Natsu and Jellal had been traveling for three days before they were finally out of Konvern territory, and came upon an inn just a few kilometers from Mila. The two of them were ecstatic that they were finally out of the wilderness, Jellal more so than Natsu. He could finally eat something other than fish and berries for once, and perhaps enjoy a cup of wine while he was at it. Have a proper meal as it were, and hopefully a nice warm bed to sleep in instead of the itchy tall grass. But he could see that his Draconan companion was well off eating the basic foods, and he could tell that Natsu was more interested in arriving at Mila than he was sleeping in a cot.
The two of them trudged on heading towards the small building, night was fast approaching as the last light of the sun had almost set behind the surrounding mountains. It appeared run down, and if it were not for the few men standing outside drinking from cups of ale while their horses fed on hay and barley, they could have sworn it was abandoned.
It was nestled in a tree line near crossroads that led straight towards the gates of Mila, while the other road forked out into the woods. The building itself was mostly comprised of moss covered stone bricks, with a rickety water mill rolling along in a stream right next to the building. A stable stood far off, a little further into the trees, though the wood appeared to have been festering with termites and rot. The roof of the inn itself was no better, and the door was no more than a large piece of wood nailed into the wall.
As Natsu and Jellal walked forward the three men standing out front eyed them with sinister glares. Jellal could understand why, though they were nothing more than rags now; nearly torn to shreds, his clothes were still made of fine wool and cotton. He knew that if he wanted to keep attention away from himself, it would be best to ditch his clothes away as soon as possible. But for now, he needed a warm meal and cold drink.
Once they had stepped inside, Jellal realized that this inn was no better on the inside than it was on the outside. The wooden floors were nearly black from filth and lack of cleaning, the tables in the dinning room near the front counter were standing on their last legs and the men sitting at them had the same grimace glare as the other men standing outside. The fireplace cracked with a small flame, while a black cauldron hung above it. The stew inside was over boiling, as bubbles bean to overflow from the sides.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" the innkeeper hissed through a row of rotting teeth. One of his ghostly eyes was scarred shut, small patches of fuzz covered his grimy cheeks and grease soaked the rest.
"Yes, we would like to rent a room for the evening," Jellal answered as he pulled out a small bag of coins from one of his inner pockets.
The innkeeper eyed Jellal carefully, he glared at him, not trusting the boy, but he picked up the bag and turned it over, allowing the small golden coins within to fall onto the counter top. He used his finger to gather them all in a small pile, counting them before taking the payment he needed and handing the rest back to Jellal.
"I reckon you boys will want some supper as well?" he grumbled as he scooped the coins on the table into his hand.
"Yes please," Jellal answered as he picked up the other coins.
"All right then," the innkeeper said as he reached over and plucked one of the coins out of Jellal's hand. The young man looked at him quizzically, raising an eyebrow. "For the meal," the old innkeeper said as he held up the coin before placing it with the others.
Jellal sighed; rolling his eyes as he put the rest of the coins into the small bag and placing it back into his pocket. He gestured for Natsu to follow him as the two of them took their seats at a table nearby the fireplace. Somewhere where they could sit out of the sight of the other men in the inn. It wasn't long before an archaic elderly woman walked up and placed two plates of sausages, soggy cabbage, and some yellow paste like substance.
Natsu poked the yellow paste as it twitched under his finger. He shrugged as he picked it up with his fingers and threw it into his mouth. He began to chew on it, his teeth getting stuck together. Jellal stared at his plate for a few moments, wondering if the food was even edible, but the hunger pains in his stomach were enough to convince him to start eating. Jellal leaned over his plate frantically shoveling food into his mouth, slicing up his sausage as he chewed.
The elderly hag returned with a cup of win and set it by Jellal as she peered at him with disgust before walking away. Jellal grabbed the cup of wine, and in one gulp washed a mouthful of food down his throat. Natsu grabbed his own cup, sipping it as he watched Jellal.
Once they had finished Natsu sat back in his chair, rubbing his full belly in delight. Jellal sighed; feeling a bit nauseous after eating the rank food, or it could have been from eating it too fast. Either way, he didn't feel good, but at least it was something. He rested his head on the table as the stewardess brought him another cup of wine. He apathetically turned his head to see it sitting just inches away from his nose. With a grunt he pushed it away from him, making sure that it was out of eyesight.
It was in that moment that two men barged through the door. One of them wore a helmet with ram's horns painted on the sides, while another man with avian like features walked in behind him. Natsu stared at the two of them while most of the other men in the inn just ignored them. He thought they were funny looking men, almost like animals. It was a bit strange, but then again who was he to really say what was strange and what wasn't.
"Innkeeper, we request a room," the man with bird like beak for a nose shouted as they glided up to the front desk, "and some beer and food."
"All right, all right," the innkeeper grumbled as he walked up to the front counter, "hold your horses. You have to pay first before you expect any food or shelter."
"Fine old man," the man with the goatee said as he pulled out a purse. "Also, we have a slave chained up outside. How much for him to stay in the stables?" The man asked peering up from his bag.
Natsu twitched as he heard the mention of slaves. He glared over at the two men, sliding his chair back he stood up. Jellal reached over and grabbed his hand before the boy could take a step forward. He shook his head no as Natsu glared down at him. The boy seethed for a moment, eyeing the two men with a menacing glare. He took a couple of moments before he reluctantly sat down. He didn't like it, but he would listen to Jellal, at least for the time being.
"I don't like having slaves sleep out in the stables," the innkeeper grumbled. "Bring him in here, he can stay with the kitchen slaves for the night."
"Very well," the goateed man said as they slammed down a few coins onto the countertop. He motioned his head to his partner as the other man ran outside to retrieve the slave.
"You expect me to sit here and let them continue to treat a slave like he's cattle? After all we fought for back in Konvern. Now you want me to just sit by and do nothing?" Natsu growled.
"If you expect to sleep in a bed tonight," Jellal answered. "Wait till tomorrow, I don't want to be thrown out in the middle of the night, not when we're this close. It's an issue you can deal with tomorrow, so please try to endure it for now."
"Fine," Natsu grumbled. "We'll do it your way. For now."
When the other man returned to the inside of the inn he brought he dragged behind him a young Draconan man with long, black spikey hair. Both Jellal and Natsu's eyes went wide as they immediately recognized the young man as Gajeel. Gajeel woozily staggering forward, struggling to keep his balance while his body was completely wrapped in metal chains.
"Oi, what's that man all tied up like that?"
Natsu bolted to his feet as he knocked the chair over. Jellal was just as surprised as Natsu to see Gajeel there. Natsu found himself becoming overwhelmed with anger, and worry. Not for Gajeel, but the sight of the boy in chains made him wonder what had happened to Lucy. If those men had harmed her, he was going to roast them alive. It wasn't a threat either; he would roar flames at them right then and there despite what the others around him would see.
"Natsu?" Gajeel grumbled drearily. "What in the hells are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing," Natsu growled. He glided forwards straight towards the other two men who drew out their own swords. "Why are you here? Where's Lucy and the others?"
"Hey, why don't you take a step back boy, this here is our prisoner you're talking to," the avian faced man said as he lurked forward, he pointed his sword at Natsu.
Natsu leered at the two of them, hissing as streams of fire flared from his nostrils. The two men looked on with horror as they took a step back. They weren't the only ones, the other men in the inn were just as stunned. The two men held up their swords, their hands shaking as they watched Natsu approach them threateningly, seething to himself as his eyes beginning to slant as his flesh started to mold into scales.
"Get out," Natsu growled as fire erupted from his nostrils. The two men exchanged looks of worry, but they wasted no time as they bolted towards the door and out of the inn, leaving Gajeel behind.
"Hey!" the innkeeper barked. "I won't have you chasing away my customers! And don't be starting no fights either, or I'll have you thrown out! You hear me boy?"
But his words fell on deaf ears as Natsu bolted out of the inn, chasing after the men who had brought Gajeel in. Before either Jellal or Gajeel could say anything to him, Natsu was out the door and vanished into the night. He moved at such a furious speed that he was gone in the blink of an eye. Jellal sighed as he rubbed his forehead on his palm in annoyance. He stood up and walked over to the still tied up Gajeel. He examined the chains of the young teen removed some pins from his coat and unlocked the chains, causing them to collapse onto the ground.
"Should we go after him?" Gajeel asked as he rubbed his wrists once he was free. His eyes wondered over to the door where Natsu had disappeared.
"Yeah, I guess," Jellal sighed shaking his head. "If we don't catch up to him now he'll probably run all the way back to Konvern on us."
"Fine," Gajeel sighed agitatedly. "I guess you have a point."
"By the way, are the girls okay?" Jellal asked as the two of them left the inn. "What happened to you guys? Where are they?"
The two of them made their way back up the road. They couldn't see Natsu, but at the rate the boy was sprinting it really wasn't that much of a surprise. They didn't see the two slavers that had brought Gajeel in either, but they didn't care about them, their only interest was to find Natsu. It might be hard for them to do it in the night, but they were pretty sure that the boy couldn't have gone too far. Jellal wondered why the boy had to be so hot headed about the issue. He was just as concerned about Erza as Natsu was about Lucy.
"We were ambushed," Gajeel said, once they had stepped out into the night air. "There were at least a dozen men or so. They had us tied up, but they separated me from the girls. I was to be taken to the coliseum to be sold as a gladiator, but they said they were going to take the girls to Mila to be sold as slaves."
"What?" Jellal said in disbelief. "That means they're only a few miles away. How long ago did you set out?"
"A few days ago, but they had us ride horses, while they were on foot," Gajeel answered.
"Did they," Jellal hesitated to finish his though, and it made him sick to his stomach just thinking about it, but he had to ask. "Did they do anything to the girls? Did they violate them in any way?"
"Not that I saw," Gajeel said shaking his head, but he offered Jellal reassuring eyes. "I convinced them not to touch the girls in that way, or anyway for that matter. Said that they were virgins, and they would make more money selling them that way. It seemed to have work, the main leader bought the idea and he forbade the other bandits from going near the girls. But unfortunately, that was before I was dragged off, but I have met this man before, and trust me, he cares more about money than he does anything else, so they should be fine."
"Good," Jellal said under his breath as he breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, we should tell Natsu, hopefully that will calm him down. That is, if we can even find him."
"Natsu!" Gajeel shouted. "Natsu you stupid ass, get back here!"
The company Lucy and the other girls were with had been traveling almost nonstop for almost two weeks. They had left the wood several days ago to venture out into the rolling hills and over the mountains, making the journey that much more exhausting, though they carried on. The summer sun was becoming unbearable as it baked the surface of the Earth with hot rays. It was almost unbearable to withstand, but at least she was riding on a horse rather than walking like the soldiers. Though to her surprise, they didn't appear to mind the heat so much.
She had to change her dress, as did Levy. Erza wore her breast-plated armor, refusing to remove it. The girls had to wear some more common clothing, something more suitable for travel. Lucy didn't mind, it was just a white blouse and blue jeans for riding.
The mountains were rocky and steep, jagged ledges lined up most of the exterior. The horses struggled to carry the girls up the dirt pathway, but they trudged on anyways, and though Lucy felt like it be better that they walk; Gray and Erza insisted she stay on the horse. They winded their way along a pathway that followed the side of the cliffs; Lucy was a bit frightened by the height as she tried her best not to peer down, a sight that reminded her of when she looked down from the castle towers. Though the road hugged the side of the mountain, barely enough room for one man to walk along it, let alone a horse. Though it seemed that she was the only one that was uneasy about it.
She had asked them why they decided to take this route instead of going around the mountains. Gray told her that it was a faster and safer route for their company to take, since it was not well known and it kept them out of sight of the normal road. It provided them with cover, and it was a direct route to Magnolia, which he told her was just on the other side of the mountain range. She hoped that he was right, but it wouldn't take long for her to realize that he was..
They had managed to make it to the other side of the mountain, still high up on a cliff, but Lucy could finally see it. The magnificent city of Magnolia residing down in the green valley below. It was situated on the coast of the bay; she could see a large harbor full of ships traveling into the port. A large structure at the heart of it stood out amongst the other buildings, and though it took her a couple of moments she soon realized that it was a large cathedral, with towers of stone and a golden dome.
The buildings were tall, and made of limestone. A small river ran through the heart of the city, though she was too far away to see if there were any boats drifting in it. The rest of the surrounding valley was farmland with the same river, bending and weaving through the fields. There was a field of lavender growing at the bed of the river, in front of numerous fields of wheat, barely, and hay.
"Pretty spectacular isn't it?" Gray said to her as he stopped and admired the scene with her.
"Yeah," Lucy exhaled as she sat there on the horse while all the others pressed on.
As they entered the valley, the company of soldiers and girls traveled pass the lavender fields, Lucy couldn't help but notice how beautiful they were. It made her think of the lake, the flowers and the subtle surface of the water. For some reason they reminded her of Natsu, and the time they used to spend together when they were kids. She missed the warmness of his arms and body pressing up against her and the taste of his lips against hers.
Eventually they finally came upon the main gate of the city. To her amazement the gate had to be twice as large as the one they had back in Konvern, with two tall towers made of limestone on either side. When the gates opened it revealed the splendor of the city; buildings constructed of brick and roads made of stone and concrete. A river ran through the middle of the city with bridges of stone that while gondolas rowed in the water.
As they passed through the gate, Lucy could see children playing near one of the various bridges. Once they spotted the company of soldiers walking the children eagerly ran over to greet them. The bounced around asking the soldiers questions of where they had been and about their journey, but mostly they wanted to see the men's weapons and armor. Lucy smiled as one little girl, no older than five, came running over to her with a wide grin on her face, waving at the blonde as she passed on by. Lucy waved back, as she noticed more and more of the locals were coming to their windows and front of their stores and homes to see the returning soldiers.
She noticed that along the river resided a short wall made of stone, put there to help stop people from accidentally falling in. Cherry blossoms were planted every block to help shade the area, something that made the city that much more beautiful. The buildings were taller than most other buildings in cities, some as tall as seven stories, all made of stone and brick. The streets were clean, and unlike Konvern the streets were clean stone rather than mud. The air didn't smell of terrible here like back in Konvern.
They made their way down the road, until finally they came to the heart of the city where a large stone fortress stood out amongst all the other buildings. It was enormous, almost five city blocks on its own, but it stood isolated in, surrounded by a man made moat that encircled the outer wall. There were towers at every point, all as tall as the ones she had back at home, with an even larger tower situated in the center of it all, with a large clock made of stain glass windows near the peak. A drawbridge lay down allowing the company to pass over and into the fortress itself.
Once inside the fortress's courtyard, Lucy hoped off her horse as a few servant men took them over to a nearby stable. The other soldiers broke away from the main group as the wondered off to the side towards what appeared to be a barracks with other men awaiting them. They threw their things down and sat down to rest after their long journey. Lucy felt the soft touch of Levy's hand on her shoulder as she saw that Gray and Lyon were gesturing the girls to follow them into the main fortress itself.
Once inside, Lucy marveled at the splendor of the decoration and apparel of the fortress. It didn't appear to be a fortress at all, it appeared to be decorated in the fashion of an extravagant castle meant for a king. The floors were made of white polished, marble, ivory pillars stood erect along the walls, and glass chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The entryway was wide, with a marble staircase that led to higher levels, and polished oak railings.
As her eyes wondered around she noticed a tiny, elderly man gliding down the stairwell. He was a strange looking man, with a bald head that had silver hair jetting out of the sides in every direction. He had a small, white mustache underneath his round nose and gray skin. The one thing that stood out about his appearance was how tiny he was, not much taller than a young child. He wore a brass buttoned, black suit with white gloves. He had a wide, and friendly grin on his lips, a sight that made Lucy feel a bit more at ease.
"Master Makrov," Gray said bowing his head as the small man arrived at the bottom of the staircase, "may I present to you Princess Lucy Heartfilia, and her companions Levy McGarden and Erza Scarlett."
Both Levy and Lucy walked up and curtseyed to the old man in a polite manner while Erza simply bowed her head in the same manner as any other knight.
"Well now Princess Lucy of Konvern," Makrov said smiling widely at her, "it is an honor to have you, and your companions here in Magnolia. If there is anything that I can get for you, please do not hesitate to ask. You are welcome to stay here for as long as you like. That goes for the two of you as well," he said addressing Erza and Levy.
"Thank you," Lucy said bowing her head. "Your offer is too generous."
"And you," he said turning to Erza. "Why is such a beautiful young lady such as yourself wearing armor and carrying around a blade? Such a sight does not suit a woman such as yourself."
"I am Princess Lucy's guard, Master Makrov," Erza told him.
"A woman knight, eh?" Makrov said rubbing his chin. "I never thought I'd see the day. Well isn't that just splendid! If you want, you're more than welcome to join our ranks."
"Really?" Erza gasped in disbelief. "Thank you, my Lord."
"Ah, think nothing of it," Makrov said waving it off. "And don't call me Lord," He said sternly raising a finger at the red head. "I am no one's lord. I may help run Magnolia, but the people are the ones who rule here, not me. And besides, it's always nice to see some pretty young faces around here. Gray, could you please escort these young ladies to their accommodations? Take them to the special girl's housing please, you know the one? Make sure that they get settled, and bring them anything they need."
With that Master Makrov took his leave as he bounced back up the stairway and disappeared down on of the many corridors of the fortress. Lucy watched him as he left, thinking that the man was as strange as she thought he would be, but he seemed kind enough. She couldn't help but feel comfortable around the old man, he just had something about him.
"Yes sir," Gray said nodding his head. "Follow me ladies," he said leading them back out of the fortress.
"Wait, we're not staying inside the palace?" Lucy asked a bit perplexed as she followed the young man back out the entryway.
"This isn't a palace my Lady," Gray chuckled as he turned back his head so he could look at her. "This fortress serves as a military headquarter than a palace. It used to be, but that was a long time ago, back when Magnolia had it's own king. Now, we just rule ourselves, and Master Makarov serves as our leader. Though he has been contemplating retirement recently, but I'm pretty sure nobody in town wants him to."
"Oh, I see," Lucy answered.
The four of them made their way to the other side of the fortress as Gray led them up a stone road to what appeared to be a large house, situated between two larger apartment buildings. It overlooked the river from the back and it seemed to be well kept. There were flowerbeds outside each of the windows. It was about three stories high, made of yellow brick with a red roof.
"Well, here we go," Gray said as he stopped at the stone stoop that led up to the main door. "This is the guest housing that Master Makrov has reserved for our more,important, guests. Feel free to make yourselves at home, and if you need anything don't hesitate to ask. I'll be off at Fairy Tail Pub just down the road," he said pointing up the way they came.
"How will we be able to find it in case we do need you for something?" Levy asked.
"Don't worry," Gray answered with a chuckle. "It's just a couple of blocks up the road if you go straight. And trust me, there is no way for you to miss it. Enjoy yourselves ladies."
Lucy and Levy watched him as he strolled on down the road, Erza made her way up into the house. "You coming," she said as she opened the door. Levy and Lucy looked at one another before they too made their way inside.
The two girls gasped once they saw the interior. The walls were decorated with floral wallpaper, and the doors had hand carved white wooden molding outlying the floor and doors. The violet couches were made of satin, the other chairs were made of polished oak, and there were fine crafted oriental rugs lining the floors. The floor itself was made of wood, polished to the point that the light reflecting off of it was blinding. But what stood out more than anything about the room, was the view of the bay in the back that the girls had.
Lucy immediately rushed over to it to get a better glimpse of the view. She flung her body up to the white stone railing to get a better view. She noticed that the house was on a tall hill, and beneath her lied half of the city. But she was still on a high enough porch that she could actually see ships sailing out in the crystal blue water. Rocky cliffs encircled the bay, with a lighthouse on top of the one off to the far right. The buildings were made of stone, with red roof houses, and went as far as the beach. She had never seen anything like it before in her life, and it made her think of the lake back when she was younger.
"Natsu," she exhaled as she continued to gaze out to the city. A soft breeze began to blow by, causing her hair to wave gently in front of her eyes as she brushed it back with her hand. "Where are you?"