Natsu and the others exited from the fortress leaving the most of the officers and other men from the meeting remained in the fortress for further discussions while others returned to their encampments or countries. Natsu and Gajeel stood outside the main gate as they waited for Jellal and Erza. Gajeel sagged against the wall as he stared off into the distance allowing himself to be lost in his own thoughts. What they were, Natsu could not gander a guest, but he himself was a bit agitated with Gildarts. He loved his old mentor dearly but he was angry that the man had dragged him to a council meeting the day after he arrived into the city and now he was expected to leave once more. After he had just reunited with Lucy. Was he being forced away from her again? He didn't want to leave, not yet, not after spending months away from her and knowing that now, after so many years of hiding their relationship, that they could be together. He refused it.
He spotted the old man gliding towards him, a more than less enthusiastic grimace upon his brow. Natsu wondered what it was that was bothering Gildarts, but he was also beginning to wonder where the hell Erza and Jellal were. But for now he would have to uptake his grievances with Gildarts while he had the chance. He wanted to tell him off for even suggesting that he leave Magnolia on such short notice.
"Natsu," Gildarts said as he approached the young pink haired teen. "What's wrong with you?" He noticed that Natsu seemed to be a bit upset. The boy glowered up at the old man with his arms folded across his chest. Gildarts just cocked an eyebrow awaiting an answer.
"Why are you getting me involved in this war?" Natsu asked him.
"I thought you would enjoy the fight," Gildarts answered. "Why wouldn't want to get involved? I thought you hated Duke, and I thought you would want to help. Otherwise, why else are you here?"
"I'm here because Lucy is here," Natsu growled. "I have no interest in this war. I would love nothing more than to take Duke's head personally, but I won't leave Lucy behind. You're asking me to get up and leave after I spent so much time looking for her, and that's something I cannot do."
"I see," Gildarts sighed rubbing his chin. "So you don't care about what happens to you then?" Natsu just stared at him blankly. "You say you care so much about Lucy. You want to protect her don't you?"
"Of course," Natsu answered. "I would give my life for her."
"I see," Gildarts said with a deep breath. "Then what will you do when Duke and his armies come from her? You know that Magnolia is at war with Junelle right now? That Duke and his armies will eventually come to Magnolia, and you think that if he gets the chance that he won't attempt to harm Lucy if he gets the chance? What will you do then? You think you can take on all of Duke's armies on your own to protect her? Natsu, I know you are strong, but you are not that strong."
Natsu sighed as he licked his chops and averted eye contact with the old man as it was now Gildart's turn to leer at the young man. Natsu knew that Gildarts was right, even though he didn't want to admit it. Now that he realized that Gildarts was right, and even though Natsu wasn't originally against the idea of fighting against Duke, the idea of being torn away from Lucy was just too disheartening for him. Not now at least, maybe if he had a little bit more time with her. But he has only been there for a day, that just wasn't enough time.
"I guess you're right," Natsu sighed in defeat. Gildarts smiled calmly at the young boy, knowing just how dishearten the boy really was. He placed his hand on the boy's shoulder as he chuckled to himself. He had to admit that he admired the boy's compassion for the girl. The love between them was strong and had always been since he had watched the two of them grow up together. Perhaps the boy had a point, and maybe the old man was being a bit brash having the boy go off to fight only a day after he arrived.
"Listen Natsu," Gildarts began scratching the back of his head. "I wouldn't do this unless it was absolutely necessary in your better interest. Right now, we're all in trouble, and we might be in even more trouble now that this whole Mila-Junelle alliance is being formed."
"Speaking of that," Gajeel said as he slumped off the wall. "Natsu, shouldn't we go off and find Cobra?"
"Cobra?" Gildarts said puzzled. "Who is Cobra?"
"He's someone within the Orecion Seis organization," Gajeel answered. "He was also someone that we just so happened to have traveled with since we were in Mila ourselves."
"Is this true?" Gildarts asked.
"Yes," Natsu said nodding his head.
"Why didn't you speak up during the meeting?" Gildarts said more than a bit enthusiastically.
"When were we going to get the chance to speak out during such a meeting?" Gajeel grunted. "None of those men would hear what we had to say. Even if we said we knew someone within the inner circle, nobody would have listened to us."
"True," Gildarts admitted. "But this is still something that we should talk about and handle. I'll talk to Makarov about this and see how he wants to proceed since this is a very delicate situation. I think you boys might actually made the wise decision not speaking up during the meeting afterall. If the suspect, Cobra as you call him, trusts you and you deliver him to us, than there won't be any raised suspicion from him."
Gajeel opened his mouth to respond but before he had a chance to speak they heard footsteps as Erza went running by them. "Erza," Natsu called to her but the redhead responded with nothing, nor did she even glance at them as she continued to run down the cobblestone streets. The three of them watched her, each as confused as the other. They stared after her before turning their confused gazes at one another.
"What's gotten into her?" Natsu said out loud. He peered back up at Gildarts with a cocked eyebrow.
"No idea," Gajeel answered instead of the old man.
In a short while they heard the similar footsteps coming from behind them as they turned around to see Jellal sprinting towards them. "Hey guys," Jellal said a bit out of breath. "Have you seen Erza?" The three of them looked at one another before they simultaneously pointed down the road. "Thanks," Jellal said nodding his head as he chased after her.
"What's gotten into him?" Natsu asked.
"The same thing that's gotten into her," Gajeel answered.
"No, you're both mistaken," Gildarts said. "From what it looks like, it's Jellal who's trying to get into her, but she's worried about the whole issue. There's a complication from their relationship, and she's not ready to take it to the next step just yet."
"You think he'll make it?" Gajeel asked.
"If there's one thing I'm an expert in, its conducting strategy capable of overcoming complicated situations in covert operations, and women," Gildarts answered.
"That's two things," Gajeel said.
"Oh . . . no young Gajeel." Gildarts shook his head. "It is not."
Jellal ran down the road, his mind was blank yet his feet continued to carry him. He ran down block after block, by building after building, realizing he had no idea where he was going before he came to a stop. He took in a couple of deep breaths as he looked down the streets seeing numerous other people wondering around and going about their day, but not redheads in armor. He just had to find Erza, but the problem was, he had no idea where he should start looking. Back in the meeting room he was still confused on what he was going to do. He had no idea how long he stood there debating with himself about whether or not he should chase after her, but he decided to. And now it seemed like he waited too long.
That was until he spotted a familiar dark haired boy with armor walking about with a whited haired boy that was a couple of years older and who wore a blue cape with his armor and a blue haired girl. He didn't know who the white haired man was, but he was wondering what Juvia was doing with Gray. They were shopping at the market, and he noticed that the blue haired girl was a bit clingy with Gray while the white haired boy was offering her flowers that he was looking at by a nearby vendor.
"Hey Gray," Jellal said out of breath as he ran up to them. "Have you seen Erza anywhere?"
"If she's not at the house then she might be at the pub," Gray told him.
This was not the answer Jellal was looking for. He thought that maybe that's where she went, but from the directions he received from Natsu and the others it was clear that she did not head back off in that direction. He sighed thanking them, but just before he was about to leave he heard Juvia speak up.
"Actually I think I saw where she went." The blue haired girl squeaked.
"Really? Where?" Jellal asked.
"I think I saw her run down that street," Juvia said pointing. She didn't seem to sure herself, but it was enough for Jellal. "At least I think it was her. She was a redhead wearing armor, so I'm fairly confident."
"Thanks Juvia!" Jellal called out to her as he ran down the same street. He had no idea where he was going, but then he though he saw something. A glimpse, a fleck of light in the distance that looked just like glimmer off of armor. Above it was a wave of cherry hair, as red as a fading sunset. It had to be her.
As he ran the street finally melted away into a lovely white sand beach. He was a bit surprised that he had run all this way. He still couldn't believe it, peering back to see the large fortress standing a top the higher hill overlooking the rest of the city. There wasn't time to think about that now as he looked back around the beach for the redhead. He finally spotted her familiar figure hunched over on a isolated hill of sand overlooking the water. The waves gently brushed against the moist sand at her feet.
He sighed a breath of relief. Though he found himself panting as the sudden realization of tiredness over took him and his legs began to wobble underneath him. How long had he run, he did not know but it was all catching up to him now. His heart was pounding so rapidly he could feel it throughout his entire body; each thud and echoed through his entire frame like a violent drum beat. His throat stung and burned with every ounce of air he sucked in through his mouth and nose. His skin was now soaking wet with sweat from the heat of the summer sun and the thick metal armor that adorned his body.
He was exhausted, feeling the blood course through his veins, like acid burning through his skin. He struggled to breathe; every gasp of air was like sucking down sandpaper. Beads of sweat dripped from his forehead and down into his eyes and onto his neck. It didn't matter to him now, it didn't matter how worn out his body felt, he forced himself to move forward regardless. She was right there, just in front of him and there was no way he was going to stop now.
"Erza," he said softly as he wondered over to her.
"Kya!" The girl squeaked in surprise. Jellal blushed as he stared at her. Never had he heard Erza make such a cute noise before. He didn't even know that she was capable of it. "Jellal?" Erza said flustered yet a bit angry. "What are you doing here? And why are you sneaking up on me?"
"I followed you," he told her.
"That's not creepy at all," she said sarcastically rolling her eyes. "Jellal I don't know what happened between us back there, but it can't happen again. So please, just leave me alone for now."
"No," he told her as he slumped down into the sand beside her. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Jellal," Erza sighed his name as though his name left a bitter taste on her tongue. She closed her eyes, acting as though she had a headache. When she opened her eyes to finish her thought, she could see that Jellal was only inches from her face as his hand wandered up and cuddled her cheek. The redhead found herself blushing like crazy as Jellal leaned further in and kissed her.
Erza's eyes went wide, but she slowly but they became heavy as the lids began to slowly fall shut. Her hand was weary, like a heavy weight was restricting her movements, but she ultimately managed to guide her hand up to Jellal's cheek and shove the un-expecting and bewildered noble away. "No," she said as she tore herself away from him. "We can't."
"Why not?" Jellal asked.
"Jellal," she said standing to her feet as she glared at him. "You're a nobleman and I'm a peasant. Do you think that we could ever be together? What do you think would happen to your title and rank? You would lose everything if we did decide to be together."
"I don't care about any of that!" Jellal snapped as he leapt to his feet. "Those mean nothing to me. I don't care about titles, or land. I don't care about my nobility or ranks. None of that is as important to me than you. You are the one thing I care about most than anything in this world."
"Don't be stupid!" Erza spat. Though her face had grown a bit red from both embarrassment and flattery. "I'm not asking you to give up anything for me!"
"I already gave up everything for you," Jellal snapped back. The girl recoiled as she stared at him stunned. "Erza, the moment I made you my knight I already put my entire life in jeopardy, but I never would have second guessed it. You think I care about my nobility? I'm not even a noble any more. I threw it all away and I don't regret it for a second. And even if I hadn't thrown it away already, I would gladly give it all up again for you."
Erza stammered looking away from him, biting her lip. Jellal gazed at her, all the while thinking about how cute the redhead was when she was flustered. It wasn't like her; it just wasn't her character to be all shy and coy. He had to admit that he liked this Erza better than the one that he was accustomed to. He could feel his heart racing as he glided over to her smiling a sly grin. He reached out to her chin and with the tips of his fingers he lifted it up so that her eyes met his own. Her face blushed a bright pink like spring roses.
"Fuck land, fuck titles and fuck ranks," he whispered as he leaned in closer to her. "You're the only thing I care about."
In one swell breath Jellal brought his lips down upon hers. This time Erza didn't resist his touch, and she made no attempt to pull away. She closed her eyes as she pressed her body into Jellal's as she felt his hands snake around her waste. Her own hands wondered up Jellal's torso to his upper back around his shoulders as she pulled him in deeper. To Jellal her lips were sweet and smooth, like the finest wine. Once they broke away for air the two of them lingered in one another's eyes before continuing.
After several moments they two of them broke away again. Erza pulled her hands away as she grasped Jellal's hand in hers and led him over to the hill she was sitting at and sat down. The young noble took a seat next to her. The redhead smiled as she rested her head on his shoulder. Her fragrance filled Jellal's nostrils; a strong smell of cream and cinnamon. She was intoxicating, but now he would just relish the moment of being with her.
"Hey Jellal," Erza whispered into his ear.
"Yeah?" The young noble asked before kissing her on the forehead.
"You smell," she giggled. The young man couldn't help but laugh along with her as he brought his lips back down upon hers.
Elsewhere in the city Gajeel and Natsu were waiting for Jellal and Erza to come back. When they realized that the two of them weren't going to return anytime soon, they decided to make their way back to their residence. Gildarts told them that he would meet them at the pub later that day, but for now he had his own business to attend to. Natsu just shrugged, and he just looked forward to seeing Lucy once more.
Before the two teens could leave the fortress a young man came running up to the two of them. Natsu and Gajeel noticed that he wasn't wearing any armor, but instead the robes of a squire. The boy couldn't have been more than a couple of years younger than either of them. "I'm looking for Gajeel," the boy said between pants. He stared at the two of them half expecting an answer.
"I'm Gajeel," the black haired teen answered as he leered down at the young squire.
"I have a message from you," the young boy said handing Gajeel a letter.
"From who?" Gajeel asked as he took the parchment from the boy.
"I do not know," the boy answered as he tried to peak at what the letter said. "It arrived the other day with the name Gajeel written on it. I asked around and they said that you had just arrived yesterday. I was told that I could fine you here." Gajeel said nothing as he opened the paper up as his eye darted through the paper.
"What does it say?" Natsu asked.
"I don't know," Gajeel said as his eyes lingered over to his fellow Draconan. "I can't read." He handed Natsu the paper half expecting the other boy to be able to do what he could not.
"What?" the pink haired boy said as he eyed the parchment and then leered up at Gajeel. "I don't know how to read either."
"How do neither of you know how to read?" The squire blurted out as he leered at the two of them. He was a bit bewildered to see the blank stares on either Draconan boy's face."Aren't the two of you knights?"
"No," Gajeel said nonchalantly shaking his head. "But do you mind?" Gajeel looked at Natsu as the pink haired boy offered the young lad the parchment. The squire sighed as he took the paper from Natsu's hands and looked at it. He gazed up at them still in a bit of disbelief before he decided to finally read what the letter said.
By the time you receive this, Sting and I will be halfway to Draconia. We managed to take refuge in a small village a little ways out of the east of Magnolia for now. We've been weary of being spotted by Duke's scouts, but it seems that there hasn't been much stirring around these parts, but the people are clearly afraid. They fear that war will come to their villages. They fear that they will lose their homes, their families and everything they own and possess.
We may not be in contact again until we arrive in Draconan territory. But we will try and send you another letter just before we venture into the country. Tell Natsu everything that you have read and let him know what we are doing. If it turns out to be safe for us, we'll send a letter to let you. Then maybe we can finally escape and not have to get involved in this war. But until then stay safe.
When the squire finished he handed the paper back to Gajeel without uttering another word. Natsu and the other Draconan teen both exchanged glances of concern. The squire peered up at the two of them wondering what the whole point of the letter was about, but he was too young and he was in no position to ask questions. Or at least that's how he was supposed to ask but that didn't stop the boy from speaking out.
"So who are these two men and why in the name of the gods would they willingly travel to Draconania?" The boy asked staring at them skeptically. "Don't they know how dangerous it is?"
"Romeo!" A voice called out to the young squire as he spun around to see an elderly man with a greased back hair and even thicker mustache that adorned his lips, just below the nose approached. He wore armor, but not that of a high ranking officer, but more of an average knight with some authority. "What are you doing bother the other officers? You should know better to show some respect to those who out rank you."
"I'm sorry father," the young squire sighed as he peered away. "It's just that—"
"No buts." The old man said holding up his hand to silence the boy. "You should return to the stables and attend to the horses for now. What business these gentlemen have is theirs, and what business you must attend to is yours. How else do you expect to be knighted if you're always skipping out on your chores and duties? You know Sir Wakaba may be a close family friend, but even he has his limits when it comes to insolence."
The young boy sighed bowing his head and apologizing to Natsu and Gajeel before leaving. The three of them watched as he trotted off towards the barracks before the boy's father looked back at them. "I apologize for my son's rudeness," he said. "So tell me who you boys are. I noticed that your armor is not from here, but rather Nirvit. Which is interesting since the two of you don't appear to look like your natives. Then again, as I recall from the meeting you are Natsu, of Konvern correct?" He asked pointing at Natsu.
"That's correct sir," Natsu answered.
"Well that's good," the older man said smiling. "My name is Captain Macao, officer in the Magnolian Crops. It looks like you and I might be working together soon under Gildarts' command. Seems like he knows he knows you from before. Were you his squire?"
"No, Gildarts was just my mentor growing up. He was hired to train me to become a soldier for King Jude's army. I was supposed to work for King Jude until Duke overthrew him and took control of Konvern. After that I escaped with Gajeel and Jellal and came up here." Natsu told him the story. "Though I was never a squire or anything like that. I was just a slave."
"I see," Macao said rubbing his chin. "Well that is an interesting tale. Well anyways I won't take up any more of your time. But I'll be seeing the two of you very soon I'm sure."
"Yes sir," Natsu said bowing his head in return.
With that Macao took his leave as Natsu and Gildarts began their long walk home. Gildarts on the other hand was busy saying farewell to the other officers and commanders along with Makarov. The old man sighed a breath of relief as all the military officials were gone. It's not that he didn't mind seeing them; it was the strain and stress that came with the bureaucracy that came along with it all that he did not like. But thus in the time of war must these things pass.
"Well now that that's finally over, I guess I should start preparing for my own mission, huh?" Gildarts sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck. He missed the days when he could just train and prepare soldiers for battle rather than partake in it himself.
"Not just yet," Makarov told him. The old man looked up at his compatriot. "Gildarts, I want you to find Kinana and bring her to me. I want to see if she knows anything else about Orecion Seis that could help us."
"Master," Gildarts said hesitantly but continued anyways. "I was just talking to Natsu and Gajeel and according to them they know of a Orecion Seis agent that's currently in the city."
"What?" Makarov blurted. "Why didn't you say something sooner?"
"It didn't seem like the ample time until now," Gildarts said.
"So then what do they know? Do they know where he is at? Do they know why he's here?" Makarov asked.
"Not exactly," Gildarts sighed. "But we can ask them if they can go and look for the man if you want. But I would much rather see if we could use Kiana for the operation instead."
"What? Why?" Makarov asked.
"Well Kiana is quite the cutie on her own right," Gildarts said. "Most people around her tend to drop their guard, and that gives her a distinct advantage over having a couple of men try and weasel information out of someone. Besides, you can never underestimate the power of a woman. They have capabilities that us men may never understand, and that we can only dream of possessing."
"Well, that most certainly is the truth," Makarov chuckled. "Do you think it will work?"
"I don't know." Gildarts shrugged. "But I think it would be a better option than the alternative. Especially in such a delicate situation. And worse comes to worse, we go with interrogation."
"But shouldn't we be weary if the agent recognizes her?" Makarov asked.
"Would that not be better?" Gildarts asked. "People are far more comfortable relaying information to those that they know."
"Then I would say that Natsu, Gajeel and Jellal would be better suited to the task," Makarov said.
"Maybe you're right," Gildarts sighed. "But I still think my idea would work better."
"Very well," Makarov sighed. "We'll try it your way. But are you sure that Kiana will go for it?"
"I'm sure she'll be completely fine with it," Gildarts said smiling widely. "Trust me."