As the sun began to set; Lucy, Levy and Erza found themselves fastened tightly to a large tree in the middle of the forest. Their captures were busy rummaging through the packs they found on the horses, though they seemed rather agitated when they could find none. Gajeel meanwhile was tied up in chains at another large tree nearby the women, still unconscious. The attackers removed the arrows from his body, but they did nothing to bandage the wound. His jaw looked shattered as blood trickled down from his lips.
Levy looked at him with worry, hoping that the young Draconan would be all right. Erza on the other hand watched the men closely, there were about a dozen or so more. She did her best to keep her composure but she knew that the other two girls were concerned. She did not know what type of men these were, but she already knew that there wasn't something right about them.
"You find anything?" one of the men asked as the group watched two of their fellow bandits look through another empty bag.
"Nothin'" the bandit sneered as he threw the bag onto the ground. "It seems like the bitches ain't got nothin' of value ons 'em."
Two of the men broke away from the rest of the group. One of them walked over to Gajeel, while the other made his way over to the girls. Lucy turned her sight away; not wanting to look at this man. Levy did the same. Erza eyed him carefully, sliding her feet up so her knees were close to her chest. If the man tried anything, she should at least be able to kick him.
Once he was in front of them, the bandit knelt down so he was eye level with Erza. He had a sly smirk, on him, and unlike the other bandits he appeared more docile. He was tall, and broad. He was not that young, just out of his prime as his long, greasy strands of muddy hair dangled off his cranium. His skin, a light chestnut color, similar to the torn up rags he wore as clothing.
"Well, you ladies don't seem to have anything of value, at least, not on the horses," he said eyeing Lucy's neck. The blonde could sense him staring at her as she recoiled and looked away. She shut her eyes, wishing that she could wake from this terrible nightmare.
He reached over to her neck. "Leave her alone!" Erza snarled, glowering at him. He snickered as he plucked the pennant from her neck.
"No! Don't!" Lucy cried, but the man did not listen.
"What's this then?" he said eyeing the small metal dragon carefully. "A fancy little dragon pennant? Doesn't look that important." He gazed back down at Lucy, seeing the dishearten shimmer in her eyes. "But apparently it is, at least to you. It's not much, but it should fetch a penny or two."
"Give it back please," Lucy begged. "It was a gift from a friend, a friend I may never see again. It holds no monetary value to you, so please just give it back."
"Sorry, but it's mine now," the man snickered. The girl, growing ever more devastated. He looked at her one more time, curious he grabbed her hair.
"What— what are you doing?" she gasped as she recoiled under his grip.
The man lifted up her hair and began to sniff it. "Your hair smells like honey and some other fine fragrance," he said as he eyed it skeptically. "You must come from nobility eh?" he laughed. He then turned to face Erza and did the same with her hair and then Levy. "Well, it seems like we have three women of nobility with us. Now that is something special."
"Hey," the other man said kicking Gajeel's feet, "wake up already."
Gajeel stirred slightly in his spot, shaking his head. He could feel a heated sensation over take him as the blood stopped leaking from the open gashes from the arrows and his jaw. He shook his head as he finally came too.
"Well, if it isn't Gajeel Redfox," the man snickered. "I heard rumors that you were captured by Konvern Guard. What are you doing out in this neck of the wood? And with those three women, if I might add?"
Gajeel groaned, wincing in pain as he as he felt an immense amount of pain radiate from his arrow wounds. He shook his head clearing his vision to see the bandit standing over him. A man with long red hair, almond shaped eyes and pale flaky skin. He was a gangly man, his front two upper teeth were missing, leaving a wide gap between the other molars.
"So, it was you that attacked me, eh?" Gajeel sneered. "Well I appreciate the warm welcome, but if you would please, untie this ropes and let me go."
"Sorry mate, can't do that," the man answered, kneeling down so that he was eye level with Gajeel. "You see, you killed six of my men, and that red head bitch over there killed another. So, how I see it, you have a debt that needs to be paid. I can't just up and let you leave now can I?"
"You really are a bastard aren't you?" Gajeel growled.
"Speaking of which, you never answered my last question," the man snickered. "What are you doing with those three women over there? From what I hear, they appear to be of noble origins. Now, how can it be that a piece of shit bandit like you got involved with the matters of upper class ladies?"
"Well, after my entire gang was killed by Konvern knights, and I was captured. I decided to take up a job as a personal as bodyguard, slash escort. Since, you know, I have certain traits some people would deem, admirable."
"Oh, Gajeel, you really are a piece of work," the man laughed. "But you know, I never had a noble woman before," he said snidely, a creepy smirk crossing his lips, "I wonder what they taste like."
The girls cringed as they heard his words. Levy shuttered at the sight of his stare, while Lucy and Erza felt an overwhelming nausea overcome their stomachs. The blonde was so sickened she almost found herself tearing up at the thought of that man touching her. It didn't help that the other man snickered, licking his chops as his eyes wondered around their bodies.
"You won't lay a single hand on any of them," Gajeel snarled.
"Oh, really?" the man said raising an eyebrow. "And why is that?"
Gajeel thought about his next choice of words carefully, knowing that he couldn't say anything that would jeopardize the girls. "Because," he started to say as he bit his lip until he finally came up with an excuse. "Because they're virgins."
Each of the girl's faces lit up a bright scarlet red as they heard Gajeel speak. Erza's eyes going wide as she glowered at the Draconan teen. Lucy could feel her own face flushing so more than she had ever thought possible. She wished she could just disappear from it all. Upon hearing Gajeel speak, the other bandits burst into a fit of laughter.
"And how is that a bad thing?" the man asked through his fit of laughter. "I always like me a nice young virgin. That just makes it all the better. That means that they're untainted, and fresh." He licked his chops as he stared at the girl's with hungry eyes.
"But you would be a fool to violate them," Gajeel said quickly. The man turned to him with a quizzical glance. "Think about it? You're a slaver, and obviously you're going to sell them at the nearest market when you get the chance. Probably down south right?"
"Yeah," the man said nodding his head. He was listening to Gajeel with the utmost intent, though he didn't seem all that compelled by what the boy was suggesting.
"Selling them as high, up class girls, you'll make a small fortune," Gajeel continued. "But sell them as high, up class virgins? You could retire a rich man after just selling one, imagine selling three. You and I both know how the men of the south are, and they are willing to pay incredibly high prices for pretty girls. But they generally don't like to mingle with girls that have been tainted by bandits. How man other women's services could you buy with the money you'll make? Why throw it all away for just one night of pleasure?"
"Oh, to hell with that bastard Draconan!" one of the other men shouted. "I ain't have a good fuck in a while. And I had me eyes on the blonde ever since caught them. How do we know they're even virgins anyways? He could be telling us a lie to save the girls from being harmed?"
Lucy found herself shrinking in the ropes, her face as red as a blood. 'Why does he have his eyes on me?' she thought to herself. 'I know I'm pretty, but I don't want a man like that interested in me.'
"And what if he's telling us the truth?" the red haired man snarled. "We'd be a bunch o' fools to throw away good money we would make selling these cunts."
"We'd still make a good profit from selling them, even if they ain't virgins," the man retorted. "They be of noble blood right? A man would still pay a pretty good amount just to have one of those in his bed."
"Yeah, but we'd make three times as much if they were!" the red haired man bellowed. "And I ain't bout to lose a small fortune cause you feel like you need to wet your whistle! If you got a hankering, take it behind a bush, otherwise, shut your trap or I'll cut your tongue from your mouth. There ain't going to be no more discussion on the matter, I've already decided. Yomazu, Kawazu, get over here right now, I have a job for you two."
Two men stepped forward, one with long brown hair and poultry like facial appearance. He had a crooked, yet long beak like nose and gaping dark eyes. The other man was a little more on the heavy side, with short raven hair, but a square jaw and goatee. He wore a helmet with rams horns painted on the side. The two of them were the only ones that seemed to be wearing armor out of all the bandits in the group.
"Yeah?" the chicken man asked.
"The two of you, take Gajeel down south to the coliseum," the red headed man ordered. "Use his own horses to travel with, but be careful. He's a monster as you saw when he burned those fools alive, so avoid his mouth and keep him tied up at all times. Don't break his bindings for nothing, and don't ride on the same horse as him, otherwise he could very well kill you too. When you've done sold him to the coliseum, head a bit further south and we'll meet you in Mila."
"Yes sir," Kawazu answered as the two of them walked over to untie Gajeel from the tree.
"Why? You aren't going to deliver me to the coliseum yourself?" Gajeel said tauntingly as he stood up, though his arms still tightly bound to his sides. He began to think about burning the red headed man, but decided against it. He couldn't put the girl's at risk.
"I have to keep an eye out for our other profits," he said motioning to the girls. "Two should be enough to keep you at bay, as long as they have you bound. You ain't the one that's going to bring me in a bunch of coin or gold, Redfox. Them ladies are far more valuable than your worthless ass, but I suppose the coliseum would still pay a hefty price for a Draconan beast."
"Yeah, but I guess you feel safer to just get rid of me, eh?" Gajeel snickered.
A couple of other bandits brought over the horses as Yomazu and Kawazu lifted him up. They tied Gajeel's horse onto theirs' before they began to ride into the forest. Erza, Levy and Lucy watching them as they left. A bit of panic began to arise in Lucy's heart as she wondered what was going to happen to them, now that Gajeel was gone.
"What are we going to do now?" Lucy whispered over to Erza. The red head could hear the sound of worry in the princess's voice.
"Don't worry," the red head told her. "We'll be fine."
She wanted to comfort her and let the two of them know that they were going to be all right. Though she didn't know how true that really was. She was growing ever more concerned about what they were going to do. She had to admit, Gajeel was someone who could help her protect the other two. But now, she didn't know what she was going to do.
"Are you sure?" Levy said, a hint of freight was audible in her voice as well, as was the look of terror in her eyes. She couldn't help but quake in her seat.
"I'm sure," Erza told her with a reassuring smile. Though she knew that it was just a lie.
Later that night the bandits built a fire and started cooking some simmering meat as they all sat around the flame ready to eat. Before they dined most of them took the time to drink, becoming madly drunk. They laughed amongst themselves as they told stories of other jobs they had done, people they had robbed, and women they had spent the night with. Though it made the girl's sick to hear, it seemed like most of them were content on talking about the nights of passion they had.
Lucy found her face growing a bit pink as she could hear the men laughing, describing each and every riveting detail. She squirmed as she heard about one man's particular visit to the shores of the far west. She couldn't believe that women would degrade themselves into doing some of the things these men claimed they did. She couldn't believe that they would honestly use their mouths, and tongues in such a vile manner, in such a vile part of the body. The mere thought of it was revolting, but then she wondered if Natsu would like to try some of those things.
She shook her head like mad as she perished the thought. Her face growing ever more read, feeling embarrassed about her thoughts. Natsu wouldn't want to try and do anything that disgusting. Would he? No of course not, he wasn't like that, he didn't have such perverted desires. Or did he?
Erza could sense the distraught in Lucy as she asked her what was wrong. The blonde shook her head, smiling awkwardly telling the red head that it was nothing. She felt a little ashamed of herself, but then the image of her and Natsu doing those things flashed in her mind again as she desperately tried to shake them out.
One of the men stood up and walked towards them in a drunken stupor, staggering forward as he leered at them with hungry eyes. He licked his lips as Erza flinched under his glare.
"He says I ain't supposed to touch you," he man slurred as he fell forward, taking another chug of alcohol from his jug. He slouched in front of Erza, eyeing her with a seductive glare. "I like your hair, it reminds me of a this ruby I was stole off a man. Slit his throat, ear to ear," he said drunkenly. He held the jug up to her face, the stench of the strong liquor within was too much for her. "Why don't you take a sip there dearie? It will relax ya."
"No," Erza said shaking her head as she tore her lips away from the top of the bottle.
"Come now, don't be like that," the man chuckled. "It will make you calmer, I promise. And it will make this all a lot easier."
"She said she doesn't want it," Levy snapped, but she recoiled under the weight of her own words as she looked away.
"What'd you say to me?" the man growled as he stumbled over to her. Levy kept her eyes down, doing her best to avoid him. "I asked you what you said to me cunt?" he said growling even more angrily than before. "What? Do you want to be fucked instead, cause I can make that happen? You're a bit small for my taste, ain't got any tits on ya, but I think I can deal with that. It's all pink on the inside."
He leaned in closer to Levy, she recoiled under the stench of his foul breath. She closed her eyes, leaning her head as far away as she could, but her bonds made it impossible. She was growing sick, feeling the man's rancid breath huff heavily against her naked neck. It made her shutter to think that the scoundrel was this close to her.
"Leave her alone!" Erza yelled as she wiggled her leg free enough to kick the man in the side, sending his sideways into the dirt.
"You bitch!" he cried as he tottered back up to his feet. He fumbled around for the sword he had sheathed on his hip. "I'm going to gut you for that!"
He finally managed to unsheathe his sword, though it fell from his hand. He was too drunk to even hold his own weapon. But as he picked it back up he glowered over at Erza who sat lifting her leg up, ready to repel him when she needed to. Before the man could even raise his sword he let a blood-curling howl of pain before falling forward into the ground, revealing that he had been shot in the back with an arrow.
"What's going on!?" the red headed man from earlier cried as he stood up to see his dead comrade.
Before any of the bandits had a chance to react when the woods filled with the sound of hoof beats, as soldiers on horseback came riding into the camp. A barrage of arrows rained in from all directions as half the bandits fell to the ground dead, while the survivors were still trying to get over their shock. One man in bluish armor came ridding in swinging his sword down, decapitating the red headed bandit as he rode by. Another man in white armor came in from the other side, cutting down two bandits with him as he rode by.
The bandits attempted to fight back, but only a few of them were still on their feet, a couple of them trying to hold up weapons to repel the on coming assault. The knight in blue armor ran down one of the bandits, knocking away his opponent's weapon a he slashed open the bandit's chest. The other knight swung his own sword down, slicing down two of the last remaining bandits before a last few arrows came in to finish the rest.
After about a minute, the battle was done as all the bandits laid dead in the dirt, their blood soaking the dirt beneath them. The two men on horseback continued to ride around checking for survivors, yet it seemed that none of them remained. Once it was clear several archers lurked out of the darkness and entered into the fire's light. They wore bluish cloaks, the hoods of which veiled the their faces in the cover of darkness.
Lucy began to grow a bit more frightened as she wondered who these new soldiers were. From the looks of it, they were wearing armor and uniforms. That was a good sign, meaning that they were certainly not bandits like the other men, but still. She wondered if they could be from an enemy country. She knew that were certainly other dangerous men that wondered the world other than bandits and thieves.
The blue knight approached the three of them, Lucy felt her heart racing as she saw him coming closer. Once he was a couple of meters away, he jumped down from his horse and removed his helmet. He had short, shaggy raven hair and dark eyes. He was young, just around Lucy and Natsu's age. He had a serious grimace on his face, but he appeared friendly enough. He wasted no time as he walked over, and with his sword he cut the rope freeing the girls.
'Thank you," Erza said as she stood up and stretched out her back. She felt relieved to be free of her bonds.
"Yes, thank you," Lucy said as she too stretched out her own back.
"No problem," the young man said as he sheathed his sword. "You're lucky we found you when we did. We've been tracking this particular group of bandits for nearly a month, now it's good to have caught up to them. Are all of you okay? They didn't hurt you did they?"
"No, we're all fine," Lucy answered. "By the way, what is your name, and if you don't mind, could you tell us who do you serve?"
"My name is Gray Fullibuster of Magnolia," the young man answered. "And over there is my brother, Lyon. I serve in Magnolia under Makarov, but my brother serves in Lamia. Don't worry, we have no intent to harm any of you, we're just here on a job."
His words brought comfort to Lucy, as she breathed a sigh of relief. She felt safe now under their care. Erza on the other hand made her way to the camp with the others while Levy ran over and embraced Lucy in a tight hug. The two of them exchanged happy grins before they followed Gray back to the others.
Once at the camp, Erza went rummaging around until she found what she was looking for. Her sword and breastplate lay near the fire with some other stolen materials.
"Excuse me," Lyon said as he walked over to her. "What do you think you are doing?"
"Taking my things," she said a she threw the breastplate on. "I hope that isn't a problem?" she said sternly.
"Very well," Lyon sighed as he walked back over to Gray. "Brother, who are these women?"
"I don't know," he said turning back to face Lucy and Levy, "who are you anyways?"
"My name is—" Lucy hesitated, not wanting to give up her real name. She maybe safer with this company, but she still didn't know just how much she could trust them. It was probably better to keep her identity a secret. "My name is Lucy, daughter of a nobleman back in Nivit. My friend here is Levy, she too is the daughter of a nobleman back in Nivit."
"Really?" Jellal said skeptically as he eyed the two of them carefully. "Okay."
"Hold on a moment," Lyon said as he stepped forward, he leaned in so he could expect them better. The faint light of the fire was not enough for him to get a clear look at their faces. "You say you are from Nivit?"
"Yes sir," Lucy said nodding her head. She began to grow a little anxious.
"I thought the people from Nivit had darker skin, and hair. You and your friend both have to pale a skin."
"We were not originally from there sir," Lucy said hastily. "We moved there when we were children. There was better investments for our fathers in Nivit."
"And what did your father do?" Lyon asked folding his arms across his chest. He eyed her seriously. The girl could see in his eyes that he knew she was lying.
"They were bankers sir," Lucy answered softly, avoiding his gaze.
"Bankers?" Lyon burst into a fit of laughter. "Well it's no wonder the bandits wanted your heads! I say, bankers? Those are the real criminals," he continued to laugh as he walked away. "Oh, well. Fetch these girls some food and water, they must be hungry after their ordeal. And hurry up and burn the bodies, we can't linger in these woods any longer. The smell of dead flesh should attract the wolves."
"Don't mind him," Gray said as he offered the two of them a friendly grin, "he's not that bad of a guy once you get to know him. But don't get to know him too well, otherwise he'll drive you insane. I swear, one of these days I'm going to stick a knife in him. Now come on, let's get you girls some food, you must be famished."
Natsu and Jellal ran as fast as their feet could carry them further and further into the woods. Dark was coming, and before long they wouldn't be able to see, so they had to make sure that they crossed the stream before then. They could hear the sounds of dogs barking off in the distance, but Natsu could tell their pursuers were getting closer. Suddenly they came upon a cliff, below was the stream that Jellal had mentioned earlier, only it wasn't a stream, it was rushing river.
"Shit," Jellal swore under his breath. "What should we do now?"
"Jump," Natsu said as he grabbed Jellal by the arm and pulled him forward.
"What? Natsu, no, no, no" Jellal yelled, but it didn't help. He and Natsu plunged from the top of the cliff down to the rapids below.
The two of them fell hard into the water, Jellal's feet missing the bottom by only a few inches before they two of them resurfaced. Natsu struggled to stay above water as his arms waved frantically in the air. Jellal ducked under the surface, latching onto the pink haired Draconan before he swam the two of them to the opposite bank. Once there he collapsed, breathing heavily along with Natsu, but he didn't waste any time getting back to his feet.
"Why do you insist on making us jump from tall heights?" Jellal gasped angrily. "I think you might want to actually get yourself killed.
"Don't you nobles ever have any fun?" Natsu chuckled through his wheezing.
"And what was that?" Jellal said as he helped pick Natsu up off the ground. "Can't you swim?"
"No," Natsu said raising an eyebrow at him, "what makes you think that? I grew up a slave, it's not like they had a recreational pool for us."
"Then why the hell did you force us to jump off a cliff into a river?" Jellal cried in disbelief. "Don't you ever think?"
"Nope," Natsu answered shaking his head.
"Of course," Jellal sighed rubbing his temples. "Come on, that should have caused the dogs to lose our scent, but we have to keep heading south. We'll hit Mila in a couple of days if we hurry."
"What's in Mila?" Natsu asked as he followed Jellal further into the forest.
"Horses, weapons, and safety," Jellal told him. "Mila isn't exactly friendly with Konvern, or most of Fiore in general. We should be safe there, and it will give us a chance to grab some supplies and horses for the trip to Mila."
"How long will the journey from Mila to Nivit be exactly?" Natsu asked as he continued to run.
"Several days, maybe two weeks," Jellal told him. "Though that depends on the amount of time we spend traveling."
Natsu didn't like that answer. He hated that he would have to wait two weeks to see Lucy again. He prayed to the gods that she would be kept safe, and that she would be protected while she was there. He knew that Jellal told him that Erza was more than capable, and from what he had seen from the woman, he had a strong feeling that the young man was right. Though the more he focused on it, the more he felt his legs moving faster as his speed quickened. He went into a full on sprint, as he passed Jellal, and hurtled himself further into the wood.
"Natsu!" Jellal called after him. The boy stopped as he heard his name, realizing that he was completely lost in his own thoughts.
"Sorry," the young teen said as he came sliding to a stop. The sun had already begun to set as Jellal came to a stop. "I guess I kind of fazed out for a second."
"Don't worry about it," Jellal said as he lurched over huffing for some air. He didn't realize just how tired he really was. "It's getting dark, we should find a place to camp for the night."
Natsu walked over to a tree, breaking off a branch right before he used his breath to ignite the leaves, creating a torch. "Here take this," he said handing the branch over to Jellal before breaking off another branch for himself. "We can use these to guide us through the night for now."
The two of them used the light to help guide them through the darkening wood. Eventually they came upon a small clearing full of tall grass. "We'll rest here for the night," Jellal said as he laid down.
The two of them lied down in the grass near each other, closing their eyes. Natsu felt his eyes growing heavy, it just hit him that he was incredibly tired. It didn't take long for sleep to take him. Jellal on the other hand struggled to get comfortable. He was far too used to a warm bed with sheets and blankets. But for now he knew that he couldn't be too choosy. He lay there restless, until eventually sleep over took him as well.