Amongst his exile Jude made his way out to the country, at one of his summer estates. The estate was a large villa that stood atop a hill overlooking the massive river below. Fields of wild grass and wildflowers grew just the villa's stonewalls along the cliff itself. The old king stood outside his balcony looking down at the flowing water below, the forest kissing the banks. A light gust of wind brushed along, skimming along skin and leaf with an icy touch.
"How long has it been?" Jude said to himself. "The seasons have already begun to change and autumn is upon us. This wretched summer has come to an end, only to give way to the bitter cold of the winter. I have lost everything: my kingdom, my treasure and my daughter. If only there was some way to regain all that I have lost, if only there was some way I could regain my throne and my wealth."
"My Lord," Arcadios said as he approached the king. "Supper is ready. Would you care to dine now my liege?"
"Give me a minute Arcadios," Jude replied. "I need just another moment to gather my thoughts."
"Very good sire," Arcadios said as he bowed his head and turned to leave.
"Arcadios," Jude called to him. The knight stopped mid-step as he turned to face him. "How is your wound faring?"
"Nothing but a mere scathe sire," Arcadios answered. "It is all but healed by now. Only a scar remains."
"That is good to hear my friend. I am glad you have returned to my side Arcadios," Jude said as he kept his gaze outward. "You are one of the few loyal subjects I have left."
"You are the king, your Magesty," Arcadios answered. "I have sworn an oath to protect your house. And though you, my master, are still alive still I am shamed for my failure to protect the princess from that traitorous Duke and leave her to the executioner. I am forever thankful you have disregarded my dishonor and allowed me to continue serving you, my Lord."
"Sir Arcadios, you have endure much since the treachery of Duke and Ivan. It was only a week ago that you arrived on my doorstep battered, bruised and near death. I have few friends left in this world Arcadios, and to turn you away would bear me the greater sin."
"You are too kind sire," Arcadios answered.
"What news of the war? How are my soldiers faring in Duke's conflicts?"
"They are winning from what my ears have heard. Most of the west, as far as Nirvit have already been succumbed to his rule, as the south. Only the north where Magnolia and her allies lie remain to resist the offense of Duke's armies. But the young letch has taken to the south to forge an alliance with Mila. But for now, that is all that I know."
"That is disheartening," Jude sighed. "Thank you Arcadios. I will come down for dinner in a moment. You are dismissed."
"Thank you, my Lord," Arcadios said with a bow. With that he took his leave and shut the glass door behind him. Leaving Jude alone upon the balcony. He rested his palms against the gothic style railing.
"There is one who can help, but I dare not summon him. The one who's heart his as dark and sinister as a viper's poison. Could I take the risk, trusting him to restore me to where I belong? Upon my throne." He sighed as he shook the thought from his head. But then the more he contemplated it the more he started thinking that maybe the risk was worth it. "I've already lost my throne, my kingdom . . . my family. Now I have been forced to live in exile. What more could I possibly lose?"
He shut his eyes as he wondered how he was going to summon him.
"You know how long I have awaited for you to summon me," a voice croaked behind him. Jude's blood ran cold, frozen in his very veins, and his heart ceased it's beating. "I would have expected a man like you to have made a request much sooner than you did," the dark figured walked up beside him, as he peered down towards the river. "That would be quite a fall, wouldn't it," he snickered. "How long do you think it would take for one to hit the ground? Care to find out?"
"I d-d-don't," Jude stammered.
The dark figured burst out into a shrill of laughter. "Relax. It's only a joke. Besides, why would I want to throw you off? That would spoil any real fun that I can have with you. So why did you call me here? Let me guess, you want me to restore you to your crown?" He walked away, leaving Jude standing idly by, quaking.
"Perhaps, I made a mistake," Jude whispered as he kept his eyes low.
"No, no you didn't," the shadowy figure grunted. "You summoned me here because you want something from me. Now I want to hear you say it. Come on now, Jude. Tell me what it is that you desire above all else." Jude stood there in silence, the air around him went stale. The shadow standing impatiently behind him, wheezed with every breath as the old king began to grow agitated. He didn't want to answer, he didn't want to speak to this being that stood leering down at him with condescending judgment. Who was this man to judge him? He was a king, or at the very least, the rightful king to a country stolen from underneath him. "Tell me!" The shadow demanded.
"I want my throne back!" Jude wailed as he flung his body around to face the demonic figure standing behind him. "I want my kingdom back! I want the crown of my fathers, that has been passed down through my house for generations. I want to be restored to my rightful place as ruler of Konvern, and not locked away in some villa in the country. I want to what is mine!"
"And you can have it," the shadow snickered. "All you have to do is ask."
"But there is a price," Jude snorted.
"Of course," the shadow mused. "There is always a price. It is the law of magic and of the world. If you want something, something valuable, than there is always a price that must be paid to acquire it."
"Then tell me what it is that you want," Jude spat. "What is it that you wish to take away from me."
"Well," the shadow said pondering, as he strode along the flagstone balcony. "You really don't have much to offer. I mean you don't really have anything that is worth trading for a throne." He stopped as he thought about it a little longer. Jude stared at him intently. His eyes baring down at the shadow that stood in front of him. Half of him was screaming that he reconsider making any deal and to turn back now while he still could, but another part of him urged him forward. What more could the shadow take from him that he hadn't already lost? "That is unless . . ." the shadow stopped midsentence as his neck slowly crept back to face Jude.
"Unless what?" the old king demanded.
"You're daughter, Lucy. She's a stunning, young creature is she not?" The shadow cackled. Jude glared at him with a sinister glare that only made the shadow burst out into an even more horrific shrill. "Obviously, if you were to reclaim your throne, than obviously she would be the next in line to succeed you."
"What do you want with my daughter?" Jude demanded.
"Your daughter in exchange for your throne," the shadow told him.
"NEVER!" Jude roared. "My daughter is not some sow that can be bartered with! I will not hand her over to the likes of you."
"Really?" said the shadow with a false sense of confusion. "You didn't sound so protective of your daughter when you were eager to giver her away to Duke. And to provide a little bit of clarity about your daughter: she is no longer yours to give away. She has already given herself and her love to another."
"What are you saying you devil?"
"I am saying, old king, that your daughter has lied with another; a Draconan to be précised. One that you know all too well," he snickered as he saw the swarm of red stain the skin of Jude's infuriated face.
"You lie devil!" Jude roared. "No way in the realms of heaven and hells that my daughter, my Lucy, would dare soil herself with the shame of lying with a Draconan, let alone a slave! I will not be misled by your trickery and ill contempt. You deceit to squander my daughter away from me will get you know where. Now be gone you wretched and vile knave!"
"Do NOT forget who it is you insult, old king," the shadow shrieked as he lurked forward. A cloud of black formed around him, as his body seemed to grow larger as he linger towards Jude. The old king scuttled back, but found his body pressed against the railing, keeping him from plunging into the valley below. "I am more than capable of striking you down with a mere flick of the wrist," a bolt hissed by Jude, striking a piece of the railing, causing the loose stone to plummet down over the side. "And if you need proof than behold."
The shadow extended his arm revealing a small image of Lucy and Natsu together on the girl's balcony in Magnolia. The two of them intertwined, as their lips caressed one another's. That was until the girl stepped back, and with interlocked finger tips she seductively led the boy towards the bedroom. Jude watched as the furry in his eyes and face burned with the intensity of a roaring inferno. He chuckled as his gaze fell to the shadows of the chamber behind him, but only for a brief moment.
"LIES!" He cried. "Deceit. I cannot believe it. I will not believe it. My daughter with— him? The mere idea is unthinkable."
"All that I revealed to you is true," the shadow said as the image faded just before Lucy dropped her gown to reveal her naked body to Natsu. His head turned around looking back to that same area of shadows. He said nothing before looking back at Jude.
"The wench! The whore! I weep for her mother who is fortunate enough to have passed on without seeing the travesty that has become our daughter. Woe be to my family and ancestors!" With an enraged glare his eyes stared at the shadow before him. "I have no daughter." He growled as the words permeated through his lips with a tone of malice and resent. "Do what you want with the bitch. She has forfeited her love to me, her mother and the House of Heartfilia the moment she laid with a slave. Of all the disgusting, unforgivable deeds she could have done to soil the family name." He took in a deep breath as the shadow watched him closely. He could not see behind the shroud of the figure's veil, but he knew that in that blackness the shadow was smirking an ever-wicked smile. "She is yours to do with as you please devil, whatever hell hath you waiting for her I will not impede. My throne is all that I have now to call my own. Even if there is no heir to follow after me, it is far better to restore at least some honor to my House after what that whore has done."
"Very well, then in time what is yours shall be returned to you," the shadow cackled as he spun around to walk away. Though his hood focused on a part of the room that lied in the shadows. His eyes lingered there as he continued to speak, "The deed is done and the motions of the wheel shall begin to turn. Rejoice this day, former king, for now the name king shall belong to you once more." And with one last laugh he vanished.
Jude was still infuriated as he stormed off the balcony and through his chambers. He needed something to eat. His blood was boiling like a teapot on the stove, and his mind was a flutter of different thoughts. His hatred for his daughter's betrayal, the excitement of him recovering his throne and the thoughts of killing the slave that had destroyed his family name flooded through his mind as though the levies that were holding back all thoughts had been shattered. He was dazed and confused, a small voice, faint amongst all the others beckoned him to reconsider. That maybe he was being a bit harsh on his daughter, and that he should recall the offer until calmer heads prevailed. But he would have none of it. Food, that was all he wanted to focus on at the moment. To fill his stomach with belly and wine for soon he would be back home in Konvern where he belong.
As Jude left the room, Arcadios seeped out of the shadows, a disgruntled and horrified expression filled his face. His heart had all but stopped when the shadow glared at him. And though he was frightened that he had been found out, the shadow had said nothing. But Arcadios knew in his heart, he could sense it behind all that black cloth and shadow of darkness that the shadowy figure was grinning at him. Like he was telling the knight that not only did he know that he was present, but he was mocking him for his inability to do anything. Not to confront the shadow there on the balcony, but at the sheer terror that Arcadios felt the moment he had heard Jude trade Lucy away to the devil. His own daughter.
Was the shadow testing him? Did he want Arcadios to interject and defy his king? What was it? The knight was now the one full of frustration. Confusion riddled through him. What was he to do? He swore to protect Lucy and his king, but now he was expected to betray one for the other. But which one? He loved Lucy. He loved her with all his heart, and the thought of her being sent off to suffer under that devil was too much for him to bear. He knew what she had done was wrong, but still it was not worth her life. He had bled for her before, and he would do it again. But he could not turn on his king.
"This is what he wants," Arcadios said out loud to himself. His lips shivered and his body quaked in fear and anger. "He wants me to do something. He wants me to betray Lucy to her fate with him, or betray Jude to save her. I have to make a choice, but which? Damn him. Damn him and his sick games!"
He thought about it. But the decision was not that difficult. He knew what the right choice was. He would go, find the princess and do what he needed to do in order to save her. How? He did not know. All he knew was that she needed him, now more than ever. There was only one place she could be now. Magnolia. He would leave the first moment he got. The situation would be delicate. He would have to convince the king that he was leaving to find other knights to serve along side him to protect Jude. Yes, such a simple task would be more than enough for Jude to allow him to leave.
"Wait for me Princess," Arcadios said as he hurried down the corridor. "I'm coming."
Back in Magnolia Lucy sat on her own balcony as she fiddled with the dragon pennant around her neck. She watched the sunset as she thought about Natsu and the others. She had been worried about him ever since he left, lamenting that moment she had to hand him that tulip. She knew he was strong, and capable of dealing with almost any opponent, but this was different. This was not just a group of bandits or a rowdy bunch of slaves, this was war. These were trained soldiers that he beloved was going up against, and anything could happen amongst the chaos. Though she felt a bit more at ease knowing that Gildarts was there by Natsu's side. Even Gajeel, as hot headed as he was. He may have been a bandit, and she was wary to trust him at first, but he had come to be an honorable man in her eyes.
She missed him, wondering why when they were finally together after enduring such a long time of being apart. Fate was cruel, and politics even crueler. For now she would just have to worry about him and pray to the gods that he be returned safely to her.
She took in a deep breathe, the salty scent of the ocean spray filled her nostrils with its intoxicating aroma. But then she felt strange; abit weary and hot. She shook her head as her vision began to grow clouded. What was going on? She felt fine a moment ago, but now she felt like a fever was coming on. She tucked the pennant back into her bosom.
"Levy!" she called as she stood up and walked towards her bed. Her legs buckled underneath her midstride as she toppled to the hard stone floor. "Levy!" Again she cried as her vision began to grow too fuzzy. The world was shaking around her, sliding each and every direction, distorted like she was being shaken like mad but her body was not moving. "Levy!"
"Miss Lucy?" she heard the young handmaiden call as she opened the door to the blonde's room. "Miss Lucy is everything all right?"
"I'm—" she swallowed back her words as they became like jagged rocks in her throat. She struggled to speak but finally she managed to croak out a soft, "Help."
"Miss Lucy!" Levy cried as she rushed to the princess's side. She fell to her knees as she looked the blonde up and down. She placed her hand on Lucy's brow as she could feel a sweltering heat radiate from her crown. "In the name of the gods," she gasped, "you're burning up Miss Lucy."
"Levy," the girl whimpered weakly as she attempted to clasp her friends hand, only to have it fall limply to her side. "Levy."
"Erza!" Levy called for the redhead. "Erza!"
"What is it? What's wrong?" Erza shouted as she came bolting in through the chamber door. Her eyes went wide as she saw Levy crouched next to Lucy. "What's wrong with Lucy?"
"I don't know, but she's burning up," cried the young handmaiden. "Help me get her to her bed. It would better for her to lie on her own bed than on the hard stone floors out in the elements."
Erza did not say another word before she too swiftly made her way to the blonde girl's side. Together the two of them lifted Lucy up and carried her to her bed where the rested her on her mattress. The girl shook with a violent chill as soon as they set her down. Levy wasted no time as she threw a blanket on top of her to warm her body up.
Lucy managed to open one of her eyes as her vision was so distorted Erza and Levy were just blurs faded into the background. But then she noticed something, or rather someone standing over her at the edge of the bed; a shadowy figure that stared at her through a veil of black and shadow. Levy and Erza could not see him, or were they ignoring him? How could they not see this mass of black standing right between them she wondered.
"Go fetch a doctor," Levy said looking up at Erza with troubled eyes. Now the scarlet outline of Erza fazed away into the ripples of oily mixture that was Lucy's sight. But still that shadow lingered there, almost as though he were satisfied with what he was watching.
Erza said nothing before she quickly ran from the room leaving Levy behind with Lucy.
"Don't worry Miss Lucy we'll get you some help and it will be all better I promise," Levy said as she tucked the sheet in and combed Lucy's hair out of her face. The hair was already beginning to soak in the sweat that oozed from her forehead.
"Who are you?" Lucy wanted to say but could not force herself to utter those words. Clearly Levy didn't hear her, but apparently the shadow did. That or he knew what she wanted to say just by observing her.
"There is no need for you to concern yourself over that now, Princess," she could hear the words being spoken in her mind. She let out a quivering shrill as the words stung her like bee stings in her mind. Levy looked at her with even more worrisome eyes. "You see I'm here because of a little deal your father and I made. Your life for his throne. Kind of sad to know that he has forsaken his own daughter to death just to regain a crown that he won't have the pleasure of enjoying for very long before he too joins you in the after life." The girl squirmed in her bed. She cried out from the pain as Levy leaned in, holding her down as she called out her name. Only, the blonde could not hear her, or anything but the voice in her head. She closed her eyes but she could still see him standing over her. That shadow branded into her mind. "But don't worry," the voice continued. "You won't die just yet. You can't. You cannot die until he takes the throne, that's the rule. I cannot acquire my end of any deal until I have fulfilled my part of it first. So, enjoy the last few days, hopefully weeks, you have left Princess. I thought I let you know. Spare you the trauma of wondering when death will release you from this torment. I think it's only fair to you. It's nothing personal; it's just . . . business."
With that he vanished. And with him so did the pain she felt in her head. In fact most of her body felt a bit better as she managed to open her eyes to see her vision had cleared up just a bit. She could see Levy sitting over her, tears in her eyes as she shouted the blonde's name.
"Lucy! Lucy!" Levy wailed. "Are you okay?"
Lucy opened her mind to speak, but no words could escape her mouth. She took in a deep breath, but still she felt as though her throat were shut and her lungs crushed. She simply offered Levy a reassuring smile as she nodded her head.
"Well, don't you worry," Levy said as she placed her hand on the other girl's head. "Erza went to get you a doctor. You'll have you better in no time, don't you worry Miss Lucy."
Lucy attempted to hold onto her smile a bit longer, but she couldn't help think about what the shadow had told her. Was her father really responsible for her condition? Maybe the fever had her hallucinating? That was probably it she decided. She had imagined the whole thing. Her mind was just playing tricks on her because she was sick. She had nothing to worry about as long as she had Levy there by her side she would be fine. And Erza was coming with a doctor. Soon she would have some medicine and be well again.
After the battle Natsu made his way toward the camp. He passed by rows of soldiers who lined up the dead, placing them according to the nation from where they came from. Others were busy tending to the injured, searching through the enemy camp while others were rounding up the captives. Those soldiers who had surrendered were placed in a small area at the base of the enemy camp, forcing them to relinquish their weapons and keep their hands behind their heads. A small group of Magnolian soldiers walked around checking them for weapons, the injured they left to suffer. It was their own wounded they would attend to first, the others would just have to wait.
But Natsu did not care for any of that. His mind was focused on Ivan, and what he had said. The more he thought about it, the more it all made sense in his mind. He could trust him. Ivan had always been a friend and had taken care of him ever since he was a boy. He owed to the old nobleman to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, the only man that he knew in the entire army was Gildarts, and after what they did to Jellal, he began to feel as though he couldn't trust them any more. Especially Gran Doma.
"Natsu," he heard Gajeel say his name as he ran up beside him. The pink haired teen had managed to sense him from further away but he knew that there was no way to avoid him. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts, but he knew that he wouldn't be able since Gajeel wished to speak with him. "We need to talk."
"About what?" The young man uttered.
"About you and Ivan," Gajeel whispered. "I saw you two at the back of the battle. You let him go. Why?"
"Because Ivan is one of the only men I can trust," Natsu told him. "He is the only friend I have outside of Lucy, Jellal and you."
"Natsu you can't trust him. For the love of the gods he tried to have Lucy burned at the stake, and he has done nothing but help Duke in his carnage!"
"He is the reason why you escaped," Natsu snapped back. Gajeel was a bit stunned to hear his words. He was even more taken back as he saw the lingering glare in Natsu's eyes that showed just how serious the young man was. "I don't expect you to understand."
"What do you mean he helped me escape?" Gajeel demanded.
"He was the one that sent Levy to free you from prison," Natsu told him. "He has been aiding us and helping us from behind the curtains this entire time. We never knew it because he has gone through great lengths to keep it hidden."
"You don't really believe that do you?" Gajeel asked him astonished.
"Yes, I do," Natsu spat. "I've known Ivan my entire life, and he had befriended me and watched over me since I was a child. Even though I was a slave. He looked after me like a son. I don't expect you to understand Gajeel, but do not question me when it comes to doubting the loyalty of my friends."
Natsu quickened his pace as he left Gajeel behind him. He past by Gildarts as the old man saw him approaching but was too entrenched in his own conversation with Gran Doma and the other commanders. Natsu brushed by him without so much as a word as he made his way towards the horses. The words of Ivan still echoed his mind as he knew exactly what it was that he had to do.
As he strolled up to one horse he bumped into Gray. He was so ingrained in his own thoughts that this time he had stopped paying attention to his own body sensors.
"Watch it," Gray cried as he shoved Natsu away. The two of them exchange glares of hostility with one another. "What are you doing over here anyways?" Gray asked skeptically.
"That's no concern of yours," Natsu answered as he tried to push through him.
"Oh yes it is," Gray said as he shoved Natsu back. "These are my company's horses and not just anyone is allowed to use them."
"Gildarts wants me to do a scouting mission, to find any enemy soldiers out in the woods," Natsu answered.
"We already have patrol units doing that," Gray grunted. He leered at Natsu with suspicious eyes.
"Yeah, but did you forget about my unique qualities?" Natsu retorted as his eyes slanted and talons formed on his hands. "I have unique traits that make me ideal for a search."
Gray took a deep breath as he thought about it. He folded his arms across his chest as he looked over at Gildarts and the other commanders. Laxus was there too, he had just stepped up to the front of the table, his two body guards behind him. He knew that it would not be the right moment for him to start questioning orders, if orders were even given at that moment. Even more so, he knew that he would get in trouble if he had defied the orders in the first place.
He stared at Natsu for a moment longer as he saw that the young man kept the same stern expression on his face. "Fine," Gray finally sighed. There was no telling, but it would be Natsu who got in trouble not him if the boy was lying.
Natsu didn't say another word before he climbed on top of a horse and kicked it into a gallop. Gray watched him go shaking his head. He began to hear the sound of running footsteps. As he looked up he didn't have time to react before Gajeel pushed him to the side and leap onto another horse. Gray tried to compose himself as he reached out to stop the other Draconan, but the black haired teen was already so far.
"Wait!" Gray shouted.
"Sorry, no time," Gajeel answered as he whipped the reigns and galloped after Natsu.
"What is wrong with those two?" Gray sighed as he readjusted his armor.
Gajeel chased after Natsu as they rode through the woods. Eventually he came across the boy riding his horse at a slower pace. This was good, because Gajeel found himself getting sick. When he finally caught up to Natsu he noticed that the boy looked just as nauseated as himself
"Natsu," he grunted through deep breaths. "Natsu where are you going?"
"Draconia," Natsu answered without looking back.
"To find Sting and Rogue," Natsu answered. "I need to talk to them."
"Can't you send a pigeon?" Gajeel grunted. Natsu leered back at him with a dumbfounded expression. "You're right, that was stupid." Gajeel muttered. "So, it's off to Draconia we go then, huh?"
"No worries about being killed for desertion then?" Gajeel asked.
"I was never a soldier in Magnolia's army, nor did I ever pledge an oath to fight for them," Natsu answered. "I was free to leave at anytime I wanted."
"Good point," Gajeel said nodding his head. "So Draconia. It's funny, I always wanted to visit there."
"Sorry Gildarts," Natsu whispered to himself. "It's nothing personal."