It had been several days since Lucy had fallen ill and yet her fever didn't seem to go away. She spent most of her days lying in bed as Levy and Erza took care of her. Makarov often paid her daily visits to see how she was fairing but she didn't seem to get any better. Lucy was often asleep, but she would be stirred awake just long enough for her to hold a conversation. Levy sat by Lucy's bedside as the young Wendy stood next to her. Lucy was able to sleep peacefully after receiving some medicine from a doctor. Wendy was just as worried as Levy and everyone else about Lucy's health as she stared at the blonde.
"Is Lucy ever going to get better?" Wendy asked. The girl was incredibly upset.
"Of course she will," Levy said smiling at the small girl.
She hoped she was right, but it had been so long since Lucy had come down with the illness and she wasn't making any progress. Levy feared for the worse, the girl hadn't made any progress but she didn't seem to be getting worse. Levy looked down at the empty teacup on the nightstand beside the bed. It reminded her about how they had run out of tea and they could probably use some other things as well. Though she wasn't so sure she should leave Lucy, but she knew that the shopping and Erza was terrible when it came to such matters.
"Listen," Levy said as she bent down to look Wendy in the eyes, "I'm going to go out and buy some groceries. Do you mind watching Lucy for me?"
"Yes, of course," Wendy said nodding her head.
"Thank you," Levy smiled. "I'll be back shortly."
Levy turned around to leave. As she walked through the hallway she saw Erza and Jellal sitting at the table. The two of them were talking and she noticed that the two of them holding hands. Levy couldn't help but snicker herself as she walked out the door. She made her way up the cobblestone street towards the market. The place wasn't as busy as it normally was, but then again most traffic had died out since the soldiers went off to war. Now all that remained were the worried mothers and wives who spent most of their days trying to escape from the reality that they may never see their husbands or sons again.
The girl examined the booths that were covered with various fruits and vegetables. She walked through the market as she was trying to find the vendor that sold tea. As she walked down through the rows of stands and vendors before she felt a hand grasp her shoulder. The girl squeaked as she spun around to see a familiar man standing behind her. His face pale, a straggly beard covered most of his face as well as wild curls of hair on his crown. He wore armor and a tattered black cloak on his shoulders.
"Arcadios?" she gasped as she stared at the tanned man behind her. "What are you doing here? I didn't even know what happened to you after we escaped from Konvern. Are you alright? What happened to you?"
"I'm fine," the man gave her a sad smirk as his strained and worried eyes peered down at the small teen before him. Levy couldn't help but think the man looked dreadful, as though he hadn't slept in days. He was skinnier than she remembered. She could see that the man probably hadn't had a full meal in a long time. "I thought that was you," he continued as Levy blinked back to normal. "I've been here for a couple of days now looking for you. But never mind me. How is Lucy? Is she alright? Is she alive?"
"She's alive don't worry," Levy answered, but she bit her lip. Arcadios stared at her earnestly as he waited for her to continue. "But she's fall dreadfully ill." He sighed as she could see that the old knight wasn't as surprised as she thought he was going to be.
"I see," he said nodding his head. "Than it was all true." He scratched the raggedy patch of fuzz that had grown wild on his chin as he took a moment to think to himself. "I need to see her Levy. As soon as possible."
"Yes, of course," the girl answered. "Please follow me."
She led him back to the girl's housing. Arcadios followed closely behind her as his eyes wandered about. She led him inside as Jellal and Erza stood up upon seeing him. Jellal thought that he looked familiar, and despite his armor he looked more like a drifter than a knight.
"Levy who is this?" Erza demanded as she glared in the girl's direction. Levy began to panic as she could see that Erza had a fierce glower in her stare.
"This is Arcadios," she replied hastily as she tried her best to let Erza know that the knight did not pose a threat to them. "He was Lucy's old bodyguard back in Konvern."
"That's who it is," Jellal sighed a breath of relief. "I thought he looked familiar."
"It is good to see you again, young master," Arcadios said politely as he bowed his head. "It brings me great joy to see that you are fairing well."
"Aye, and it is good to see you as well," Jellal said as he shook Arcadios' hand. "But tell me what brings you to Magnolia?"
"I am looking for Princess Lucy," Arcadios replied. "I fear that she is in grave danger, and as her guard it is my duty to protect her."
"Yeah? Well where have you been these past few months?" Erza asked harshly as she folded her arms across her chest.
"Erza!" Levy snapped. She was a bit stunned by the redhead's snarky attitude.
"It's alright," Arcadios said to the small handmaiden. "She's right. I was unable to fulfill my duty as Lucy's protector . . . much to my own shame." He sighed disappointedly. "I was injured in the uprising at Konvern by a group of guards. I was able to survive thanks to the help of a friend of Natsu's by the name of Bob. A peculiar man, but a good man nonetheless. He bandaged me and I made my way up north until I heard word that Lucy was currently located up here in Magnolia. So, here I am."
"Well it's a good thing that you're here," Jellal told him. "I don't know if Levy told you this, but Lucy is gravely ill."
"She has," Arcadios answered. "Do you mind if I see her?"
"Of course you can," Jellal said as he said as he led Arcadios to the room. "She is most likely sleeping so just be mindful."
Arcadios nodded his head as Jellal opened the door. Arcadios followed the young lord into the room as he saw Lucy laying in bed; her face beet red as her fever seemed to have returned. Wendy was sitting beside the bed reading, but jumped to her feet when she saw Arcadios enter the room. She began to get flustered as she looked over at Jellal with a curious stare. Jellal raised his head and nodded at the girl letting her know that everything was okay.
Arcadios knelt down beside Lucy as he grasped the girl's hand. Lucy slowly opened an eye as Arcadios saw that her eyes were pink and glassy.
"Arcadios?" Lucy said faintly as Arcadios clenched her hand tightly. "Is that you? What are you doing here?"
"I'm here for you, Princess," Arcadios told her. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she said feebly. Arcadios looked at her with unbelieving eyes. "It's good to see you."
"Aye, and you as well, Princess," he said as he stroked her hand.
Lucy winced as she closed her eyes and fell back to sleep. Arcadios placed his hand on her forehead as he could feel the girl had a bad fever. He took a deep breath as stood back up. That's when he noticed something resting just above the covers around the girl's breast. He examined it closer as he saw that it was the same dragon pennant that the girl had worn since she was a child.
"How long has she been like this?" Arcadios asked.
"A while now," Levy answered. "At least a week or two."
"Thank you; all of you for taking care of her," Arcadios said. "I know I can continue to trust her in your care."
"What are you talking about?" Jellal asked as he looked at him. "You're not going to stay?"
"I cannot," Arcadios said shaking his head. "I have other matters I must attend to."
"But Lucy is sick!" Wendy blurted.
Arcadios stared at the small girl as she recoiled under his stare. He offered her a gentle smile that made her a bit more relaxed. Amongst his disgruntled and grimy features there was something that was reassuring about him being that made the girl comfortable. His eyes fell down to the girl's arm as he noticed some black lines. As he examined it a bit longer he noticed that the black lines were the same that Natus and Gajeel had on their own arms. He chuckled to himself.
"Don't worry young Draconan, what I do is for Lucy," Arcadios told her. "I just needed to know that she is still alive. And I think that I'll be able to do something that will help her."
"Wait, how did you know I'm a Draconan?" Wendy asked perplexed.
"You're arm," he said pointing. "I know that kind of marking; it's been seen on all the other Draconans I've seen."
"You've seen other Draconans!" the young girl shouted excitedly.
"Of course," Aracios chuckled. "I'm sure you've met Natsu?"
"You know Natsu!" the girls exclaimed with glimmering eyes.
"Yes," Arcadios laughed at the girl's excitement. "I've known him since he was a toddler. But we can talk about it another time," Arcadios said as he began to leave. "I have something I must attend to."
"Arcadios," Jellal said as he followed after him. The two of them were standing in the living room while Erza, Levy and Wendy were watching them from the bedroom. "Where are you going?"
"I think I can find a way to fix this," Arcadios told him.
"What do you mean?" Jellal asked.
"No time to talk," Arcadios told Jellal as he rushed to the door. Jellal continued to follow him. "The faster I can get this resolved, the faster Lucy will get better."
"Arcadios can't you explain to me what is going on?" Jellal said as he grabbed Arcadios' shoulder.
Arcadios spun around and looked down at the young noble as Jellal stared at him with a stern glare. The knight wanted to leave, but he could see that Jellal was bent on discovering what Arcadios knew. He looked up and saw Erza standing in the door way as she was just as worried as Jellal was. Perhaps it was better to just tell them what he had seen, but he did not want to worry them. But it seemed that they would be even more worried if they knew what was the cause of Lucy's ailment.
"It's Jude," Arcadios sighed in defeat. "He made a deal with the dark wizard and it seems that may be what caused Lucy's illness."
"Her father?" Jellal exclaimed. "What did he do?"
"I don't know," Arcadios answered. "But now I need to find him and convince him to take back his deal. But for now, as long as the deal hasn't been fulfilled Lucy should be okay."
"I'll come with you—"
"No," Arcadios snapped. "This is my fault. I wasn't unable to protect Lucy like I should have and I was unable to stop Jude from making that deal with the dark wizard. This is my fault. And besides they need you more her than I would if you came with me."
Jellal took a deep breath and shook his head. Jellal didn't know what to do, but if it meant helping Lucy than he wanted to go. Something deep down pushed him to go with the knight. He was conflicted about what he should do. It was then that he felt a gentle hand upon his shoulder. He looked back to see Erza standing behind him.
"He's right," she murmured. "We need you here." Jellal took her hand in his as he took a deep breath. The redhead smiled lightly at him as Jellal knew that this is where he wanted to stay. He wasn't sure if it was for the best, but he knew that perhaps he should stay for Erza and the others.
"Fine," Jellal sighed. "But please hurry."
"I will not rest until Lucy is better," Arcadios told him as he swiftly walked down the road back towards the city's main gate.
Macao and Wakaba rode down the dirt road through a field of grass. They had been riding for the past half hour and yet they still haven't come across Grey, Natsu and Gajeel. They were getting closer and closer to the Draconania border and the two of them couldn't help but grow worried. They had heard of stories and rumors about the place. But everyone knew about the dragons that lived within the borders. They were hoping that they would be able to come across the young men before they got too close to the borders.
After several more minutes when the two of them were riding up to the top of a grassy hill they heard bickering and arguing down below. They rode to the top and just as they expected they saw Grey, Natsu and Gajeel at the foot of the hill arguing. Now it seemed like the once clear skies were beginning to be coated with gray rain clouds. A sharp wind began to blow with an icy presence that sent a chill down either man. It was strange how drastic the weather had changed since they had arrived at the inn.
"And there is no way I am paying for the two of you to eat and drink at some shithole inn!" Grey shouted.
"Looks like we came just in time," Macao sighed as the two of them continued riding down the road. They saw Natsu and Grey face to face as Gajeel watched from his own horse.
"You wanna go you pink haired bastard!" Grey growled as he clasped the tilt of his sword.
"Who are you calling a bastard? You bastard," Natsu snarled as his fingers formed into talons.
"Hey, hey, hey," Macao yelled as he and Wakaba walked up. "Let's not get violent, we're all allies here right?"
"Fine," Natsu spat as he retracted his talons and walked back up to his horse. "If you're not going to help us than you can just leave us alone."
"If you don't mind me asking," Macao said as he rode up beside Natsu. "Why are you going to Draconia? You know the place is full of dragons right? That it's dangerous and you're putting your lives in grave danger by going there. What could possibly be there that you two would risk death for?"
"Some old comrades of ours are over there," Natsu said as he and Gajeel continued to ride. Grey hopped back onto his own horse as he followed after them; a gruff and disgruntled scowl on his face. Macao and and Wakaba were a bit anxious but they followed anyways. "We're going to meet up with them and see if they can help us on our mission."
"Comrades?" Wakaba said confounded. "What kind of comrades of yours would be living off in Draconia? And are you sure that's even where they are? For all you know they could be dead."
Natsu and Gajeel both looked at one another as they continued riding the horses down the path. Wakaba and Macao were more intrigued by these so-called comrades the two teens had. There was no way someone could have survived living in a land infested with dragons. No one could. The inn was probably the farthest anyone would venture to Draconia, and that place was full of bandits that chose to be there so they wouldn't be confronted by soldiers or guards.
"They sent us a letter not too long ago," Natsu answered. " They had been there for a long time already, so we're fairly confident they are there now. And it makes sense, they are both Draconans like Gajeel and me. They had chosen to remain hidden in Draconia because they know it is the only safe place for them to be."
"Are you going to ask them to help us in the war?" Wakaba asked.
"They won't get involved in a war," Natsu told them. "They have no desire to get involved with such affairs. You see, they have no loyalty and just like me the two of them were slaves."
"Then what is your business with them?" Macao asked.
"Our business is our own," Gajeel answered before Natsu even had the chance to speak up. "We have our own reasons for seeing them. If you want to follow us, then fine, but we are going into Draconia and you can choose to follow us or stay behind. The choice is yours. But if I were you, I would stay behind."
Macao nodded his head as he and the others followed after Natsu and Gajeel. Grey was still frustrated, so Wakaba and Macao made sure to ride between him and Natsu. Natsu and Gajeel rode side by side as the black haired teen looked a bit uneasy. He wasn't so sure that he wanted the others to be there but he knew that there was no way to get rid of them. He could sense that Natsu felt the same way. He figured that perhaps it was better to just keep on riding and then lose them in Draconia. There was no way that they were going to following them that far, at least most people wouldn't.
The five of them continued riding down the pathway for about an hour before they saw an object in the distance. As they drew closer Natsu noticed that they were riding towards a large stone gate. It was carved from gray stone with gothic architecture. Tall wild grass and weeds were growing along the base of the gate, as vines of ivy wrapped along the pillars. The old oak doors had fallen off rusted hinges and laid flat on both sides of the gate. They were nearly consumed by wild grass and weeds. There were some wild flowers of yellow, blue and purple that grew along the dirt pathway and around the old gate doors; as well as some dandelions.
Natsu gazed upon it as he soon realized that this gateway was the border that led to his old homeland. He looked over at Gajeel as he realized that the other boy wasn't as taken by the moment as his pink haired companion. Natsu had always wondered what it would be like to return to his homeland. Now that he was here, he didn't know how to feel. He had always wondered what it looked like, but from all he saw it was nothing more than wild fields just as he had grown up in and traveled through his journey.
Natsu and Gajeel rode past the gate, and came across a rickety, wooden bridge. It was covered in mold, grime and grass. It stood over a small stream, that didn't appear to be that deep and no more than ten meters long. The stream looked like it used to be a wider river, but over time shrunk. The old banks stood half a meter from the base of smooth mud and river rocks. The young men could walk across the stream with their horses if they had too.
Before Natsu and Gajeel began to cross the bridge Macao called out to them, "We'll wait here for you!"
Natsu turned his head and nodded as he and Gajeel kicked their horses and began to ride across the bridge. With each step the boards creaked and swayed. Natsu wandered if the bridge was capable of holding them and their horses. Fortunately, the bridge was stable enough to hold them as they managed to get to the other side. Once they were on the other side they noticed that the bridge ended on the other bank at the base of a large forest.
They began to ride on through as the two of them disappeared into the foliage of the trees and ferns. The forest was thick with leaves as the two of them could hear the sounds of birds chirping and other animals moving in the brush. The path was barely visible as the forest had begun to take it back. Regardless, there was enough of the pathway left, even if it was just patches of dirt or cobblestone, Natsu could still see the way they had to travel.
The two of them continued to ride for a while longer before they saw a clearing at the end of this long forest. By now the sun had already begun to set, but they hadn't taken notice of the time since they had been lost within the thick foliage of the forest. But now as they had come out of the clearing they saw the decrepit walls of a city before them. The walls stills stood erect, but much like the gate and the pathway, it seemed that nature was reclaiming that which was now abandoned. They continued riding as they decided to take some refuge within the walls of the city. They walked past the main gateway into this old city as they saw that most of the buildings inside were torn down and burned. Natsu wondered if it had been the dragons that had burned the city, or if maybe it was some foreign force.
They looked around for some shelter, but the streets were lined with rubble as many of the clay and stone buildings had gaping holes in them. Natsu and Gajeel looked around the ruins of the city as night had come upon them, but there was nothing here for them to stay that could possibly protect them from the elements. They heard a bellowing roar in the distance, that they knew it had to be one of the dragons. The horses began to grow restless as Natsu had to Natsu and Gajeel stared at each other as they decided that perhaps they should take refuge somewhere else. They heard another bellowing roar only this one came from a different direction, which worried them even more. They rode to a large housing area that was still somewhat intake, but they went deep inside where they were sheltered from any view of the sky. They made sure to tie their horses up to stone pillars in the middle of the room to prevent them from being seen.
The room was vacant, covered with rubble and dust. Clay and dirt covered the floor and walls. Natsu wondered what this place used to be some chairs and tables were over turn on the inside. Parts of the wall were scorched black from flames, but there didn't appear to be any indication that this place was sacked. It could have been charred by dragons, but Natsu couldn't be sure. He roamed around the vacant room when he sensed something beneath some of the debris. He pushed it aside to reveal three skeletons lying below; they were as charred and burned as the surrounding walls. Natsu wasn't startled by them, in fact he was curious. He wondered who these men were, why they were here and how long it had been since they died. But he shrugged it off as he walked back to the center of the room where Gajeel had managed to clean up enough space to lay down their cots.
They reached in and pulled out some fish and carrots from their packs. Natsu and Gajeel gave the carrots to their horses as they cooked the fish with their own fire. They did their best to keep as quiet as possible, but they didn't hear any noise outside, but they didn't want to take any chances. As they laid down to rest they heard a loud noise outside, a gust of wind as a fierce draft blew in from some of the gaping holes in the walls. The horses wailed and attempted to run, but their reigns were tied up to a stone pillar in the middle of the room prevented them from going anywhere. Natsu and Gajeel hid behind two over turned tables as they heard hissing outside the building.
Gajeel lifted his finger up to his lips. Natsu rolled his eyes; as he didn't need Gajeel to state the obvious to him. The horses were still tied up in the middle of the room behind the wall. Natsu was glad that they were being quiet. The hissing grew louder as a shadowy figure appeared in one of the gaps in the wall. Natsu and Gajeel watched from behind their tables. The nostrils of the dragon flared as the flames revealed scales of jade. The horses even went quiet as the nostrils sniffed, releasing a gust with each breath. The nostrils retracted as the head leaned in as a large golden red eye appeared. Natsu and Gajeel ducked behind the table hoping they were not scene.
The heard the dragon growl as it slowly lifted it's head. With another strong flurry of wind the dragon flapped its wings. It bellowed a loud roar as it flew off into the air. Natsu and Gajeel remained completely quiet until they were certain that the dragon was gone.
"Whoa," Natsu breathed a sigh of relief. "That was close."
"Yeah it was," Gajeel sighed. "I wonder how it knew that we were here."
"If it knew we were here it would have done something more then look," Natsu grunted. He walked over to his bag and pulled out an orange he stole from a vendor at one of the towns they had recently passed.
"So what's the plan for tomorrow?" Gajeel said as he lay down on his cot. "What do you plan on doing tomorrow?"
"I guess we can try to find Sting and Rogue in the morning," Natsu said as he peeled the orange.
"Where should we start looking?" Gajeel asked. "I mean we are in a new country and there is a lot of land to cover. I think we need to form a plan about what we should do."
"Well I think we need to travel further into the country, and go to the capital," Natsu answered.
"We still have to be careful about the dragons," Gajeel grunted as he closed his eyes. "What makes you think they're in the capital?"
"I'm not," Natsu answered. "But it most likely the place where we should start. If they're anywhere in this country that is where they should be."
"You think they managed to live with the dragons?" Gajeel asked as he began to slumber off into sleep.
"Why wouldn't they?" Natsu said as he bit into his orange. "They are from this country, just like you and me."
"Then why did we hide when that dragon came sniffing," Gajeel mumbled.
"Why risk it?" Natsu sighed as he lay down in his cot.
The next morning Natsu stirred Gajeel awake as the two of them wrapped their cots and stuffed them back in their bags. They walked over to the horses and untied them from the pillar. They settled up and slowly walked out of the building to make sure that they were in the clear before they continued. The two of them rode back out onto the road as a chilly morning breeze blew past them. The sky was blanketed with gray storm clouds, but it had not begun to rain, which Natsu was thankful for. He hoped the dragons wouldn't be out flying if there is a storm, which would be of great help. They rode through the ravished town as they passed through another gate. Once they were on the other side of the gate they saw a large mountain off in the distance, surrounded acres of trees. The two of them rode further down the path until mid-day when they came upon a plain. Natsu noticed something eerie about this place. There were objects lying in the grass that scattered throughout the field. Natsu wondered what these things could have been.
As they rode further and further down the path Natsu was able to get a better look at what they could possibly be. There were a few things resting on the side of the path; and as Natsu drew closer he saw that they were skeletons, torn up bits of armor and weapons. Natsu passed the charred remains of one soldier with the lower half of his body missing. Natsu thought it strange that all these men wore armor, but it did nothing to quell the sharp talons and teeth of dragons, nor shield them from the flaming inferno that scorched most of them. These corpses were strewn across the field as far as the eye could see.
"What is this place?" Natsu said out loud as he passed by a group of charred bones or what he believed to be archers.
"This is probably where the war happened," Gajeel muttered as his eyes kept their stare forward. "Back before we were even born."
"Shame," Natsu sighed.
Natsu and Gajeel continued to ride, believing that they must be going in the right direction. As Natsu looked up at the mountain he saw several dragons flying around near the top. Natsu watched them for a moment before he heard the thundering roars of one nearby. He and Gajeel stared at each other as a crimson red dragon came swooping from behind them and landed right in front of them startling the horses. Natsu and Gajeel did their best to soothe the beasts, but as the dragon drew closer the horses knocked the boys from the saddles. Filled with freight the horses ran off in the other direction leaving the young men behind. Natsu watched as his horse ran off before rolling back up to see that the dragon was standing over them.
"Who are you?" the dragon growled as he stepped forward.
"I am Natsu, and my companion is Gajeel," Natsu answered, doing his best to keep his voice from stammering. He stared into this dragon's eye as it glared at him angrily. "The two of us are Draconians."
The dragon eyed them carefully as it flared its nostrils. Natsu stood back up to his feet, now allowing fear to over take him. Gajeel was still on the ground as he watched Natsu walk towards the dragon. "Natsu!" Gajeel whispered as he reached out to his companion. Natsu didn't look at him; he kept his attention completely focused on the dragon before him. He refused to show the dragon any fear as it stared at him with keen interest.
"Natsu?" the dragon said doubtingly. "Did you say that your name was Natsu?"
"I did," the boy replied.
"You cannot be," the dragon snarled.
"I am, and I can prove it," the boy said. "He removed his gauntlet and rolled his sleeve." He showed his tattoo to the dragon as it staggered backwards.
"It cannot be," the dragon cried.
"And Gajeel has one on his arm as well," Natsu told the dragon as he rolled his sleeve back down.
"Is it really you?" the dragon asked as it leaned down so now its nose was only a meter away from the young man. "My son?"