After a day of traveling, Duke's army decided to set up camp in the open fields for the night. A rather large tent was raised up in the heart of the camp that was set up for the young king and his company. Luxurious rugs and furs were laid on the ground as banners of Junelle hung on the fabric walls. A large mahogany table sat in the center with a large map resided on the top of it. Twenty men in armor and silk capes stood around as Duke stood at the head of the table with Ivan by his side.
As soon as the meeting was done the rest of the men left the tent, leaving Duke and Ivan behind. Duke for the most part was tired; he bid Ivan a good night before he too left for the evening. Ivan stood there in the tent alone, waiting until he was sure that no one else was going to come back before he sat down. He began to hum to himself closing his eyes. He could feel a gust of wind blow by him, as the flaps of the tent shook violently.
When Ivan opened his eyes there was a dark figure standing in front of him, a man hidden behind a dark, black cloak. The tattered ends swaying in the wind, as his face was engulfed in the shadow of his hood. His entire person was concealed behind the black veil, as a foul odor was omitted from him. A stagnant smell that caused Ivan's noise to scrounge up.
"You summoned me, Ivan?" the black figure croaked. His voice like dry sand blowing in the desert, yet cold as tundras.
"Yes, I did—"
"Do not speak my name Ivan," the figure said in a blood curling shrill as he held out his hand to stop the noble. "Tell me what it is you want from me this time and I shall see what I can do. That is, if the price is right."
Ivan looked up at the cloaked man, feeling a cool breeze blow through him, like ice crystals forming in his veins.
Ivan reached into his pocket and tossed out a sack of coins. He peered back up at the black cloaked figure, who had just glided over to the part of the table where the bag was tossed. As he came closer, a frosty gust seemed to go along with him, as Ivan felt the blood in his vein start to crystalize. The black figured picked the bag up, twirling it in his hand before opening it. He poured out some gold coins into his open palm, staring at the glistening metal before ultimately tossing them back at Ivan.
"Do not think me so shallow as to expect gold as payment for what you seek?" he hissed raising a bony, black finger. "I have plenty of gold in case you have forgotten."
Ivan recoiled as the figured drew closer to him, his black cloak fluttered violently with each and every step he took, but to Ivan it looked like his visitor was floating in the air. The horrible stench grew that much fouler as he saw a centipede crawl out from the sleeve. It curled itself around the black finger before crawling back into the blackness of the man's cloak. The old noble winced as he watched it disappear. It was only then that he noticed spiders and several other bugs began to crawl out from underneath the cloaked figure.
"Well, what is it that you want?" Ivan asked as straight forward as he could, lifting his legs in the air as the spiders and other insects crawled under his chair. He kept his head up, but the chill in the air was soaking deep into his skin. He felt like his own bones were being frosted over.
"Depends on the task," the cloaked man answered with a icy cowl. "Tell me what it is you want, and I will tell you the payment."
"I want you to return the Draconan boys to me. All five of them," Ivan answered, his tone of voice serious and stern. "I need them for my plan."
The cloaked figure cocked his head and laughed a bitter shriek. "Is that all? Ivan, you poor deluded fool. I am not some petty delivery boy who goes out and kidnaps children as they slumber in their cozy beds during the night," the cloaked man answered. "I am a wizard, and a powerful one at that. I control the dragons, and their vast wealth. Do not think me so petty to go out and do some simpleton's job. If you want the children back under your care, than send someone more suited for the task."
"Then can you at least lend me your dragons?" Ivan insisted. "No army could stand against the force of a dragon. We all know that. With them I should be able to crush any of my foes with ease."
"The dragons stay in the Draconan land," the black figured cried. "I only have enough power to restrict them to their own country, but no more than that, for they are beyond even my power. Dragons in their own nature are very powerful magically, and to even control them the way I've had has been no easy task. If I were to break the curse long enough I could never control them again. The results of which could be devastating on this world."
"I never figured you for one that cared about the well-being of the world," Ivan mumbled as his eyes frantically searched around the floor to insure that it was safe for him to place his feet on the ground.
The cloaked man's head snapped forward as he spoke, "Do not mistake my inaction for kindness Ivan," he bellowed. "I have my own reasons for not wanting to see this world scorched to a black wasteland. No man wants to see the world in ruins, at least no man with half a brain in his skull. And I cannot say the same for your king," he hissed as his head reared to the front of the tent. "There's no value in a damaged and ravished world Ivan. Only a fool would assume so much."
"If not gold than what is it that you want?" Ivan asked.
"I have no need for gold or jewels, Ivan," the cloaked man answered. "I have no need for such trivial things for they are nothing more than rock and stone. There are far more important things in this world than treasure."
"Than why take all the Draconan wealth for your own?" Ivan asked perplexed.
"My reasons are my own," the man said waving it off. "But know this Ivan. Magic always, always, comes with a price. If you want my help to get what you want, and I know precisely what it is you seek, than contact me when you have something that would interest me. Otherwise, I will not be so polite the next time you decide to summon me."
"Ivan!" a voice called out as Duke reentered the tent. He saw the older noble sitting at the head of the table, his eyes immediately bolting towards the young king's direction. "I've been looking everywhere for you. What are you still doing here?"
Ivan looked back to where the cloaked man had been standing, only to realize that he had vanished. There was nothing left, not the foul odor, not the chill in the air. All trace of him had gone. Ivan just shook his head as he looked back to the young king.
"Sorry," he said standing up. "I was just pondering over some things. There's no need to worry about me. Just got lost daydreaming again."
"All right then, come along, the cooks have just prepared our supper for the evening," he said before leaving.
"Yes, your Grace," Ivan said as he followed him.
"Remember Ivan," he heard a crude voice whisper behind him, "magic always comes with a price. But, will you be willing to pay it when the time comes?"
Ivan whirled around to see nothing but the empty tent behind him. A crackle of a cold howl echoed in his ear as a burst of frosty air struck the older noble causing him to shiver. He wasted no more time before he ran out of the tent after the young king.
The small company that had just left Nirvit had not been traveling on the road for long, but Natsu could just feel the distraught radiating from Wendy just behind him. She road on her horse behind the other three young men, keeping her head down as she sat slumped over on her saddle. Natsu peered back as he decided to slow down his own horse so that he could ride up next to her. He could see that she was most likely not interested in striking up a conversation with anyone at the current moment, but Natsu thought he should go for it anyways.
"Hey," Natsu asked in a friendly voice as his horse came up by her. He did his best to offer her his most courteous and friendly grin. "Is everything all right?"
Wendy did reply with a word, just a loud sobbing moan. He could see her pouting underneath her hood, but the rest of her face was concealed in the shadow. He could not see her eyes, so Natsu leaned his head down to get a better look. The girl just turned her head away from him, as her lips quivered with sorrow. Natsu figured the girl must still be upset about her sudden departure from her home and family. He understood the feeling all too well, but maybe he could offer her a pair of ears for her to express herself.
"You can talk to me," Natsu said persistantly. "If there's anything you need, anything you want just tell me. I'm more than happy to do it for you."
"I want to go home," the girl whimpered. Natsu could see a single tear fall down her cheek, soaking her soft pale skin.
Natsu bit his lip not knowing how to respond. The girl looked up at him with moist eyes seeping through the shade of her hood. The boy's heart dropped a bit as he had never seen such a sorrowful expression before. He wanted to tell her that they were going to be all right, that everyone was going to be all right, and before she knew it she would be back home in Nirvit with her family once more. Though he could not fathom how long that would take. But ultimately he just did not know what words he could say that would bring the small child some comfort.
"I'm sorry," he sighed, realizing there really wasn't anything that he could say. "But I promise that Jellal and I will take care of you for now. And hopefully soon you'll be able to go back home when there isn't any danger."
"What about him?" Wendy asked pointing toward the black haired Draconan.
"Who Gajeel?" Natsu said raising an eyebrow as he peered at the other teenaged Draconan before looking back at her. "He's useless."
The girl snickered a bit at the remark while Gajeel's ears perked up at the mention of his name. He glared back at Natsu who just smirked slyly at him. Gajeel lifted his fist into the air as it was Jellal's saw him motion from the corner of his eye. He raised an eyebrow at the two teens before shaking his head at the two of them. He slowed his own horse down so that he came between Natsu and Wendy, cutting the boy off from the young girl.
"What are you doing?" Natsu asked befuddled.
"Making sure you don't corrupt the poor girl with anymore of your stupidity," he answered. The young girl giggled at the remark as it was now Natsu's turn to get a bit upset. Gajeel on the other hand continued to stay up in front of the group, not bothering to care about what was going on with the other three behind him.
For the better part of their journey it seemed as though they travelled alone. There was nothing on the road as they passed by acres upon acres of farms comprised of wheat, barely, and various vegetables. There were a few animals that strode by but for the most part there was no one. They made camp as soon as sun began to set; making sure to stay off the road.
The three young men ate their meals of porridge and bread while Wendy sat nearby the fire quiet as a mouse. She sat on a log in front of the fire, her hood still downing her brow despite the night. She hardly even touched her supper as Jellal watched her with a worried gaze. The girl just poked the brown, pussy substance with her spoon while she sat there in solace.
Jellal turned his gaze over to Natsu as the two of them were thinking the same thing. They just didn't know how to cheer the girl up. Gajeel on the other hand scarfed down his meal before rolling over to his side and fell asleep. Jellal walked over and took a seat on the log next to her.
"How are you holding up?" he asked the small girl.
"Okay, I guess," she sighed in a hushed voice. Not looking up at Jellal. She had been melancholy all day, and it was no surprise to him that she was still a bit upset. He hugged her, bringing her in close as she rested her head against his chest and closed her eyes. It wasn't long before she too fell asleep. Jellal stroked the girls hair until he was certain that she had taken to slumber. He waited as Natsu lay down a cot near the fire before Jellal placed her on it.
After that Natsu took to his own bed leaving Jellal alone. The young noble sat there on his own, gazing up at the stars. He began to think about Erza as he hoped that she was okay. Then again he should probably be more concerned for those that were around Erza more so than the girl herself. Though he figured that she should be okay. Knowing that he felt a bit more comfortable and found his own eyes growing a bit heavy. It wasn't long before sleep took him as well.
The next morning Natsu was stirred awake as he felt a foot press up against his hip, shaking him awake. He moaned out loud as he sat up, half expecting it to be Gajeel or Jellal telling him that he needed to hurry up and get ready for them to continue on their travels. To his surprise it was neither of his two companions, but instead a tall man with spikey blonde hair and a scar over his right eye that stood over him.
The man wore a silver suit of armor, along with a cotton top cape that hung loosely around his shoulders. He leered down at Natsu with a scowl as two other men stood behind him: one man with long mossy hair and pale skin, the other covered in armor, but wore a helmet that concealed his face.
"Shit," Natsu cursed under his breath as he stood to his feet. Surprisingly the blonde haired man did not unsheathe his sword, but instead allowed the boy to stand.
Jellal and Wendy were stirred awake by two soldiers who Natsu could only assume were with the blonde haired man. He looked over to where he known Gajeel had gone to sleep only to see that his cot was empty. Natsu grumbled to himself as he half expected that Gajeel just up and left the three of them instead of giving them a warning.
"What's going on here?" Jellal asked, as he was pulled up to his feet by two soldiers. "What's the meaning of this?"
"Doesn't matter," Natsu said as he felt the sudden rush of flame burst within himself. He fond his eyes slitting forward, making his vision that much more clearer, and his fingers slowly morphing into claws. He didn't care who it was, but he was ready for a fight. "If they want a fight, I'll give them a fight."
Wendy clutched onto Jellal's leg, hiding herself behind him as the young noble stepped forward and grabbed Natsu by the shoulder. He knew the boy was more than eager to engage in conflict, but that was something Jellal was hoping to avoid. He couldn't risk doing anything rash while Wendy was with them, even though he knew that the girl could probably take care of herself if the moment called for it. But for now, he much rather insure that everyone leave this confrontation in one piece.
Natsu glared back at him, Jellal shaking his head urging the boy to calm down. Reluctantly, Natsu complied a she hand slowly turned back to normal, as did his eyes. But the burning in the pit of his gut would not go away. That much he kept locked in just in case he had to do something drastic fast.
"Tell me," the blonde haired knight folding his arms over his chest, "what are two foot soldiers from Nirvit doing out here this far away from the city? And traveling with a young girl among things?"
Natsu assumed this man must have been the leader of the group. He did not answer, when it came to diplomacy that was Jellal's department. For Natsu when the time came for him to ravage some people and claw his way out of a bad situation, than that would be the time he was needed. Instead he felt the small hands of Wendy clasp at his elbow as she hid behind him, watching as Jellal approached the blonde knight.
"My name is Jellal, and this is Natsu," he said motioning to the pink haired boy. "We're not from Nirvit, but we are friends of Lord Robaul and we are escorting this girl to Magnolia."
"And who is this girl?" the blonde knight asked as he took a step towards Wendy.
The young girl gasped as she did her best to stay behind Natsu. The boy on the other hand found his burning stagnation growing that much more powerful as he leered at the man before him. Like a dog protecting it's master Natsu stood between the girl and the man without budging an inch. He would not allow any harm to befall her. Fortunately, Jellal managed to step in-between them right before Natsu became violent.
"I don't see how any of that is your business," Natsu hissed.
"Seeing as how you are taking this girl to my country, it is my business," the blonde knight barked back.
"Well I don't see how that matters," Natsu growled.
"That's because you're an idiot," the blonde knight grumbled as he turned back to face Jellal. "My name is Laxus, Captain of the Magnolia Guard and grandson of Makarov. And who exactly are the three of you?"
"As I already said I am Jellal," the young noble answered. "Jellal Fernandes, son of Faust and former Hand of King Duke. This is Natsu of Konvern. Lord Robaul is a friend of mine, he asked me to escort his adopted daughter to Magnolia where she will be kept safe from the oncoming attack by King Duke."
"Jellal Fernandes?" Laxus scoffed in disbelief. "What is a son of such high born class doing out here, dressed is the garments of a common soldier?"
"As I said, I am escorting the Lord's adopted daughter to Magnolia for her own safety. Have you not heard of Duke of Junelle's current affairs?" Jellal asked him.
Laxus took a deep breath as he stared at Natsu and Jellal. "I think we should discuss this in private," he said turning his back to them.
Jellal followed him as Natsu stayed behind with Wendy. He made sure to safeguard the girl as he watched the other soldiers encircle the two of them. Several of them had their pikes and swords directed at him. He snarled, keeping Wendy close. His eyes fell on the mossy hair man who, unlike the others, did not wear a suit of armor, but rather a long maroon, double-breasted coat that reached down to his knees. A large black belt with a golden buckle was tightened around his skinny frame, as well as a sword latched to his waist. His eyes were a greenish-blue color as he leered at Natsu, but otherwise did not say a word.
Meanwhile Jellal and Laxus walked away from the group and did not stop or utter a word until they were out of earshot.
"So, tell me why is it you decided to attack a small group of innocent bystanders as they sleep, Captain of the Magnolian Guard?" Jellal asked as he scowled at Laxus.
"We've been out looking for two teenagers who were rumored to be wondering the western lands causing all kinds of mischief," Laxus answered. "According to our sources, they were two Draconan teenaged males, one with black hair, the other blonde."
"I did not know Magnolia was granted such authority to have jurisdiction in other country's territory?" Jellal said.
"Well, than I guess you did not know that we were given such authority by Nirvit and her neighbors to wonder around the western regions to find the two young men," Laxus snapped back.
"Yeah, well for all you know they went north or south," Jellal retorted. "But that still doesn't answer m question as to why you and your company felt it necessary to attack me and my friends?"
"I wouldn't go so far as to say we attacked you."
"You see those long sticks and pieces of metal with the pointy ends you have aimed at my comrade? Those are called weapons, and generally you direct them at people you don't like, or trust, because it implies a threat. And as I recall, it is neither Magnolia's, nor any country's custom to greet unprotected strangers with such actions. That is unless Magnolia has completely changed her customs since last time I've encountered one of her countrymen?" Jellal said sarcastically.
Laxus leered at him before calling out, "Men lay down your arms. They are harmless." Reluctantly the men did as they were told, but for the most part they did not sheath them. Natsu didn't trust them either way. "Are you happy now?" he grumbled.
"No," Jellal said condescendingly as he shook his head. "That still doesn't explain your actions?"
"Fine," Laxus sighed. "We've been traveling for a week in search of the two Draconans, but unfortunately they seem to have gone. However, we've had heard other rumors about two more Draconans who had escaped from Konvern; one with spikey pink hair, and the other with long black hair. Two of your friends seem to match that description pretty well."
"Shit," Jellal cursed under his breath. "So what do you want with them?"
"Nothing, our only charge was to bring them back to Magnolia, but seeing as how that is the destination of your journey, it would appear that we are in mutual benefits," Laxus answered.
"I think your time would be better spent if you travled to Nirvit," Jellal rebuked. "Lord Robaul is about to be assaulted by King Duke's army any day now. As his ally, you would be better serve there than taking us to a country we are already traveling to."
"I have not heard any word of this from my grandfather," Laxus confessed. "What do you know? How large is the army that Duke sends to Nirvit?"
"I do not know how many men he is bringing with him to Nirvit. All I know is that he now has the combined forces of Konvern and Jean-Luc's men at his whim as well. My guess is that he will bring a few thousand men to Robaul's walls for the assault," Jellal said.
"That is discouraging news," Laxus sighed. "Nevertheless, on my grandfather's honor, and the honor of my country I have no choice but to go and supply them my aid in a time of conflict."
"So, what do you plan on doing with us?" Jellal asked.
Laxus eyed him carefully before looking back up at Natsu and the others. He took a deep breath before he answered. "You are free to go Jellal, you and both your companions. I will see what I can do in Nirvit, but if you see my grandfather can you pass on a message to him for me?"
Natsu watched on from afar as he saw Laxus lean in closer to Jellal, whispering something in his ear. The young noble nodded his head before the two of them turned back and headed to the group. Natsu watched as the two men made their way back in silence.
"Men pack up your things and make ready," Laxus ordered. "We are heading to Nirvit."
"Yes sir," the men said in unison as the sheathed their swords and walked away. The mossy haired man bowed his head accordingly as he led the way for the others.
Natsu and Wendy watched them as they went. Natsu still kept the girl close to him as he glowered at each and every passing soldier. Wendy just breathed a sigh of relief as she began to regain herself after being so worried about their safety. But she was certainly happy to have Natsuj be the one to safeguard her. She had a strong feeling in her heart that she could definitely trust the young dragon. And as long as she was with him, she felt safe.
"Sorry about that," Laxus said as he stepped closer to Natsu, Jellal following right behind him. "You can't be too cautious out in these parts, but I won't do anything to harm you or your friends."
"Whatever," Natsu grumbled.
Laxus just raised an eyebrow and chuckled to himself before he bid the trio a farewell and left with the rest of his men. Natsu made sure to continue to keep a stern eye on all of them, as he watched Laxus jump up onto a horse, as the rest of his men sat on their own steeds awaiting their commander. Without a word Laxus whipped the reigns as his horse took off with his men following swiftly behind him. It was only until they had gone that Natsu had let himself relax a bit.
"So, we should start heading out ourselves as well," Jellal said as he walked over to his own horse. Wendy galloped behind him as she went to her own steed.
"So, what did you two talk about?" Natsu asked as he followed behind them. Jellal busied fixing his gauntlet before turning to the pink haired teen with a cocked eyebrow.
"Nothing important," Jellal answered. "I told him that he should go to Nirvit to help our Robaul, and I told him about our mission. So, he said that he would let us go as long as I delivered a message to his grandfather."
"What's the message?" Natsu asked him.
"I can't tell you that," Jellal answered. "It's private. You understand right?"
"Whatever," Natsu said shrugging it off nonchalantly as he got up on his horse.
The three of them began to ride on their way down the dirt path, the fourth horse being pulled from behind from a rope Jellal fastened to his own saddle. As they made their way further up the road, they soon found themselves coming upon the edge of a small river. There, sitting on the banks, was the black haired Draconan teen who had been missing from earlier.
He sat with his back leaning up against a tree. His ears tweaked as he heard the sound of horse hooves approaching him. He looked up to see his companions riding up the road before standing up and dusting his clothes off.
"Where were you?" Jellal asked with an angry grimace.
"Got up to take a piss, next thing I know you guys get surrounded by a group of soldiers, so I decided that I would just wait for you until you business was settled," Gajeel groaned as he stretched out his back.
"Either way, it would be good for us to get some water and breakfast," Jellal said as he leapt down from his horse. He then turned to Wendy to help her down as well.
As the young noble and the young girl went to fetch water, Natsu made his way over to Gajeel. Gajeel seemed to be watching them closely, waiting for them to be out of earshot before he turned to Natsu. The boy was a taken back as he noticed Gajeel had a very serious glare in his eye.
"What?" Natsu asked.
"You remember Rogue and Sting from Konvern right?" Gajeel asked.
"Yeah?" Natsu said, confused but intrigued.
"Well, let's just say that I didn't actually have to pee this morning."