found himself laying there on the ground, unmoving as his eyes began to heavy. Before he knew it he was in a deep sleep.
The next morning he was stirred away by the splash of freezing cold water. The boy jolted sweeping around trying to remember where he was when he heard the snickering of one of the prison guards standing over him with a bucket. His head was throbbing and every muscle in his body ached uncontrollably that he could nothing but fall down to his back. He growled, as he heard another splash come from the cell next door. Natsu forced himself to turn his head to see the other Draconan teen get stirred awake as well. And just like him, this teen was also dazed and confused.
The putrid smell had not gone away, making his head hurt even worse. Natsu just wanted to throw up and go back to sleep right there despite the hard stone floor and itchy hay. Not to mention being soaking wet in with frigid water didn't help. The draft in the dungeon only made it worse, as Natsu finally managed to pull himself back up to his knees wrapping his arms around his body to generate some type of warmth.
"Where the hell am I?" he heard Gajeel groan from the cell next to his.
Natsu was too cold to say anything to the other teen. His body was shivering uncontrollably as he tried to stay warm. That was until he felt a rumbling in his stomach that eventually allowed him to belch fire. For a moment it warmed him up, as the water evaporated from his skin. He heard a similar sound in the cell next his as he saw Gajeel doing the same exact thing.
As he peered over Gajeel looked up at the same time, both of them catching the other's eye. "What are you looking at?" Gajeel glowered. Natsu could hear a quiver his voice as he rubbed his knees.
"Nothing," Natsu quipped. "What are you looking at?"
"Nothing," Gajeel growled back.
For a moment the two of them sat there both trying to warm themselves up. Eventually Natsu found himself feeling better as he slowly crawled over to the side of his cell. He noticed that Gajeel did the same as the two of them rested their backs against the hard iron bars. This time the two of them were facing each other once more, but neither said a word.
Natsu leered at him, and Gajeel did the same. Neither one of them were able to move beyond the spots they were sitting in. The only silence came from them as the cries of a man down the corridor along with the echo of a snapping whip. It didn't faze Natsu or Gajeel, after all it was a dungeon. A couple of guards walked by, seeing the two of them sitting there. The attempted to provoke the two of them with taunts and ridicule but the boys remained in silence.
Eventually Natsu could bear the tension any longer. "So," he said with a deep breath. "You're a Draconan as well?"
"No shit," Gajeel scoffed rolling his eyes.
It was then in that moment Natsu's eyes noticed something he hadn't seen before. There on the other teen's arm was written the word Gajeel, much like his own: same letters, markings and everything. It was strange because Natsu had thought it to be a brand that he was given when he was a child to mark that he was a slave. It was strange to him since none of the other Draconans had a mark like that on their arms. He thought he was the only one.
"What are you looking at?" Gajeel asked sternly as he could see Natsu staring at his arm.
"That tattoo," Natsu said as he managed to raise his hand and point, "where did you get it?"
"This?" Gajeel asked raising a brow. He held up his arm in the dim light for a better view. "I don't know. I've had it ever since I could remember. Don't know what it means, but I assume that it was my name."
"Same," Natsu said holding out his outstretched arm as well, revealing a similar tattoo to the other boy.
"So what does this mean?" Gajeel snickered sarcastically. "That we're buddy buddies now? Just cause we have the same type of tattoos does not mean that we're somehow the same all right?"
"But we're both Draconans, and we both can transform into—" Natsu couldn't finish his thought. He didn't know what to end with. He couldn't bear to call himself a monster or a beast, but the more he thought about it, the more he was believing that he was becoming one. "I thought I was the only one." He exhaled with a deep breath.
"Well I only just heard about you a while ago," Gajeel replied. "I didn't believe it at first, but I guess you can say the rumors were true. Most people didn't believe it, heck most people still don't believe it, but I guess you can say that I was kind of hopeful to see what it would be like to find another just like me. But then I find out that you're some bitch, sworn to protect the house of the very man whose father eradicated and enslaved our people."
Gajeel's words stung him as the memory of the three slaves that he fought when he was a young child flooded into his mind once more. Their words, and the words of all the other Draconan slaves were the same. That he was a traitor, a dog that sold his soul to the king. Of course he had never told anyone that he only swore to protect Princess Lucy and only Lucy. Though no one knew that apart from him, and maybe Gildarts.
"It wasn't like I had a choice in the matter," Natsu growled. "It wasn't like I had a choice. I was brought here to be a slave when I was a baby. I had no idea how to control my powers, and all I've done is work as a slave. I have no family, no friends, no one that cares about me," he closed his eyes as an image of Lucy appeared in his mind's eye.
"And you helped kill my friends out in the wood yesterday," Gajeel glowered. "So sorry if I don't have any sympathy for you."
"Well considering you're bandits, and that you tried to kill Princess Lucy, and me, I can say that I don't have much sympathy for your group of murders either," Natsu snapped back.
"You think we're murders?" Gajeel snorted. "We were scavenging for food, and yes we attacked a few nobles. We starve and scrape together whatever we can to survive. Konvern's nobles take everything from the people leaving them nothing but scraps. I myself am not native to Konvern, I have traveled around, but don't you dare call my men murders. They did what they did because they had to. This country is going to hell and the king is too much a fool to realize it."
"He does realize it though," Natsu sighed as he sat back. "That's why he's marrying off his daughter to the Prince of Juvelle. He's hoping that their combined forces will make him powerful again."
"Man and I thought that things couldn't get much worse," Gajeel said taking a deep breath. He slid a hand through his messy main before leaning back farther against the iron on his back. The two sat in silence once more. As time passed they seemed to mellow out a bit, neither one of them exchanged glares. Perhaps it was because they were too tired, or they just didn't feel like getting into a verbal fight at the moment. But after awhile Gajeel spoke again, "So why?"
"Why what?" Natsu asked raising an eyebrow.
"Why swear allegiance to Jude? The man enslaved you and who pretty much resent. Why don't you just get up and leave? Who's going to stop you?" Gajeel asked seriously.
Natsu closed his eyes, picturing him and Lucy sitting together by the lake. Her honey silk hair resting against his cheeks, her soft cherry lips that tasted sweeter than the finest candy in any land. He could still feel the touch of her soft, gentle skin against his. The two of them sitting there in the grass watching as fish swam by the edge; nestled in their own little world. He would sit there as gaze upon her wide chocolate eyes full of sweetness and love.
The moment brought a smile to the boy. The memory served as a small fragment of light in this otherwise dull, dark world he was currently in. She was the reason he stayed, but he couldn't tell Gajeel that. He would escape if she were to come with him, but as long as she remained, so would he. He remembered the words she had recently spoke to him.
"Where else am I supposed to go?" Natsu sighed leaning back. "I don't know the lay of the land, and the king's men would hunt me down. I don't know if I could live a life on the run. What am I supposed to live for? Who am I supposed to live for? Would I only endanger anyone I cared about by leaving?"
"That's what I thought too," Gajeel sighed looking up at the ceiling. He could see a large spider web with a few flies caught in the web. "I was eight, or nine when I was first alone. I can't exactly remember, it was so long ago. I only just came upon those bandits a couple of months ago, thought I join in. They had food, wine, and occasionally women, so I figured that be as good as I was ever going to get."
"So I guess we're not so different after all," Natsu chuckled to himself. "I have to admit I'm kind of excited to know that I'm not the only other person that can become different."
"Yeah," Gajeel sighed with a nod, "except I'm not a little bitch."
"I'm sorry, I'm having a little trouble remembering, but who was it that won the fight between us again?" Natsu snickered. Gajeel was more than a little un-amused by the critique. He went back to scowling as Natsu just grinned widely at him.
"Laugh it up Pinky, laugh it up," Gajeel growled. "Once I get my strength back I'm melting through these bars and heading back out on my way towards freedom."
"Yeah," the thought just occurred to Natsu, "I guess we can just melt through these bars. I wonder why they hadn't thought about that when they threw us in here?"
Natsu did wonder why. It wouldn't make any sense if the two of them could just melt the bars and leave. He guessed the king must have forgotten that they could do that. The idea made him laugh to himself as he could picture the next day when Gajeel was better, that the teen would just stand up, breath some fire and be gone before anyone even took notice. It's not like the bars would hold up, they were have decayed already.
"I guess the king really is a fool than?" Gajeel snickered. "How do you forget such an important detail as fire breathing?"
"Maybe he forgot you're just like me," Natsu suggested. "You know we are both Draconans, perhaps it's stupid for us to fight each other. We could possibly be the only two of our kind in teh world. I know that we were just trying to kill each other the other day, but wouldn't it be better if we worked together?"
"I don't really know," Gajeel said shaking his head. "I don't know you, and in the past few hours I've known you; you've knocked me unconscious, captured me and had me thrown in a dungeon cell. With a very interesting smell. So what makes you think that you and I are going to suddenly become best friends?"
"Because you and I are one in the same," Natsu told him. "I don't like you and you don't like me. But if all we do is try to kill each other we'll never discover who we really are. Where we come from and what makes us who we are. I'm tired of living as a slave, but I have nowhere to go. How about we just start from scratch, and forget the whole quarrel ever happened. Apart from me beating your ass that is."
Gajeel furrowed his eyebrows as he watched Natsu laughed. But he couldn't help but think the boy's offer over. The two of them were alone now, or at least he knew that he was. He could use a powerful ally like him. The question was whether or not he could trust them. Natsu was in fact responsible for all of his current situation. Then again, perhaps the two could gain a mutual benefit by working together. After pondering it over long and hard he thought that maybe the two of them could work together.
"You said that you didn't know where you would go," Gajeel began to say. "What if we left together? I know we didn't exactly get off on the right foot, but I figure that two dragons would be better than one? And I know my way around these parts pretty well. I think we could manage. After all, I am alone now thanks to you."
Natsu was shocked by the sudden proposal. He thought about it, and he knew that it could work. The two of them could stave off any enemy that came after him. But if he did choose to leave, that would mean that he would have to leave Lucy behind as well. He couldn't do it. He knew that she was getting married soon, real soon. Her birthday was only a couple of days away and Duke was due to arrive any day now. Sure the wedding wouldn't take place immediately, but they still didn't have that much time.
He wanted to convince her to go with them. Maybe if she knew that Gajeel was there too she would feel better protected. Then again Gajeel was part of the group that attacked her. She may be more unwilling to go knowing that one of them traveling with her was part of the band of thieves that had shot arrows at her. The choice was hard and he knew that he couldn't leave Lucy, but he couldn't stay here as a slave the rest of his life. Natsu had to know what Lucy's choice was, though he knew that she was against the idea before.
"You know what, Natsu said grinning at the other teen. "That sounds like a good plan."
Meanwhile upstairs in the castle Lucy sat near her bedroom window in her light pink nightgown. She could see the outline of the trees just over the wall where the lake resided. She sighed as she remembered that it was only a couple of days ago that she had last sat there by the water's edge with Natsu. She hugged her knees to her chest, the sun began to glare through the glass panes but she didn't mind.
She closed her eyes for a moment as she could see Natsu standing there by the water's edge waiting for her like he always did. She would run and bury herself deep into his chest as his arms wrapped around her. For her it was a warm safe haven that she could just melt into. She missed that feeling of being held in the boy's arms. It was a place she belonged. She would rest her cheek on his chest and feel his heart beat, a soothing motion that often put her to sleep.
"My lady?" she heard the soft voice of her handmaiden say as the door squeaked open. Lucy turned for a second to see Levy enter the bedroom before gazing back out towards the wood.
"Come in Levy," Lucy said quietly.
"My Lady you are not dressed yet?" Levy asked as she immediately glided over to a oak wood cabinet on the other side of the room. Lucy watched her fuzzy reflection in the glass tightening her grip around her legs. "Hurry your father is expecting you downstairs. One of his guests is due to arrive any moment now and he wants you to be prepared for their arrival."
Lucy didn't feel like getting dressed. All she could think about was Natsu sitting there in the dungeon in pain. The image of him the other night flashed in her mind's eye. His face dripping with blood, open gashes and wounds covered his half naked body. The sight of him collapsing as he fell from the horse into the dirt. She could feel a heavy weight on her heart as she reminisced about it. Now the boy was stuck in the dungeons, only the gods know what he must be enduring at that moment, and it pained her even more knowing there was nothing she could do to save him.
"I don't feel like going down there today Levy," Lucy sighed opening her eyes. She could see the small blue haired teen walking towards her with a beautiful silk white dress.
"Why? Are you sick my Lady?" Levy asked as she stepped up to the young blonde.
"I do feel a little ill," Lucy said as she gazed up at her handmaiden. She smiled sweetly at her.
Levy took a deep breath as she took a seat next to the princess. Lucy watched her with eyes of worry before they fell towards the window once more. Levy examined the princess carefully. She didn't appear to be sick, just a little depressed. She wondered what could be causing the girl so much grief. She had looked a little off ever since last night when they took the slave and the bandit down to the dungeon, but that couldn't be it. Lucy resented the slave more so than anyone in the kingdom, and the bandit was a man who had attempted to kill her only days ago. She wondered what it was that could be causing this strife.
"My Lady I don't mean to intrude," Levy said as she leaned forward taking the princess's hand in hers, "but your father expects you for breakfast any minute now. And you don't seem to be too ill to me. Maybe it would be better for you to get prepared as the king ordered. You don't want him to become upset again do you?"
Levy began to rub the blonde girl's hand hoping to sooth her and comfort her. She offered her a gentle smile, one that Lucy returned as well. Lucy had always found comfort in Levy that she could never find in anyone else. She was the only real friend apart from Natsu that she had. She could tell her just about everything, except her relationship with the slave boy.
"I know," Lucy moaned.
She sighed eventually giving in. Its not like she had much of a choice. She could see the persistent gaze in the eyes of her handmaiden as she reluctantly took the dress. She walked over to the corner behind a scarlet red curtain to change. Once she had finished she stepped out from behind the curtain and made her way to the makeup desk where Levy began to brush the young blonde's hair and tidy her up for the day.
"So my Lady do you know who your father's visitor is going to be?" Levy asked as she picked up and brush and began to stroke Lucy's long hair.
"I would assume King Duke of Juevelle," Lucy answered. "He is my future husband after all."
"I hear he's quite handsome," Levy giggled.
"But he's so old," Lucy groaned as she rested her chin on her palm. Levy sighed rolling her eyes as she pulled the blonde back so she could continue brushing her hair properly.
"He's only twenty my Lady. That's not exactly an age of the elderly," Levy retorted.
"I know," Lucy sulked.
"Come now, I'm sure once you get to know him you'll find out that he is a proper gentleman. His father was after all a man that preached peace and came to your father's aid in a dire circumstance. If he's anything like his father I'm sure that he'll turn out to be a great man," Levy said trying to reassure her.
Later Lucy made her way down stairs to the dinning hall where her father was awaiting her. There she could see him standing near the table with his advisors by his side, Iwan in particular. As she descended down the stairs she could see a foreign man she had not seen before, dressed in fine robes and surrounded by knights.
He was a tall man balding at the front of his crown but had long maroon colored hair that he kept neatly tied in a ponytail. He had a long scraggly beard to go with it. His skin was dark and tan, from hours he spent in the sun, and though it had become somewhat leathery it was still in a youthful stage. He may have been getting on in years but he stood as a man of respect and strength. His eyes were filled with a mixture of grace and ferocity.
"Lucy," she heard her father call as he beckoned her to him. "Come and say hello to our honor guest, Lord Neville."
Lucy walked up and curtsied at the king who bowed in turn. King Jude walked over to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. To be honest Lucy hadn't expected this man. She had never met him before, but she had heard that he was supposed to be a close friend of her father's. The two of them were pretty close, but she hoped that he was not there for her hand as well. The idea made her shutter, but she tried not to dwell on it.
"Lucy this is my old friend Jean-Luc Neville, ruler of Zentopia," King Jude said. "As you already know he is a very close and personal friend of mine, but he would prefer to spend his time in ruins than actually ruling his kingdom."
"It keeps me young my old friend," Jean-Luc laughed. "But look at you, Princess Lucy," he said smiling down at the young. "You're as beautiful and spry as your mother."
"Thank you my Lord," Lucy said appreciatively as she bowed her head.
"If I had a son I would be more than happy to combine our two houses like your father would have wished. But I fear that I am still not there quite yet. But I feel honored to be attending your wedding with King Duke," Jean-Luc said grinning at her.
Lucy breathed a sigh of relief. At least she wouldn't have to marry a man her father's age. Though she wouldn't put it past her father to try something, but the man's words brought her some ease.
"By the way I have brought you and your father some gifts," he said as he turned around and gestured for two of his knights to come forward.
The crowd grew interested, including Lucy. If it was a gift from the king it most certainly was something of grandeur. She just wondered what it could be. Jean-Luc and his nobles stood in her line of sight making it hard for her to see, but she could see two men of armor drag something from behind. When it finally came into view her eyes went wide as she saw two teenaged boys with their entire bodies chained, including their mouths.
One had pale blonde spikey hair and blue eyes. His skin was pale, and he had a long scar just above his right eye that stretched from his forehead down to the temple. On one ear dangled a small-jeweled earring. The other had long raven hair that covered half of his face, revealing only one red eye. He too was pale, but far more than his counter part. The two were of the same age and of the same height. They jerked around in their bonds rocking, and knocking the guards down.
"What's this?" King Jude asked as he examined the two boys over.
"Draconans my friend," Jean-Luc said patting King Jude on the back. "They are like the rumors of your own child of the dragons. They can transform into beasts as well."
Lucy gasped as she stared at the two teen boys currently tied up in chains. They looked fierce and there was something about them that was familiar to her. Something about them that she could see in Natsu; their eyes and the strength of body were similar, but they weren't the same as him. They were full of anger, rage and hate.
"And how long have you had such mighty weapons at your disposal my friend?" King Jude asked more than interested at this point.
"They were captured during one of my expeditions to the South," John-Luc answered. "They had just wiped out a large group of bandits when we found them. They didn't even appear all that exhausted from the fight, but after hearing about your dragon child I decided to take the opportunity to garner some of my own. But having heard your proposal I thought that they may be of better use here for now," Jean-Luc told him.
"Well than that would make our two countries the strongest alliance on the entire island of Fiore," King Jude said laughing happily. "Now come let us dine and take the time to catch up. Guards take these two slaves to the slave quarters where they will wait for me. I will take care of them after my morning business is complete."
Lucy watched as the other two Draconans were dragged off down a narrow corridor. They resisted every step of the way but the guard's pull was too strong for them to resist. She was not alone, she could see from the corner of her eye that Iwan was also watching them, a very interested look in his eyes. She felt a very cold prick in the pit of her chest. But she had known Iwan for so long and he had always been a nice man in her eyes. She shook it off believing it to be her imagination.