After the quarrel in the town center most people took to avoiding Natsu now. Two weeks had passed and in that time not one person outside of his overseers spoke to him. If he thought he was unpopular before, he was not completely avoidable. Men, women and children were cautious around him, especially the slaves. Natsu knew not of the fate of the men that he had attacked, whether they were alive or dead had did not know. They weren't dead when he left them and he hoped that is how it had remained.
The practice was slower as the men who he was supposed to be fighting were hesitant to attack him. Even though Natsu had not felt the burning urge since that day, and he had no idea how he got there in the first place, nobody would attack at full force against him. Soon King Jude began to grow impatient with the lack of productivity. Iwan on the other hand offered a suggestion to the king.
Natsu made his way down the town road to the main gate. He wore a hood to hide his face so people would not know that it was him. He could still hear their whispers of people talking about what a monster he was, or that he was a demon. After he arrived at the tower he walked up to the top where he sat in his same spot to watch people like he normally did. He hugged his knees to his chest beginning to sob. He wanted someone to talk to, someone to say hello to him. He didn't want people to be afraid of him anymore.
"How are you doing today young one?" Natsu heard an elderly voice say behind him. He noticed that it was the same old man from that same day he was attacked. Natsu whipped his eyes with his sleeve before turning away.
"What do you want?" Natsu asked as he sulked back into his knees.
"You look like someone who needs a friend to talk to," the elderly man said as he took a seat next to the young boy. "Why don't you tell me what's wrong?"
"Nobody wants to talk to me, or have anything to do with me," Natsu quipped through his knees. "I'm tired of people thinking I'm some kind of monster. I'm not a monster! Why does everyone hate me?"
"People are often frightened by that which they do not understand," the old man said as he wrapped his arm around the boy's shoulders. "After watching what you did to those other slaves, people have become concerned. I can't say that I blame them, seeing as how you ravished those poor slaves to the point of death."
"So why are you talking to me?" Natsu asked coldly.
"Because I don't see that in you," the old man said. "I see you as a misunderstood child who seeks comfort from someone. A child forced into a life that he did not want, nor would ever wish to live. You are forced to live a life that no other man or slave in this kingdom does. I know that they have you waking up at dawn everyday for special training, which leads me to believe that they knew exactly what you were when they brought you here."
"And what am I?" Natsu asked as he turned to the old man.
"A Draconan," the old man said softly offering the boy a comforting grin. "You are a son of our people; noble and proud. We come from a rich country full of splendors beyond imagination."
"I'm not just a Dracona," Natsu whispered. "I'm something else. None of the other Draconan slaves have the same powers as me. I'm the only one that breaths fire and has claws."
"Is that so?" the old man said grabbing Natsu's hand.
"What are you doing?" the boy groaned.
"I don't see no claws on your hand," he said examining the boy's fingers. "Do you?"
Natsu ripped his hand away from the old man. He did not care for his kind words or his attempts to be friendly. He knew what he was and he didn't need the old man to act so sentimental towards him. Which was strange, he had only wished that someone would at least talk to him, or acknowledge him outside of his overseers every day for the past two weeks. Now he just felt like he wanted to be left alone.
"They aren't there now," Natsu muttered as he continue to sulk. "But they were there before. I've heard people talking about me being cursed."
"Oh my boy," the old man sighed, "our fate truly is a cruel one. It seems that all Draconans are cursed in one way or the other."
"What do you mean?" Natsu asked him.
"Do you not know of the Great Wizard's Betrayal of the Draconan people?" the old man asked him raising an eyebrow.
"No," Natsu told him. "I know nothing of my people," he sulked further into depression. "All I know is that I belong to their race, and that is all."
"I see," the old man breathed with a deep breath. "Well you see boy," the old man began, "our people once lived in a prosperous land full of great wealth and treasures from all over the world. Our trade was craft and the arts." Natsu watched the old man as he seemed to fall into his memories. His eyes went bright as he reminisced about the past. He took in a deep breath before he continued his story. "Our people prized knowledge and arts above all else."
"But what happened to them?" Natsu asked impatiently.
"One day our people were attacked by none other than King Jude's own father Darious," the old told him bluntly. His expression darkened as he sagged a bit over his walking stick. "After he began he sacked Boga other kingdoms began to worry. Our people called out for help from any of our neighboring countries, but when they saw the opportunity to plunder our lands for themselves, they attacked us. We had a small militia, but there was no way we could defend ourselves from the onslaught the ensued. Nobody would help us, greed was the only thing that compelled the minds of those we once called friends."
"Did they all die?" Natsu asked the elderly man. "Did they slaughter all our people?"
"No," the old man shook his head. "No, they took many of us as slaves. Families were torn apart, sons and daughters taken to one kingdom while the fathers and mothers were taken to another."
"And what of my parent's?" Natsu asked more than eagerly. "What happened to them?"
"I am sorry boy," the old man said apologetically, as he patted the child on the back. "I do not know." He tried to comfort him, but his words only seemed to make the boy sulk some more. "I knew not your parents my child, and many of our people were taken to different lands. Though it is likely that they were not taken in as slaves, many of our people escaped that cursed fate."
"Really?" Natsu jumped in eagerness at the news. His mind flooded with thoughts of his parents potentially coming and taking back home with them. He imagined being free from his collar and not having to wake up early in the morning to do extensive training and chores. "Do you think that they're back home waiting for me?"
The old man face saddened a bit more. The sight of it immediately whipped the small smile Natsu had for a short while.
"Sadly no," the old man answered. "I was not among them personally at the time since I had been captured during the first wave of the attacks and was sold into slavery before all that. But I managed to overhear the news from soldiers awhile back. But you see, in our people's desperation they called upon the help of a great wizard. They that he give them the ability to protect their homes. And it was at his hands they were cursed, transformed into wicked beasts."
"And did that happen to me?" Natsu asked. "Was I turned into one of these beasts as well?"
"I'm afraid I do not know child," the old man told him. "Perhaps, but no one who was not captured during the raids of our land had the curse set upon them. I think it was only those that had escaped and were still in the country that were cursed. But I do remember the king bringing you back the night he went out to slay a dragon during the night."
"So the king brought me back from our land?" Natsu asked.
"Yes," the old man told him. "But you were not a dragon when he brought you back, you were the infant son of a man. I should know, I was a working with the watchmen that night. I remember," the old man began to gesture his hand as if to summon the memory, "I remember Aracdios arriving with the king, and in his arms he held a baby. It was difficult to see with all the nobles surrounding to get a better look, and though the sun had just arisen, I could just get a glimpse of the child."
"So that child was . . . me?" Natsu asked.
"Yes," the said with a deep breath, "I do believe so."
"But why me?" Natsu said out loud to himself. "Why bring me back?"
"I don't know," the old man softly. "What is it that they have you do? You are a slave, but every mid-day I see you running about the town with much more leniency than any other slave in town."
"They just have me wake up everyday around dawn, and then they take me to the arena to train," Natsu told him.
"And what kind of training do they have you do?" the old man asked. He was growing quite interested now.
"They usually just have me practice fighting. Normally with a group of soldiers that are just there to beat me up," he said. "They don't really teach me anything, just make me fight for hours on end. I don't know why they do it, but I usually win every fight," Natsu smiled as he uttered the last sentence. He was quite proud of himself.
"That's very interesting," the old man said combing his beard. "I wonder what exactly the king is trying to prepare you for?"
The two of them sat there on the top of the gate and continued to watch people as they passed by. The man told Natsu old stories from their homeland, and even more about when he was a child himself. Natsu wanted to know more about his homeland. What kinds of people they were, what the often did, what they did for entertainment. The old man was more than happy to tell Natsu all these things, and for a good hour the two of them enjoyed one another's company.
All the while there was one man who was watching the two of them from afar, a man who concealed himself in the shadows. He wore a deep brown cloak with a hood to keep his face hidden from those around them. The man watched Natsu and the old man as they talked. After Natsu had told him about his training he immediately rushed down the stairwell and made his way to a tavern near the gates of the castle itself. There resided a tavern, to which he entered.
The place was a mess. Drunkards sat at the bar and tables around the room, dining on soggy and probably moldy bread while they washed it down with cheap ale. A fireplace sat near the corner of the room, but it was not lit, there was no need for it to be during the spring. Musicians with a lute and fiddle played a song as women served the patrons and danced along.
The mystery man just walked on by and made his way to a wooden staircase nudging his way through the drunken crowd. When he arrived to the top of the stairs he made his way down a deteriorating hallway to a room at the end of a corridor. Once there he knocked on the door.
"Come in," a voice called out. The man obliged and entered.
"My Lord," the man said as he entered the room bowing his head. "I have news."
After bowing his head the man looked back up, standing at attention. Inside the room was a large table with several men sitting around it. At the head of the table sat Iwan dinging on some beat and cheese. Behind him was a fireplace from which provided all the light in the room. The other men at the table were not nobles, they appeared to be no different than the same type of men as would be seen in the tavern below.
"What news is that, Kurohebi?" Iwan asked.
"The slave boy, Natsu, was talking to an elderly Draconan man at the main gate. He was telling him about his training exercises with the military," the man told him.
"Is that so?" Iwan said stroking his beard. "Well then we can't allow that to persist. Nobody is to know of the boy's training outside of the king and those he has entrusted the knowledge to. We can't allow our enemies to know of about the potential weapon we are preparing for future wars. If they did, we would be under siege in a matter of days."
"So what would you wish me to do Lord Dreyar?" Kurohebi asked.
"It is Lord Iwan here, Kurohebi," Iwan said to him. "Remember that."
"Yes my Lord," Kurohebi apologized, bowing his head in subtlety. "I forgot, please forgive me."
"There is no need to be so contrite," Iwan told him leaning forward in his chair and resting his chin on his hands. "Now I want you to listen to me very carefully. I want you to go to that old man when he leaves the boy and make sure he tells no one of what you've heard this day."
"Yes sir," Kurohebi said bowing his head before he turned around to leave. Once he had gone Iwan let out a deep breath and leaned back in his chair.
"Dreyer?" one of the other men asked. He noticed that everyone at the table had their eyes upon him now. Each of them were just as confused as the other as they gazed at him with curious eyes.
"I thought you said your name was Iwan?" asked another.
"My real name is Ivan Dreyer, but here I go by Iwan," he answered. "I don't want people to know of my real name."
"That is information that I alone need to know," Iwan told them. "It is not something any of you need to concern yourselves with. I have my reasons why I go by a different title here in Konzern, and we shall leave it at that. Persist in it any further and I will have you all flogged, is that understood?" He glared at them with menacing eyes. No man in that room dare challenge his words. They simply nodded in agreement.
The next day Natsu was taken back to the training arena like he was every morning. Though this morning was not like the others. When he arrived there was no group of soldiers there waiting to fight with him nor any set up for exercises for him to practice on. Instead there waiting for him at the arena was a single man sitting back in a rickety old wooden chair reading a book.
He was a middle aged man, with long greasy orange hair and a rugged beard. His eyes were a foggy blue and distant, lost in his book but revealed that they had witnessed many things in the man's life. He was a tall man, broad shouldered and firm. He wore a tattered cloak over a thin layer of armor and leather pants. His boats were coated with filth that it was near impossible to tell what their original color must have once been. There was no sword on his hip, but there was a wooden sword leaning against the wall next to his chair.
Natsu figured that this man must have been a new instructor. It was a little weird because there were normally multiple men there to instruct him at once. Natsu peered around the arena to make sure that the two of them were the ones there. Perhaps more instructors would show up later, or maybe they were going to give him an easy day.
"You're Natsu I presume?" the man said raising his eyes from his book. He offered the boy a friendly smile. "Well I guess now is as good as time as any to get started. So how about you show me what you got?"
He stood up and placed the book down on the chair. He stretched out his back and cracked his neck. He rolled out his shoulders as he started walking towards the young child. Natsu began to become a little confused by now. Most of the people he fought were always coy around him, and were usually reluctant to spar with him, but this guy was different. And after his scuffle with the other slaves it seemed like nobody would be eager to train him.
Natsu was even more surprised that there were no formal introductions. He was just expected to jump right on into it, but he didn't mind. He would do the same things he did everyday.
"All right," Natsu said in anticipation. He didn't know why, but he felt excited to have somebody who was interested in a fight with him.
"Well come on then let's get started," Gildarts said waving his hands for Natsu to charge at him. The boy smiled as he sprinted at his instructor with full on force.
When he was within a few feet he leapt up into the air, fist drawn back ready to strike. The man simply smiled as he stepped to the side dodging the on coming blow. He then proceeded to grab the boy by the wrist that he was attempting to punch him with and flung the boy aside causing him to topple over and roll on the dirt.
"You're too brash," the man said with a smirk. "Don't rush into your opponents like that. You leave yourself vulnerable. You have no control over your energy. You focus all of it onto one point, which makes it easy for anyone to redirect it as I just did now. Have some more patience and think before you mindlessly charge your opponent," the man said tapping his own forehead.
Natsu got to his feet and rushed the man again. He swung his arm out wide, to which the man stepped in and caught him by the bicep. He did nothing more than step to the side and toss Natsu once more to the ground in one sweeping motion.
"You did it again," the man chuckled. "Don't swing your arm out so far, you leave your entire body exposed. Tuck your elbows in, don't let them bend out," the man said as he moved into a stance where he kept his elbows close to his body and his fists near his face. "You have to protect yourself at all times. And also, stop rushing in like a mad man. That's not going to get you anywhere."
Natsu growled as he leapt to his feet once more and ran at his opponent with once more. Only this time he had no attempt to punch him, but rather planned on tackling him by the legs. To his amazement the man just simply jumped over him, pushing the boy's head down as he did. Natsu fell face first into the dirt before sliding to a stop.
"Either you don't speak the common tongue, or you're deaf," the man sighed in annoyance. "How many times do I have to tell you to stop rushing in at your opponent like a mad man?"
Natsu growled as he picked himself up again. He turned around scowling bitterly at the other man. This time when he ran at the man with full force, but rather than swing he slid to a stop. He threw his fists at him with a barrage of the hands. The opponent took the first couple of blows and he was stunned by the amount of power the boy had behind his fists. Though he didn't let it continue on as he grabbed the boy by the scruff of his neck and threw him once more.
Natsu rolled over again. He wondered why his sense didn't seem to be working. Against any other opponent he would have been able to detect their movements but this man was different. He thought about it. He wondered if it could have been that the man was moving too fast, or perhaps he just assumed that they would kick in the moment the fight started. Then again this fight was unlike the ones he had before. Most of the time they attacked him, but then again he didn't have much of a choice since he hardly ever had to opportunity to throw his own blows.
"You have some strength in you, boy," the man said rubbing his plated chest. There seemed to be a couple of small dents, but he was impressed none the less. "But unfortunately that is not everything when it comes to a fight. You may think that power is what is necessary, but there are many other fundamentals. Power can be a useful ally when it comes to conflict, but it can also betray you if your opponent knows how to do it."
Natsu sat up and rubbed his nose. He eyed the man carefully looking for somewhere he could strike him. The man stood there perfectly still, upright and relaxed. Natsu felt like he was taunting him. Enraged the boy charged at the man with full force. He didn't care how he did it he just wanted to make sure that he got the man down one way of the other.
"Don't let your emotions get the best of you child," the man said as he stepped aside and pushed the boy to the ground again. "You're letting your rage blind you now. Control your emotions otherwise you'll not see your opponent's movements. Think before you charge. Take advantage of what your opponent gives you and then strike. Rushing in blindly like a madman is only going to get you killed."
"Damn it! Why can't I hit you?" Natsu cried out as he stood to his feet.
"Because you lack restraint," the old man sighed as he rubbed his forehead.
"Well then why don't you attack me?' Natsu snapped.
"Why?" his instructor asked raising an eyebrow. "What reason do I have to attack you?"
"Because this is a fight?" Natsu barked.
"When did this become a fight?" his instructor asked.
"When you told me to attack you," Natsu murmured.
"Really?" his instructor said rubbing his chin and thinking back on it. "As I remember I said, 'Show me what you got.' I don't think that necessarily means a fight now does it?"
"Well what else could it mean?" Natsu grumbled.
"Well it could mean a variation of things," the man said. "It could mean that you should have showed me how fast you could run, or how high you can jump. I never said the word fight in particular. You just assumed that's what I mean when I told you to show me what you got," he said pointing at the boy.
"Then why are you here?" Natsu growled as he sat down on the ground. "Also, you kept giving me fighting instructions."
"Actually they were more like suggestions on how not to get your ass kicked," the man chuckled. "And to answer your first question was that I was hired to mold you and teach you. Most of the men you've dealt with were just simple minded foot soldiers with no knowledge of true combat; men who would shutter at the sight of a child rather than teach him how to become a warrior. That is why I am here."
"I already know how to fight," Natsu grumbled as he folded his arms across his chest.
"Oh yes you demonstrated that very well just now," his instructor said sarcastically.
"Well if you attacked me than you would be the one on the ground embarrassed," Natsu pouted.
"Oh really is that so?" the instructor said raising an eyebrow. "And how do you figure that?"
"Because I've beaten everyone else like that," Natsu growled.
"All right, stand up," the man said motioning the boy to his feet. "I'll come at you and I'll see if you can throw me to the ground in an 'embarrassing' fashion as well."
Natsu grinned widely as he sprung up to his feet. He dusted himself off as he waited in anticipation. He could just imagine him throwing the bigger man to the ground while he stood there victoriously.
Just then the instructor ran at him, shoulder forward. Natsu watched, his sense tingling as he could feel the swing coming. His opponent became more fluid now, slow moving and Natsu could anticipate the fist coming. But as he watched and he began to move, attempting to dodge the blow. But just then his sense snapped as his opponent diverted his course, and in a swift motion he spun around on step and instead of his original fist coming in for the strike he raised his other fist and hit Natsu right on the temple knocking him over to the side.
Natsu fell to the ground in disbelief at what just happened. He peered back up at the man who stood there, hands on hips, smiling widely.
"Well it looks like you've completely beaten me young boy," his instructor taunted.
Natsu yelled as he got back up to his feet. He ran at his instructor trying to grab him by the legs. The instructor sighed as he grabbed the boy by the back of his shirt and threw him off. Natsu landed on his backside on verge of tears
"Come now," his instructor said scowling at him. He folded his arms over his chest, but when he saw how upset the boy was he just sighed and walked over and sat down right next to him. "Hey listen," he said wrapping his arm around the boy's shoulders trying to comfort him. "You're young and you're inexperienced," he said. "You have a lot to learn, and that's why I'm here. To teach you. You're not bad at all; you're just inexperienced."
"Okay," Natsu said whipping away his tears. His instructor smiled as he patted him on the back.
"Now, come on," his instructor said as he stood up and offered the boy his hand, "let's get to some real training."
"All right," Natsu said as he was pulled up to his feet. "By the way, what's your name?"
"Gildarts," the man answered with a wide grin. "Now come on dragon boy. We've got work to do."