The next morning Lucy peacefully woke up to the rays of the sunrise cascading through the window and shining onto her eyes. When she awoke she was still a bit dreary, her vision foggy as she could feel a slight soreness between her legs. She could see a figure lying asleep next to her. When her vision began to clear she could see that it was Natsu sleeping calmly next to her. It was all coming back to her, Natsu snoring softly next to her.
She giggled to herself as she watched him sleep; his nose just inches away from touching hers. She slipped her hand from underneath the sheet and touched his cheek, caressing it with her delicate, small palm. The touch of her hand caused the boy to slowly wake up. He yawned, stretching out his back before falling back to the bed before rolling to his side to face Lucy again.
"Morning," Natsu said to her through a deep breath blinking at her.
"Morning," Lucy answered back as she leaned in to kiss him.
"So, what we did last night . . ." Natsu said hesitantly as a blush crossed his cheeks.
"Yes?" Lucy giggled as she rested her hands under her head. She stared at him with those intoxicating chocolate eyes, and for a moment he forgot what he was about to say.
"So, what we did last night," he continued, he became a bit more flustered. "Do you think that we can do that more often now?" He asked her with an innocent eye.
Lucy burst out into laughter, covering her mouth with her hand. Natsu just stared at her with a blank expression.
"Maybe," she eventually managed to say through a burst of giggles. "But I feel a bit sore . . . you know, down there." She said as her eyes looked down before looking right back up at him.
"Oh, well, what's important is that I'm with you," he said. She smiled back and him as she could hear that he was sincere, but there was a hint of disappointment in his voice. She couldn't blame him either, after all she rather enjoyed the other night herself. She just wasn't sure if she was ready for another go around.
The two of them laid there together. Natsu pleaded with whatever forces there may be that this wasn't a dream. He just hoped that he wouldn't suddenly wake up and find himself back out on the road with Gajeel and Jellal. He closed his eyes, but when he re-opened them Lucy was still laying right there in front of him, glowing like a sunflower on a sunny spring afternoon.
Their peace didn't last long as there was a knock on the door. Lucy gasped as her face burst into a deep shade of crimson before slipping under the covers to hide herself as whoever was at the door did not wait to be let in before opening the door. Natsu looked up to see Gildarts leaning through the doorway.
"Hey Natsu good morning," he said rather sluggishly. "Lord Makrov wants to see you, Gajeel and Jellal at the fortress."
"Okay," Natsu yawned sheepishly.
Gildarts just grinned and turned around to leave. But just before he closed the door he peered back into the room, a beaming grin on his lips. "And a good morning to you as well, Lucy."
Lucy slowly poked her head from underneath the cover, her face still a slight pink with embarrassment as she offered the older man a coy smile. "Good morning Gildarts," she squeaked.
The older man continued to grin widely at her before shutting the door behind him. Lucy's face was still flushed with embarrassment as she slid back underneath the covers once more. Natsu laughed as he slid closer to her covered frame, wrapping his arms around the downy bundle that was Lucy and pulled her in close. She attempted to sliver away from him, but that only caused him to tighten his grip as he managed to slip his own head under the covers and find her soft smooth skin.
Meanwhile elsewhere in the city Cobra hid in the shadows of an alleyway in one of the poorer areas of the city. It was one of a few, and the streets were a bit more cracked and uneven unlike the rest of the city. The buildings were a bit older, constructed of some small brownish bricks with crooked windows. Rusty old gutters dangled along the edge, dripping water that had a greenish residue about it, which was odd since it hadn't rained that day, nor the night before.
Cobra stood by and waited. According to an informant, the snitch was living somewhere in this part of town. They told him that it was a young woman in her late teens or early twenties, but they never specified which. Cobra wore a old torn up brown cloak to mask himself as a beggar. This he hoped would draw away suspicion as to why he was crouched in the alleyway if anyone spotted him. He had waited there all night, just waiting to see a woman fitting the description walk out of the adjacent apartment building so he could follow her.
While Cobra sat outside waiting Kiana prepared herself for work. It wasn't that early in the morning, the sun had been up for an hour or too, but Mira was efficient. She ran that tavern with such conviction it was hard to believe that she was as sweet and delicate as her demeanor depicted her. Though Kiana wondered why Mira insisted on continuing to run the tavern despite her being married and that her brother was more than willing to take over for her.
She pampered her face in the mirror, a rather small piece of glass surrounded by faded brass. It was no bigger than a small clock. She had some difficulty to get a good view of herself, but somehow she always found a way to make herself look decent.
Her apartment was nothing more than a small room with a mattress with a quilt decorated with ivy leaves and flowers that rested on a raggedy wooden bed frame. She had one small window that provided the source of all light in the room and took up nearly half of her wall space. The only other furniture in the room was a chestnut nightstand that resided next to the bed and a dresser pressed against the opposite wall that though small was snugged tightly between the door and the corner. On top was her mirror, a glass vase with a single rose and large white candle.
Her short purple hair sagged just above her shoulders, her skin was a bit pale but it had a certain glow to it. She wore a whitish, pink blouse and a long violet dress. It really brought out her eyes and hair color, and though she thought she appeared pretty enough she topped it off with a straw sunhat wrapped with a blue cloth. She had been more discrete when she wondered around the city. She had the sense that someone had been following her. It wouldn't surprise her. She was leaking information to Makrov about the slave traders down south.
She stared at herself in the mirror for a minute before finally happy with herself. She let the apartment promptly. As she did so Cobra noticed a figure leaving the apartment. He couldn't see the face that was hidden in the shadow of the sunhat but he knew that it had to be a young woman from the delicate and skinny frame. That and the blouse and dress were an obvious give away.
He watched her as he stayed hunched in the corner of the alleyway. For a brief moment Kiana stopped and spun around to look behind her. Cobra morph back into the shadow, hugging his back up against the stone wall. Kiana continued walking onwards as Cobra prowled from around the corner and began to follow her. He made sure to stay close to the buildings so that he could duck behind any objects to hide.
He continued to follow her as she winded through the streets. As Kiana was walking she began to get the peculiar feeling that she was being followed. She stopped and turned around, but Cobra ducked behind the railing of a stone stoop waiting for her to continue walking again. Though Kiana didn't see anyone behind her she couldn't shake the feeling. She had felt it before, she had noticed men watching her every time she went to see Makrov, and though none of them actually approached her she was still worried. Maybe she was just being paranoid.
She continued to walk down the street still feeling a bit uncomfortable. This time she could certainly feel in her gut that there was someone following her. This time when she spun around she caught a glimpse of the tail end of a cloak as it wisped behind a wall. She could feel her heart race as she began to quicken her pace. She didn't take more than a few steps before looking back again. This time she caught the cloaked figure just two buildings down. She could not see his face but she knew he was staring at her.
Kiana gulped taking a deep breath before she turned around and began to go on a full on sprint down the road. She looked back to see that the cloaked man was chasing after her. She screamed out for help as she tried desperately to get away, but her sandals nearly caused her to trip over herself and she could see the man catching up to her with each and every step. Though she cried out for help no one else was in the street, nor did anyone even bother to come out to see what was wrong.
It wasn't long before Cobra was on Kiana's heels. He reached out and grabbed her wrist, the only thing that stopped her from falling down was that he pulled her towards him before grasping her other wrist.
"Let me go!" Kiana screamed as her sunhat flew off her crown and floated away.
"Who are you?" Cobra barked, pinning her up against the alleyway wall. He held a fierce scowl, but it slowly melted away as soon as he saw the girl's face.
"Please!" Kiana cried as she tried to wiggle free, her eyes shut as tears began to stream from her eyes. "Let go of me!"
"Kiana?" Cobra gasped as he let go of her. "Kiana is that you? You're alive?"
Astonished at the sound of her name Kiana stopped and opened her eyes to see that her attacker was just standing in front of her. Her vision was still a bit blurry from her tears, but she just wiped them away as she glared at the cloaked man in confusion.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
Cobra threw off his hood revealing himself to the still startled girl. She stared at him even more confused now as she observed him carefully.
"Who are you?" Kiana demanded through a trembled voice.
"Kiana," he said as he reached out for her cheek, only to have the girl pull her head away from him. "You really don't remember me?" Cobra sounded disappointed as he let his hand drop to his side.
She examined him closer, taking a step towards closer though she was still cautious. He didn't seem harmful at the moment, but she couldn't trust him just yet. She stared into his eyes as he looked away from her. She placed her hand against his cheek against her better judgment before she finally started to remember.
"Erik?" she gasped. "Is it really you?"
"Yes," he said. A weak smile crossed his lips as he looked down at her.
"You jerk!" She wailed as she began to beat on his chest with her small fists. "You scared me half to death you stupid psycho! What I don't see you in years and this is how you decide to finally meet me again?! Of all the stupid, insincere, boneheaded . . ." She tried to think of more words to call him but ultimately she couldn't think of any as she held her hands out stretched as though she wanted to strangle him right then and there.
"Hey!" A man shouted as he stepped out of his apartment building with another man. "What's the problem?"
"It's nothing," Kiana said shoving Cobra away from her. "Just a stupid practical joke an old friend decided to play on me." She sneered at him as she walked over to pick up her sunhat. Cobra watched her, but he kept his eyes on the other two me, reaching beneath his cloak on his belt where he had a long dagger strapped.
"You sure?" the man asked as he took a couple of steps towards Kiana.
"I'm sure. My friend thought it would be funny if tried to scare me by hiding behind a hood. But thank you anyways, gentlemen."
Cobra watched her make her way down the winding street, deciding to follow after her. He did not call her name, he did not utter a single word, but he grabbed her shoulders from behind and spun her around to face him. He could see that her face was still infuriated, as her face was as red as ripe cherries. She glared at him as she pried herself away from him.
"What is it?" she barked. "What do you want?"
"I need to tell you something," Cobra breathed heavily.
"I don't see you for years, you come running up on me like some street walking bandit startling me half to death, and now you just want to talk?" She hissed. "Erik, please just leave me alone. It's nice to see you again, and the gods know that I've missed you, but right now I don't want to see you. I don't want to talk to you. I want you to leave me alone!"
"I can't!" he shouted. "I can't leave you alone Kiana. You're in danger. There are people out to hurt you. If I had not known it was you I would have . . ." He stopped himself before he could finish the thought.
"You would have what?" She demanded as she stared at him with a fierce glare.
Cobra sighed to himself as he reached under his cloak to reveal a dagger. The sight of which cause the young girl to gasp to herself. She stared at the long shaft of metal, her eyes moving between the blade and Cobra. She was terrified now, her heart ceased to move as a chilling sensation erupted in her chest. She took a couple of steps back, shaking her head as she did so.
"Erik," she said his name as though she had swallowed something poisonous. "Why do you have that dagger? What were you going to do with it?"
"I was told to find the snitch that had been leaking information about Orecion Seis to Magnolia," he admitted. "I was sent her to exterminate whoever was responsible."
His eyes looked down in shame as he could see the horrorstruck expression on the girl's face. She was at a loss for words, her face as pale and white as an untouched blanket of snow on a mountainside. She slapped him. With such a ardent hand that the sound of the blow echoed through the city block. Her lips trembled as she slapped him with her other hand just as hard.
She continued to slap him as tears rolled down her cheeks. Cobra offered her no resistance as he let the wailing continue. Finally her hand began to throb with pain and swell up giving her enough incentive to stop. She breathed heavily, exhausted from the physical strain of pelting the young man with her hand. Cobra continued to stare at the ground, almost ashamed of himself.
"What happened to you?" Kiana sobbed. "When did you become such a monster?"
"Kiana," he said reaching out for her only to have his hand slapped away.
"Don't touch me," she wept. "Erik I don't know who you are anymore. When did you become a murderer?"
"I'm not," he said quickly. "I'm only do this for you."
"What makes you think I ever wanted this?" she cried shaking her head. "Just go Erik. Leave. Please."
"LEAVE!" She roared through a shroud of tears. "Just go, Erik."
"I'm sorry," he Cobra sighed as he tuned to walk away. He picked up the dagger from his belt and tossed it aside. "I never meant to hurt you."
Kiana watched as Cobra walked away. She was still struggling to hold back tears. Once Cobra was out of sight the young woman fell to her knees letting the tears flow from her eyes. She sobbed into her hand, her cheeks were drenched in the salty nectar of her own tears. She felt sick, she just wanted to vomit onto the sidewalk, but she coughed it all back. The man she saw was not the boy that she knew. Something had changed him, he was just a shell of his former self.
'Erik, what has happened to you?' she thought.
Meanwhile back in at the Magnolian military headquarters, Makrov sat at a large mahogany desk in his office, staring out a window that overlooked the city. His mind was a buzz with thoughts that were streaming through his mind. Lying on his desk was a letter he received from Laxus telling him about the fall of Nirvit and the death of Robual. The news devastated Makrove. For one thing Magnolia had lost an important ally, but more importantly Makrov lost of a dear friend. Makrov wondered exactly how he was going to explain what happened to Wendy. The poor girl was so delicate, how could she handle losing everyone she knew and love at once?
Though that was not the worse of it, he had received another letter the previous day about rumors of Mila joining with Duke and his armies. Apparently the slave traders were very unhappy with Magnolian interference in their market and for the raids that Laxus and other companies had committed recently. This had to be Ivan's doing, Makarov just knew it. Duke was not old enough, nor wise enough to try and sway Mila into joining his own ranks. Though this would have to be a problem that he would deal with later.
The only good news he got from the letter was that he knew that Laxus was alive. The condition that Laxus was in, he was unsure, but as long as his grandson was alive and well. He expected Laxus to arrive soon, but for now he had other matters he had to deal with.
Makrov's thoughts were interrupted by a loud knock on his office door. He called out for whoever it was to enter, not diverting his eyes from the window. A guard stepped in and bowed his head respectively.
He was a skinny man with short cut black hair and dark eyes. His skin was a light olive shade and he wore the standard garb of Magnolia.
"Master Makrov," the man said with his head still down, "the prisoner is ready for interrogation whenever you are."
"Thank you Alzack," Makrov muttered as he stood up from his chair. When he plopped down to his feet he was now shorter than then he was sitting on the chair. He walked up to the young man and peered up at him, and even Alzack could see the distress in Makrov's eyes. "How is his current state?" The old man asked through a deep breath.
"He is awake, but he is still in critical condition sir," Alzack answered. Makrov walked by him and started to follow him.
Makrov made his way down the hallway, the empty corridors made of stone with Magnolian banners hanging along the walls next to open windows that allowed sunlight in to brighten up the winding hallway. He made his way down to a winding stairway that led down to the base of the fortress. He came upon a room in the hospital wing that was cut off from the rest of the building where an armed guard stood outside. Makarov nodded his head as the guard stepped to the side allowing Makarov and Alzack to pass.
There, lying in a bed was a man with bandages wrapped around his torso, with a bloodstain around the waste. Kurohebi laid there on his sheets motionless as he stared up at the ceiling while a nurse was busy wiping down his arm. Though he was a prisoner, Makarov refused to lock him in a cell down in the dungeons because of his condition. Though admittedly, had he not been in such a grave state, Makarov probably would not hesitate to send him to prison.
"They tell me you're finally in a good enough condition to talk," Makarov said as he walked up to the bedside. He was too short for his head was level with the man's bedside. Kurohebi refused to look down at the old man as he kept his eyes up front. "Either way, I want to know who you are and what you are doing here, and why you decided to attack Princess Lucy and her friends." Kurohebi did not respond to the old man, his eyes were locked up on the ceiling. "You targeted Princess Lucy specifically," Makrov continued. "Why was she your target? Who sent you?"
"I am nothing more than a common thief," Kurohebi responded. He finally turned so his snake like eyes stared blankly at Makarov. "Nobody sent me."
"Of course you were,' Makarov grumbled.
"Master Makarov," Alzack began. "What do you want us to do about him? We could try to interrogate him."
"You cannot!" The nurse protested. "He is in no condition to be moved, you'll only open his stiches and cause him to bleed once more, and I don't know if he can survive another bleed out."
"I understand," Makarov said to her.
It was then that he heard a commotion in the rest of the hospital wing. "Alzack can you go see what all the ruckus is about?" Makarov asked the young man.
"Yes sir," Alzack answered as he left the room. It wasn't long before he returned, his face a bit stunned.
"What is it?" Makarov asked.
"It's your grandson, Laxus, Master," Alzack answered. "He has just returned."
"What?" Makarov said a bit surprised himself. He hadn't expected Laxus to have returned to Magnolia so early. He did not waste another moment as he sprinted from Kurohebi's room and into the main hospital wing. There, amongst a group of doctors and nurses stood Laxus.
"Laxus?" Makarov shouted as he wondered over to the young captain.
Laxus looked up. He was in the middle of the rows of empty beds as both doctors and nurses tried to restrain him. He overpowered them with ease, refusing to be treated until he saw the old man. Even Freed and Brickslow tried to restrain their captain, but neither of them could fully control the young man.
"Laxus please," Freed said as he held Laxus by the shoulders. "You have to let the doctors look at your wound."
"I'm fine," Laxus shouted. "I have to report to the old man and let him know what is going on."
"Laxus!" Makarov shouted one last time as he approached his grandson. "I have already heard the news of Nirvit's fall. Now tell me, are you injured in anyway? You should let the doctors take a look at you."
"I am fine grandfather," Laxus snorted as he finally managed to shake the doctors off. "Freed and Brickslow are just worried about an minor flesh wound I received in Nirvit."
"It is not a minor flesh wound," one of the nurses growled. Freed grabbed a bandage that was covering his waste just above his hip.
Makarov winced as he could see the now gaping wound, now turned slightly black from dried blood. It had to be a few centimeters deep, but still enough that it was critical. Makarov couldn't understand how Laxus could even stand on his feet with such an injury let alone walk. It hadn't bee sealed, and Makarov only hoped that it had not become infected, but from the looks of it, it probably was.
"Laxus, listen to the doctors," Makarov said sternly. "You are in no condition to be wondering about."
"Laxus, that is an order," Makarov said finally.
"Yes grandfather," Laxus sighed as he took a seat on one of the beds. Almost immediately after he had sat down, nurses and doctors removed his bandages and began to treat his wound. The blood had dried and they had to begin prep work of scrapping it off and sealing the wound.
Freed and Brickslow made their way over to the old man as the other nurses and doctors returned to work.
"Master Makarov," Freed said bowing his head. "So, you heard about what has happened in Nirvit?"
"Yes," the old man said nodding his head. "Laxus sent me a carrier pigeon explaining everything. However, he failed to mention his own injuries that he sustained in the battle." He glowered over in Laxus's direction, but the young captain was not paying any mind to his grandfather.
"Who else has returned with you?" Makarov asked.
"Unfortunately Master we were the only ones that managed to make it ot of Nirvit," Freed sighed. "It was nothing short of a slaughter."
"I see," Makarov sighed. "So things are only getting worse," he said. "I am sorry about your company."
"As are we," Freed answered. "But what do you plan on doing now? It's only a matter of time before Duke turns his attention to someone else."
"Not to mention that there are rumors of Mila joining in with Duke and his allies," Makarov sighed.
"Impossible?" Freed said bewildered. "Why would Mila join with Duke?"
"Because we have been interfering with the slave trade market," Makarov said.
"So, that compels an entire country to go war? Since when do governments care about certain markets? Wouldn't the war be more devastating to the economy than what we've been doing with the slave market?" Freed said.
"You underestimate the influence the market has in politics," Makarov told him. "Especially Orecion Seis. It may not even be the country's decision, but either way we cannot afford to let a neutral country become our enemy. Mila's trade alone could support our enemy's war effort, not to mention the abundance of ships they had."
Than an idea struck the old man. He remembered Kiana and how she had given them information about Mila and Orecion Seis. Maybe she would have a way for them to counter Mila, or somehow find a weak point in Orecion Seis that could potentially keep them out of the war. But the girl was not part of the inner circle, but maybe she knew somebody. Somebody that could help them. Otherwise, this war was going to be far more devastating than it was already turning out to be.
"I have an idea," Makarov finally said after thinking it over. "Freed, Brickslow, can you go retrieve that Kiana girl for me? You know, the young girl that works with Mira at Fairy Tail Pub?"
"Yes sir, right away," Freed said as he and Brickslow turned to leave.
There may be some hope, as small as it was, if there was even a sliver of a chance that Makarov could turn the tide in their favor, than he would take it. The war came before any of them were even prepared for it, and it only seemed like more countries will fall like Nirvit. Right now, they needed all the help they could get.
"And Freed!" Makarov shouted after the mossy haired man. "Tell Gildarts I need to see him!"