As morning came, Natsu stirred in bed as he was woken up by the sun's light that leaked through the curtains. He grumbled as he awoke, realizing that it was time for him to get ready and meet with the others at the barracks for battle. As he did he heard a light moan coming from beside him as Lucy, still asleep nestled her head deeper into her pillow. Natsu smiled at how cute she was as he brushed the few strands of hair from that draped over her cranium so he can get a better view of her peaceful face.
The girl's eyes fluttered open as she revealed those sweet chocolate eyes to him. He beamed even brighter as she smiled back at him. He leaned in and kissed her on the forehead before he stood out of bed.
"Today's the day isn't it?" Lucy sighed as she sat up. She used the sheets to cover her exposed bosom as she peered over at Natsu's half naked frame with dreary and gloomy eyes.
"Yeah," he exhaled through a deep breath. "But don't worry, I'll come back soon." He turned to face her with a beaming smile.
The blonde always loved that about him; the cocky arrogance and self assurance. But she had to admit that it was definitely something that she found charming and rather cute. She admired it, perhaps it was one of the things she admired most about the pink haired boy. It made her glad, and deep down she knew that he was right. He was not one to break promises, and he never had done so with her.
"Just be careful out there, please," Lucy uttered. "I know you all too well. You'll go rushing into danger the first chance you get."
"It's no fun any other way," Natsu laughed. He jumped onto the bed, taking Lucy by the neck and pulling her in for a kiss. He gazed deep into those pools of mocha as he stroked her chin. "I promise you this will all be over soon, and when I come back we can finally be together like he had always hoped." Lucy felt her heart leap as Natsu kissed her once more before breaking away. She wished that he would stay but she knew that he had his job to do. She'll just have to be patient for just a bit longer.
Later Natsu made his way out front of the house where he spotted Gajeel standing out front with Jellal. The three of them all dawning their armor as the three of them made their way to the barracks. Out front they could see a line of officers waiting, among them a tall man with blonde hair and a serious demeanor. Amongst all the officers was Gildarts as he played with one of the blue-metal gauntlets on his wrist. He wore armor similar to the officers around him, something that Natsu had never seen before. But what was peculiar was how the old man appeared to be.
"Oh, Natsu, Jellal, Gajeel," Gildarts called out as he waved over to them. Natsu and the other two complied as they approached. Then Natsu noticed Gray, was also there amongst the others. The pink haired boy scoffed as he kept his focus on his old mentor. "Glad to see you boys make it," Gildarts laughed. "I hope you're ready for your first taste of combat Natsu."
Natsu remembered to that time he was a child, just sitting out front of the main gate when he was attacked by the other three slaves. He remembered how he had slashed them, and burned the one man's face. The image of the man withering in agony in the mud over came him as he shook it from his mind. Right now he needed to focus on what was really important, and that was making sure he brought an end to this war as soon as he could.
"Gildarts, it's good to have you join us," Laxus said as he walked towards the small group. "And it's good to see you again, my friends," he said gesturing towards Natsu and Jellal. "I'm glad to see you have decided to join us in our endeavors. We could certainly use the help."
"Glad to be a part of it," Natsu answered. "Hope we can get this over with as soon as possible."
"War is a complicated matter," Laxus grunted. "We can't be too sure when this conflict is going to end. This could be a week, a year, maybe several years. No one can know for sure. All we know is what we have to do, and try to execute our plans as best we can. There's a lot more than Magnolia at stake here, we're talking about the entire continent. We cannot, under any circumstances, loose."
"I understand," Natsu said nodding his head.
"Men get ready!" A voice shouted. Natsu and everyone else turned to see Gran Doma approaching with a platoon of men behind him. "We march in five minutes."
But he did not stop as he glided towards Natsu and Jellal. The other en gazed at him skeptically, wondering exactly what he was doing. He had a grimace on his face as he glared at the young noble. Jellal could see his eyes lingering on him as he felt his heart race, and a swarm of anxiety overtake him. He was confused and frightened at the same time, wondering why he was the target of the old man's malice.
"You are Jellal Fernandez, correct?" Gran Doma asked as he stood in front of the young noble. All eyes were on them as a crowd of armed guards stood around the commander as he stood with a firm stance.
"Yes sir," Jellal answered, doing his best to stand up tall at full attention. He knew that he must be as respectable as he could to such a commanding officers, especially one man that was clearly in a position of power that this man was.
"Very well," he said nodding to the crowd of guards behind him. "Men, arrest that man and bring him to the prison. We'll deal with him when we return."
"What?!" Natsu blurted out, as Jellal was just as stunned as he was. "You can't!" Natsu stepped in front of Jellal to bar the soldiers from taking his friend away as his hands morphed into claws and his eyes slanting to a fierce reptilian glare. He eyed the soldiers who were motioning towards Jellal for the arrest, but now were targeting the pink haired boy.
"Natsu no," Gildarts said as he grabbed his shoulder. Natsu could sense it coming, but he allowed the old man to touch him.
"You can't expect me to—"
"Yes, I do and you will," Gildarts said sternly as he pulled the boy out of the way. The pink haired teen was amazed that his own mentor was doing this. How could Gildarts let his friend, the man who helped save him in Konvern get arrested for no good reason.
Jellal stood there and did as they said. He knew that there was no point in resisting them. He couldn't break away from literally dozens, maybe over a hundred soldiers that surrounded him. He did not defy, but allowed himself to be shackled as two soldiers carried him off to the barracks. Natsu watched and gritted his teeth as he stepped forward. Gildarts kept an arm locked on tight to the young teen preventing him from moving anywhere. The young teen fought his urge to go after them, as he watched Jellal disappear behind the castle gate.
"General Doma," Gildarts said before the old man turned away. "May I ask why you found it necessary to arrest that young man?"
"Jellal Fernandez, former Hand of Duke," he is an enemy and he shall be treated as such."
"But he was the former Hand of the King!" Natsu barked. "He was our friend and ally! He is as much Duke's enemy as you or I, if not more so! How can you throw him in prison like that!"
"Gildarts, who is this child who thinks he can talk to me in such a manner?" Gran Doma growled. Both he and Natsu exchanged fierce glares, but the young man was not about to back down. Gildarts stepped in front of him, blocking the boy from view.
"I'm sorry sir, he's my protégé," Gildarts told him. "He is young and naïve. Please, excuse his brash behavior."
"Very well," the old man scoffed. "We have more important matters to attend to anyways."
With that he led the front as the other soldiers lined up behind him. Natsu was still furious about what happened, while Gajeel stood there promptly waiting for them to move out. Natsu couldn't understand how nonchalant Gajeel could be about the whole issue. He offered no protests, no argument, instead he seemed to not care that their friend was just taken away to prison. How could he not care about the man who helped save their lives?
"Gajeel?" Natsu snapped.
"Shut it," Gajeel quipped. Natsu was taken back by the black haired Draconan's aggression. "There's nothing we can do now for him. All we can do is our jobs, come back and then find a way to save him. But at the moment there is nothing we can do. Unless you feel like fighting half of Magnolia's army?"
"But nothing," Gajeel cut him off. "What do you think Jellal would want? For you to get your dumbass killed, or thrown in prison with him? Or would he rather you go out an find a way to stop Duke?"
Natsu sighed as he did not want to admit it. He refused to admit it. "This isn't right and you know it," he grumbled.
"You've always been an idiot Natsu," Gajeel said. Natsu glowered up at him. "You don't think about what your actions do, you don't think about the consequences of your irrational behavior. Sometimes you have to accept the bad circumstances for what they are until the right time. Until then, you're just going to have to deal with it."
"Very well said," Gidarts said acknowledging Gajeel. "For a man still in the prime of his youth, those were some incredibly wise words. Natsu," he said looking at his young pupil, "I know you're upset, and at any other time I would be protesting, same as you, but right now we are in a severe situation and there is no time for us to be picking fights with commanding officers who are in charge of our allies."
"I don't care," Natsu snarled. "I'll kill Duke and his entire army with my own hands if I have to."
"Natsu I know you are strong, but you're not as powerful as you believe," Gildarts told him.
"We'll just see," Natsu grumbled.
Natsu followed the rest of the company as the battalions moved out. He noticed that all the citizens had lined up along the streets to watch the soldiers march out to war. Many of the bystanders threw flowers on the cobblestoned streets as the horses and metal boots strutted over them. Natsu and the others were in the middle, but he was still so infuriated with what happened to Jellal he didn't have time to notice the enclave of cheering Magnolians.
"Natsu?" he heard Lucy's soft feminine voice whisper his name as he looked up to see the blonde walking next to him; tulip flower in her hand, extending out to him. "Are you okay?" she asked worried.
"I'm fine," he answered as he took the flower from her hand. He noticed that Levy was right behind her handing a similar flower to Gajeel. The other teen looked a bit bewildered and flustered. Levy, was no different, as a radiant pink filled her cheeks as she handed the boy the flower.
"You promise me that you'll come home unhurt, okay?" she said as she kissed him on the cheek. "I'll be waiting for you."
With that she fell out of the march and back into the crowd. Natsu waved at her until she was no longer in view. He looked down at the tulip, twirling it in his fingers as they marched out of the gate. He saw Gajeel doing the same thing out of the corner of his eye. But they were not the only men in the march, there were men who had received there's from their own maidens, as well as men who were still receiving them despite the constant motion of the large mass of men.
"They're for ceremony," Gildarts said before Natsu even asked. The boy eyed him curiously. "The crowd throws flowers at the feet of the men as they march to commemorate those who will die in battle."
"And the tulip?" Natsu asked eyeing the plant skeptically.
"The tulip is the flower that marks the graves of the dead. Women, either the soldier's lover or family member, gives them the tulip as a sign that they will never forget them if they die in battle. Since there is no guarantee that the soldier will return, it's a commemoration for them while they are still alive."
"I see," Natsu said. It was kind of disheartening the more he thought about it.
"That's why they give you tulips, and that's why they toss the flowers onto the street, for all the men on the street. When they return, the people will throw roses instead, which represent life," Gildarts finished.
Once the parade of soldiers had marched out the front gate, Natsu noticed that each platoon was splitting off into designated directions. Gildarts told him to stand nearby as he continued straight onwards. They came atop a hill overlooking the rest of the army, as Natsu's eyes went wide at what stood before him. Down at the base of the hill, a good mile from Magnolia's wall stood several lines of horsemen number at least two thousand all ready to march.
"Amazing isn't it?" Gildarts said as he looked out at the sheer number of men and horses. The grand total of the army had to number around five thousand now. Natsu had never seen such a mass of men all in one location. This was war? Are all these men really going to go off and fight? And he was to fight along side all of them? He looked down at the tulip Lucy had handed him, wondering if all the men out there had received the same gift.
"Commander Gildarts," Natsu snapped out of his trance to see that Gray had ridden up next to them. "Captain Laxus would like request that you and your young squires to join him and his company on the march."
"We're not squires!" Natsu spat.
"Oh, well, you're servants than," Gray said smugly as he turned his horse around and rode away.
"I really hate that guy," Natsu grunted as he followed after Gildarts and Gajeel.
Outside the Magnolian countryside rode Ivan with a division of Duke's army. They were resting for the night as they constructed a camp at the base of a river. The men set up their tents and prepared their suppers as the sun began to set. It was the new Northern Army, as Duke liked to put it. He left Ivan in charge of overseeing it, much to the dismay of the nobleman, along with two of Duke's generals. Duke meanwhile took leave to visit Mila and negotiate a treaty with them. Ivan wanted to go along for the negotiations, however he and Duke had been quarreling ever since the fall of Nirvit. Ivan did not agree with Duke's brash actions and amongst their arguments the young king became so frustrated he decided that the two of them needed to be separated for a period of time.
Now Ivan was stuck out here in the country with about five thousand troops whose job it was to go from village to village forcing them to surrender. It was trivial amongst other things. Now the old nobleman found himself sitting at a table surrounded by other old men discussing the next battle plans as uproars of complaints flooded into the discussion. About how the army was running out of food and supplies while morale of the army was fading.
Duke really left the old man in a predicament. He wanted to take the army back to a city, or at least at an encampment where they could rest up and replenish their supplies until it was fitting for them to move out. He also would like to have a larger portion of the military at his disposal, but Duke was insistent they continue their conquest. If it wasn't for the generals and officers complying with the king's orders Ivan would have turned around at the first moment he got.
"Lord Ivan, I suggest we go south. There are more fields and farms down there. We could feed our men for another few months with the crops that we'll gather." One of the officers said.
"I agree," conquered another.
"Yes, very well," Ivan sighed. "When do you plan on moving out?"
"In the morning," the general answered.
"My Lords!" A messenger shouted as he came running into their tent. "We're under attack!"
"What?!" Ivan shouted in dismay. How could they be under attack?
He stormed out of the tent with the other officers behind him. He pushed the flap aside to see to his dismay that his camp was under attack by legions of Magnolian troops along with their allies. Battalions of calvary came swarming in on horseback, tearing through the encampment, along with whatever men stood in their way. Following behind them were the foot soldiers as they clashed through the struggling soldiers from the three combined kingdoms.
Petrified, the old man stood and watched as man after man was cut down, scream of agony and freight filled the still air. The officers rushed to their horses and to their posts, hoping against hope to strike a counter offensive, but Ivan knew that by now it was too late. They had been all but defeated. The only thing for him to do now was to find a horse and retreat. But where could he find one? His eyes wondered around the camp looking for one.
"How in the name of the gods did they sneak up on us?" Ivan blurted out.
"My Lord Ivan," an officer in a blue cape said as he ran up to Hand with a small group of soldiers behind him. "We have to get you out of here. I fear that the Northern Army is lost."
"How did this happen?!" Ivan shouted as he was led away by the officer. "How did an army this large manage to sneak up on us?" He turned around to see the mass of chaos as a loud, blood curling shrill echoed nearby.
"We don't know sir," we hadn't heard from any of our scouts that Magnolia was even advancing.
"What about our man in Magnolia?" Ivan asked. "What about him?"
"Lord Ivan," the officer said perplexed. "We haven't heard from him in a few weeks."
"Why has no one informed me of this sooner?" Ivan spat.
"My Lord," the man said apologetically, "the king requested that any and all information be given to him, and only him."
"That fool," Ivan cursed under his breath. The young king had been fighting him for control and authority ever since Nirvit, and now he was trying to override his own orders? He knew Duke was naïve, but he did not know that he was this stupid, to jeopardize such critical information.
Ivan arrived at a horse as the officer began to help him on, before the sound of a familiar shout stopped the old noble in his tracks.
"IVAN!" Natsu shouted as he can rushing at him.
Ivan's eyes went wide as the officer and his company unsheathed their swords. He order Ivan to go, a command he did not need to tell the Hand twice. Natsu was upon them within the next moment. One of the soldiers swung his sword, but Natsu ducked underneath before using his talons to gash the man's gut. He wasted no time as he felt the burning sensation in the pit of his stomach release itself upon the remaining soldiers as a shower of flames erupted forth. The men shouted in terror and anguish as the fell to the ground, or leapt to the side. Ivan still horror struck saw that within a second, his defense had all but fallen as he attempted to jump onto his horse. He was too late though. Natsu grabbed the nobleman from behind, hurdling through the air as Ivan landed hard in the mud. The old man turned to see an enraged Natsu approaching him, his eyes burning with fire that pierced Ivan's soul. The old man scooted back in the mud; the soggy grass beneath him caused his feet and hands to slip as he tried to pry himself up, unsuccessfully.
"Natsu wait!" Ivan shouted as he held up his hand. The teen glowered down at him seething in a mad urge to kill was over taking him. "Natsu, I have always been your friend and ally. I have always been there for you, taking care of you when you were a child. Don't you remember?"
"I remember you did nothing when Duke attempted to assonate Lucy," Natsu growled as he stepped towards the cowering man. "I remember you did nothing when Duke locked me in prison waiting to die."
"Natsu what was I to do?" Ivan squeaked through quivering lips as he crawled back. "You don't understand, I did help."
"How?" Natsu growled as he raised his claw above his head.
"Who do you think it was that sent Levy down to the dungeons to free Gajeel?" Ivan cried. Natsu stopped dead as he stared at Ivan. The old noble noticed this as he quickly continued. "I made it possible for Levy to go to the dungeons and free Gajeel; that way, they could go and save Lucy, and then hopefully you. I knew that it was the only way to insure your safety, and Lucy's." Ivan was breathing deeply, but he could see that Natsu was becoming more relaxed as his claw glided down to his side.
"It was you?" Natsu whispered confused.
"Of course it was me," Ivan said as he slowly rose to his feet. "I had to act at the appropriate time. I couldn't risk Duke learning about my attempts to help you. Natsu, how long have you known me? Have I not always been your friend? Was it not me who always took care of you?"
"But why did you let Lucy's father be banished?!" Natsu growled as he raised his claw again.
"There are things that were beyond even my control," Ivan said as he fell backwards onto his rear. "I did the best I could Natsu, all to protect you and Lucy."
"Why?" Natsu asked.
"Because Lucy was like a daughter to me, and I knew that you two had a special relationship ever since you were children. I care about her, more so than her father ever did, and it was because of that I did what I needed to do," Ivan said as he watched Natsu's hand closely.
Natsu dropped his guard as he leered at the nobleman. "Than how could you let this war continue? Why have you not stopped Duke? How could you let it escalate to this point?"
"What was I to do Natsu?" Ivan pleaded. "I cannot kill him, that would only lead to my death and solve nothing. Somebody else would take over and the chaos would continue. But, if I watched from the sidelines I thought that I could manipulate it more, be a voice in the king's ear to stop him from doing most of the awful things he has done. Didn't you ever wonder why no one ever chased after you? That was because I convinced Duke to let you go. I've always been your ally Natsu. Always. Don't you trust me?"
"Trust?" Natsu cried. "Who can I trust anymore? The Magnolians threw my friend Jellal in prison, all because he used to be part of Duke's council. And the people who I thought were friends of mine stood there and did nothing! They tell me I have to fight for that asshole, that piece of filth!"
"Who?" Ivan asked confused.
"Gran Doma," Natsu growled, the name rolled off his lips like a viper's tongue. "You're supposed to be my enemy, but then my own supposed allies care nothing for me or my friends."
"Then you put your trust in the wrong people I'm afraid, Natsu," Ivan told him. "You know me, better than you know them, just like I know you better than they do. Trust your heart Natsu, you know deep down that it is I whom you can trust. More so than these other scoundrels who would have you kill me to serve their own petty grievances. It is I who will take care of you, as I have done since you were an infant. Please, put your claws down and let us make peace like we did in the old days? Don't you remember those days?"
Upon hearing his words Natsu found his beast like behavior slowly melt away, the hatred that fueled him began to slowly mend but he wasn't completely convinced. His hand fell back to his side, as the talon fingernails retracted into his finger tips. Ivan saw it as he held up his hand and slowly rose to his feet. He was still frightened but he was beginning to suspect that Natsu was calmer now.
"I'm sorry," Natsu whispered as his eyes fell to the ground. "I didn't know."
"There is no need to apologize my son," Ivan said, he was still weary as he looked down at Natsu.
"It is not your fault," Ivan said as he slowly lifted up his hands. He was hesitant to place them on the boy's shoulders, but as he glided them towards the boy he realized that Natsu was no longer enraged with him. His hands clasped onto the boy's shoulders as Natsu looked up at him with sorrowful eyes. "With all this mass confusion its hard to blame you. But now that you know, we can work together to bring down that monster King Duke and restore peace to the country."
"Then we can go home, to Konvern, and Lucy will take the throne, right?" Natsu asked. "Then we can be together, like we always hoped."
"Well," Ivan said hesitantly as he looked for the right words to say, "not exactly." Natsu peered up at him. "You see, Lucy is a princess, she cannot take the throne if she is with a sla—" Natsu's eyes slanted menacingly as Ivan chocked back his words. "A former slave!" He quipped with a smile. Natsu wasn't too satisfied by the change of words, but it was better than having him glare with those killer eyes again. "You see," Ivan said as he rubbed his chin and strutted about, "as a princess she must marry a prince or someone of noble birth, if she does not than there is no way for her to take the throne. That is . . . unless you're willing to give her up?"
"Never!" Natsu barked.
"Well then, seeing as how no one knows of Jude's whereabouts, or if he is even alive, I guess," he broke away from the hug as a sly smirk crossed his lips, "I can always assume the throne instead."
"You?" Natsu asked a bit curious.
"Of course," Ivan gasped, pretending to sound astonished and offended. "I am a nobleman, as well as a former Hand to both kings. Well technically, I guess I am still the Hand to King Duke, but that's not important. I am more than suitable for the throne at the moment, and according to law, if there is no one of royal blood who can take the throne then it goes to the Hand of the King. So, once I am king then you and Lucy can live together as you have always wanted: in peace without worry for the rest of your lives. I will even give you my blessings if you want."
"Really?" Natsu said happily. "I'm sorry sir. I didn't know."
"There is no need to apologize my son," Ivan said cheerily. "Now come, we should leave this place. I know that you are with the soldiers, but me, being the Hand of the King, they'll hang me before sunrise." He looked up to see that by now, most of the Northern Army was either dead or had fled. The nobleman glided over to where his horse was standing.
"Yes sir," Natsu said as he followed him. Natsu helped the old nobleman onto his horse as Ivan grabbed the reigns.
"Natsu, I know that we have no time to talk, so I will keep this short. I need you to find the other Draconan children, those with powers like yours. We need them if he have any chance of overthrowing Duke and his armies."
"I will do as you wish, My Lord," Natsu told him, bowing his head.
"You are a good friend my boy. I will see you soon." And with that he whipped the reigns and galloped away. Natsu watched him leave before returning to his own encampment, a sly happy grin crossing his lips.