Ivan found himself lost in the middle of the woods. He avoided the main road out of fear of robbers and highwaymen. But perhaps what worried him the most was an envoy of enemy soldiers he was sure would be looking for him. No, the forest was safer and provided cover. Though he could do without the bugs and having his cloak snare onto every tree branch he brushed by. He swatted away the leaves and brush, but he found himself choking on such lovely nature.
He had abandoned his finer robes in order to dawn more appropriate attire for his journey. Of course he couldn't be wondering around the wilderness in noble robes, he be better off pinning a target on his back with a sack of gold. He had taken some clothes off dead soldiers he had found along with a tattered cloak with a hood to keep his face hidden.
Very little light seeped through the branches above. He rode his horse with as swift a pace his horse could carry him without endangering himself either. He rode south, towards the borders of Mila but he would not arrive there for quite sometime. He did not have enough provisions to keep him fed through the trip but he did not want to stop at any of the nearby villages just yet. People would be looking for him, he was not foolish enough to doubt that people have forgotten who he is and his involvement in the war. Many of the surrounding villages were those conquered by Duke during the war, and now without an army, or so much as a personal guard, many of these villagers would lavish the chance to stick his head on a spike or sell him to Magnolia.
He knew the way of the land, but any man not on the roads still faced the harsh challenge of potentially getting lost in the wilderness. Even the most astute traveler or navigator could get lost in such conditions, especially with no map or compass. Once he was out of the mid-lands and in the southern territories he could find some shelter. But how long that would be he could not tell. He had been traveling for only a couple of days and he still had a long way to go.
"Ancologia," Ivan hissed the name as though it were a curse. The name itself felt like poison upon his lips as he uttered it. "The bastard. You would have thought I learned after the first time, but just had to make another deal. How could I have been so stupid?"
He hated himself for trusting Ancologia. He could get to Junelle, but that is where everyone was expecting him to go. He needed protection; he needed to get to Mila and find Zero's son? . . . daughter? . . . child Midnight. He could figure out what to do once he was there.
Ivan's heart stopped as he felt a gust of wind blow by him. He knew what it was as his horse let out a wail of fright. Ivan could hear the flapping of wings off in the distance. He did his best to restrain his horse as the beast wanted to bolt as fast as it could. Ivan did his best to shush and calm the horse, but he understood since he was as afraid of the dragons as the horse was. But then again, the horse wasn't who they were looking for.
The gust subsided as the flapping faded off in the distance. Ivan breathed a sigh of relief.
"Well that was a close one," he heard a voice snicker from a top the trees.
"Ancologia?" Ivan growled as his eyes drifted around the branches of the trees but he couldn't see or sense the presence of another being. "Where are you hiding?" He muttered under his breath.
"Ah, come now Ivan I thought we were friends," Ancologia taunted.
Ivan's horse began to back up as he spun around looking in each and every direction for the dark wizard. He couldn't feel the wizard's presence. He always thought that he would at least show himself. Maybe Ancologia knew that Ivan was filled with more anger than he was fear at the present moment. He enjoyed tormenting him with sick games. He wasn't the only one, he knew Ancologia did the same with anyone that he encountered. The man, or whatever he was now, was insane.
"Not after you betrayed me again!" Ivan spat.
"Betrayed? Betrayal, you keep using words like that, as though I have wronged you in some way," Ancologia laughed. His laugh echoed through the woods. That was when Ivan realized that the entire forest had gone still. Not even the sound of leaves fluttering in the wind could be heard. There were no other animals in the forest either. "But dragons, they seem to keep messing up all your plans don't they?"
"Your treachery again I assume?" Ivan growled. "Where are you?"
"My hands are clean in this," Ancologia replied. "At least in a figurative sense. Literally, my hands are downright filthy. I should probably get them washed up soon. After all, I am in the presence of royalty now am I not?"
Now Ivan knew why he was here. He was here to mock him after what happened at the battle. He knew it was strange that Ancologia would appear without being summoned. He never knew Ancologia was the gloating type, but then again what was he?
"What do you want?"
"I came to help you," Ancologia said. "Would you like me to take you to Junelle so you can take your throne?"
"Is that what you want to do? I feel like you want me there just so they can skin me alive?" Ivan roared.
"Actually yes. Come on, I've always held up my end of the bargains when it came to making deals."
"You keep saying that and yet nothing has worked out! Here I am, alone and lost in the woods with nowhere to go with only hope that Midnight and Orecion Seis will assist me in leaving this forsaken continent."
"You think that's an option? That you can just up and run away? You have what you wanted all that which I have given to you. Now you're just going to up and leave all of it behind?"
"This isn't what I wanted!" Ivan exclaimed.
Ivan was fuming now, having heard the same song continuously. It was just some asinine attempt at him getting underneath the noble's skin.
"No, it is what you wanted," Ancologia said as he crept out of the shadows of a tree. He wiggled his index finger and thumb together as sparks of fire generated from them. "But as you know, magic always has its price."
"Just go. I don't need, nor do I want your help," Ivan snapped. "Everything has only gone from bad to worse with you! Don't ever expect me to call on you again. I don't want to see you or hear from you again. And I know you, if you want to kill me then just go on and do it now, since I'm pretty much already dead!"
Ancologia laughed. "Oh Ivan, I don't want to kill you, I was just hoping to help you for old times sake. Since I am going to kill your pet I thought you would like to know." Ivan seethed and snarled at Ancologia. The dark wizard let out an icy chuckle before walking away. Ivan let out a loud huff as he pulled the reins on his horse and began to trot away. "Oh, and Ivan," the nobleman stopped and turned around face the dark wizard. "Long live the king."
Ancologia finished his tale about the night that he and Jude had taken the baby from his mother's bosom. He told them of how they fled from the red dragon that chased them down and nearly killed him. He told him about how Jude handed the boy over to Ivan to be trained by Gildarts.
"They wanted you to be a weapon," Arcadios confessed. "Ivan planned on using you as a piece of his arsenal. Having a dragon at his disposal there wouldn't be a single army that was capable of defying them. Though what he didn't expect was how Gildarts would later adopt you as his own and raise you like a son. Nor did he ever imagine that the princess would have fallen in love with you as well.
"There's nothing I can do to take it all back. I just hope that you can forgive me Natsu. I could say I didn't know, I can say the cliché, 'I was just following orders,' but I can't. What I did was wrong, and there's nothing I can do to make amends to you for my involvement. All I can ask is your forgiveness and let me at least try to right some of the damage I have done."
Arcadios began to worry as Natsu remained silent. Only the flapping of the dragons' wings could be heard. The knight was curious what the youth must have been thinking. He knew it was a lot to take in, and he wouldn't be surprised if Natsu would want vengeance for everything that has happened to him. It's a debt that Arcadios was willing to pay; for his honor, and for the friendship that kindled between the two of them over the years.
"Natsu?" Arcadios asked softly. "Natsu please I—"
"Forget about it, Arcadios," Natsu replied sternly. "There's nothing that can be done about it now. You saved Lucy's life, from what she's told me so for that I owe you a bit of a debt. However, I would like to keep my focus on the obstacle at hand. We can discuss this once the job is done."
"I see," Arcadios sighed. "Very well."
Then continued their flight for another few hours before Arcadios finally pointed his finger and shouted, "There!" Natsu couldn't see where exactly Arcadios was pointing, but he could see the stature of a building off in the distance.
It was enormous, at least height wise. It must have stood no less than a hundred stories above the sea. It was thick and made of stone as the tip of the tower was immersed in the clouds. Natsu had never seen such a building before. They were miles from the shore out in the ocean. The base of tower gave the building the appearance of jutting out of jagged stones and ocean water. There didn't seem to be a single sliver of actual land for them to land upon. However, Natsu did spy a old, rickety dock at the foot.
Natsu swooped down as Gajeel followed behind him. They flapped their wings as they hovered just above the moldy wood. There was hardly room enough for a few people let alone two dragons. Gajeel looked over at Natsu as he reverted back into his human form and plummeted down into the dark water just before the docks. Natsu managed to land and revert himself on the dock, leaving him naked. Though he struggled to stand as the waves crashed against the dock causing it to ricochet back and forth.
Arcadios leapt over to the edge and let down his hand. Waiting for Gajeel to resurface. The water was black and so dark he could not see beyond the surface. Soon Gajeel burst forth from the waves and took in a deep breath. Arcadios managed to grasp him by the wrist as he flailed. With a heave and a tug Arcadios pulled Gajeel back onto the dock.
"You okay?" Arcadios asked as he patted Gajeel on the back.
"Water was thick," Gajeel muttered. "It was like swimming through lead. I don't know what this place is, but I can already feel that it's not normal."
"Of course not," Natsu remarked, but his attention was turned to the tower. "This is a place of dark magic and sinister intentions." He turned back to face the two of them. "Come on then, we have ourselves a dark wizard to find."
"Yeah, yeah," Gajeel grumbled. "Don't be giving me that, you weren't the one that just fell into that musty sewer down there."
"Before we go any further you two should put something on, especially you Natsu," he said handing the pink haired youth his scarf. "If that scarf is what you claim it to be, than it is our only chance of defeating this foe. Otherwise, we might as well slash our own throats now."
"Thanks," Natsu said taking the fabric away form him. Arcadios recoiled, but Natsu didn't take it with ill intention or anger. He acted as though he was still oblivious to the story that Arcadios told him on their way there. That was a good thing, but Arcadios couldn't help but worry about what would come after.
Arcadios removed a pack that he had brought with him on the journey. It wasn't much, a couple of tunics and two breast plates of armor. Just the plates, meaning that the youths would have no protection in the back. There were also gauntlets and shin guards for them. No helmets though. They had to travel light and the armor was nothing more than what squires would wear to practice in. It certainly wasn't enough for any soldier to wear to combat, but these boys weren't the cliché "any" soldier.
"Come on Gajeel," Natsu said once they had dressed.
The two Draconians began to run up the docks and towards the rocks. There they found a small, narrow path carved through to the tower. The two took it, as Arcadios followed behind them. Natsu could sense the old knight as he came to abrupt stop and leered over at Arcadios.
"What?" the knight asked.
"Where do you think you're going?" Natsu said as though he were speaking to a child. Arcadios took some offense with his tone.
"I'm going with you to the tower."
"Why? There's no way you can help us. Gajeel and I will take care of this, and afterwards will come and get you."
"I can't just sit back and do nothing," Arcadios scoffed. "And don't say I can't help you because you know I can. I might not be able to do much but I can be of some assistance. I didn't fly all the way out here just to be told to stay at the docks." He looked back. It was a miracle that those docks even remained intact while they were on them. Had they stayed any longer surely they would have plunged into the sea.
"We're not having you come with us," Natsu rebuked. "You're only going to get yourself killed."
"Thus is the life of a knight," Arcadios barked back.
"Natsu what's the point in arguing now?" Gajeel groaned. "Let him come. If he gets in the way fine. I don't think he's stupid enough to do so, and we're only wasting time staying here and arguing."
"You got some place better to be?" Natsu snapped.
"Yeah, as a matter of fact I do," Gajeel growled. "I would like to return to Magnolia. I would like to go back to the Fairy Tail and grab a cold pint and a warm cooked meal. An actual meal, not some burnt up guppies. I want to go back and share the bed of a woman, and I'm sure you want to return to your blonde girlfriend again."
"Share the bed of a woman?" Natsu said confused. "You're not talking about Levy are you?"
"I never said it was that woman! All I said was that I wanted to get laid! To have a woman."
"You could have had me fooled," Natsu laughed.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Gajeel growled.
"Come on Gajeel, the girl is so madly in love with you, even the blind could see it. And don't think that I haven't seen that she has caught your eye on more than one occasion. I've seen that you've been admiring her some of her more, curvy features. Maybe it's not love, but I know that if there's any woman in Magnolia you want to share a bed with, it's Levy."
"Enough both of you," Arcadios barked as he approached them. "There's no time to be bickering. Gajeel is right, we need to get this over with and then the two of you can return home to your lovers."
"Levy is not my lover!" Gajeel sneered.
"Well why not?" Arcadios demanded. "She's a sophisticated, beautiful young girl, and if she does like you than you better be thanking the gods Gajeel." The black haired Draconian raised an eyebrow. "Because you aren't going to find much better anywhere else. Especially not a man of your stature."
"I'm the son of a Draconian nobleman!" Gajeel retorted. "And I have had plenty of women in my time!"
"You've had women, Gajeel, but you've never had something special," Arcadios rebuked. "There's a huge difference when it's a girl who genuinely likes you and cares for you. No matter how much sex you have, it does not amount to love. There's a finite difference between fucking and making love. I fear that you've only tasted one of those."
"You don't know me."
Arcadios walked over to him and jammed his finger into Gajeel's chest. Gajeel's sense demanded that he swat the finger away or break it, but he held firm. He wanted to see what the point of Arcadios' speech was.
"No, but I know men. And you Gajeel, you're still just a boy. Despite all your power, and all the death you've been a part of you're still a boy deep down. And the sad thing is, you don't even know it."
Gajeel let out a huff, punching Natsu in the shoulder when he spotted the pink haired youth snickering. Arcadios continued to walk down the path towards the tower.
"I don't need a woman to prove that I'm a man!" Gajeel yelled.
"No, but only a boy is oblivious to the better things offered in his life," Arcadios shouted.
Gajeel shrugged it off. He had no idea what Arcadios was talking about, nor did he care any longer.
"I'm a man!" Natsu said proudly, in a way of taunting Gajeel.
"No your not!" Arcadios shouted.
The two youths followed the old knight towards the tower. When they arrived at the base they were greeted by an enormous oak door. The boards were thicker than the large stone bricks used to construct castles, and it stood as tall as a city gate. Natsu approached and placed his hand upon it, and with all his strength he pushed upon the door. To his dismay, it did not budge. It required a lever to open. Something that confused the pink haired youth.
What was the point of having such a large door for a tower out in the middle of the ocean? Were they expecting a large invading force to weave through the narrow bath? Surely there was no room for a battering ram to make its way passed the jagged rocks let alone one that was large enough to dismantle such a heavy gate.
Natsu turned to Gajeel and Arcadios deliberating what they should do. Arcadios surveyed the gate hoping to see some sort of way they could possibly enter, but there was nothing. It must have been designed to be opened from the inside, or with the use of magic, it was after all crafted by wizards.
"There must be some sort of device or mechanism that opens it," Aracdios said rubbing his chin.
As Arcadios pondered what to do Natsu arched his back and blew fire upon the door causing it to burst forth.
"That works too," the old knight sighed with a shake of the head.
"Ancologia! Show yourself!" Natsu bellowed out as he rushed into the tower. "Show yourself so I can kill you, you bastard!"
"Oh yeah, I'm sure that's going to make him want to come out," Arcadios sighed.
The other two followed Natsu, but soon realized that upon entering the tower, they entered a completely dark chamber. Apart from the light flooding in, only the floor just in front of the door was lit. The polished marble floor still gleamed in the rays of light. It was uncanny how different the inside of the tower appeared to the raggedy outside.
"Can't see a thing in this darkness," Gajeel grumbled.
Natsu bent over and unleashed a flood of flames. They poured out upon the floor and in front of them revealing a winding staircase. Once Natsu had stopped however, the room reverted to its darkened state. Then, abruptly, the room lit up. Astonished the three men peered around to see there were torches that lined the walls and all they way up the stairwell, each one lit.
"Didn't think I had that much talent?" Natsu said happily.
"I don't think that was you," Arcadios said as he stepped forward. "Even the torches on the stairs are lit. Whoever lit them knows that we're here is urging us to go upstairs."
"Well then we better not disappoint them," Natsu replied with a wide grin. He bolted towards the stairs. "Oh yeah, now I'm fired up," he said slamming his fist into a palm. "Arcadios knows we're here and he's inviting us up to kick his ass! What a gracious host." He began to run up the stairs.
"Natsu I don't believe it would be wise to just go running into danger!" Arcadios called out to him. The boy grinned to a halt and peered down at Arcadios. "We don't know if he has laid out any traps or if he's just luring us upstairs to some sort of danger. The best thing for us to do is to stop and think about this for a moment. We need a plan."
"How's this for a plan? We go upstairs and we kick his ass!"
Arcadios sighed annoyed.
"I agree," Gajeel said as he walked towards the stairs. "Even if it is a trap, what other options do we have? We can't just turn into dragons and fly up there. There's not enough room. I say we just wing it. It's worked up well for us so far."
Arcadios didn't like it, but he had to admit there was nothing better for them to do. He followed the two youths as they began to ascend the stairway. He looked up as it spiraled into a point of darkness. Even if the entire tower was a light, he doubted they could see the top. What was the point of constructing such a large tower anyways? How long would it take for them to get to the top, especially if they couldn't fly? Looks like they were just going to have to do it the old fashion way.
They began climbing, and before they had even reached the past the first couple of stories Natsu came to a stop as he bumped into an invisible barrier. He placed his hands upon it, as though he were touching glass, but there seemed to be nothing.
Arcadios and Gajeel examined the obstacle themselves, but they were just as dumbfounded as Natsu. Their hands glided up and down looking for some way around it. Unless they were willing to hop over the thick, white stone bannister, they were stuck.
Agitated, Natsu punched it as his hand percolated through while the barrier wobbled around like gelatin. His hand was stuck, and the more he pulled the more he was sucked in.
"Guys!" Natsu shouted as his body was pulled in and he disappeared behind it.
"Natsu!" Arcadios shouted as he lunged in after him. To his surprise he fell right on through as though there was nothing guarding them.
The old knight tottered forward, bumping into Natsu. Gajeel came bouncing in behind them. The three men almost trip on the ground but they managed to hold themselves up.
They broke apart as they examined their new surroundings. The chamber they had entered was enormous. There were pillars carved out of different marbles of white, green and gold that lined the side of the walls. Statues of the ancient gods and mythical creatures stood erect between each pillar and ancient paintings of even more lined up behind them. A chandelier illuminated with candles that sparkled through crystal consumed nearly half of the ceiling as it resided at the center of the hall. At the far end was a large window that revealed the clouds outside. That's when Natsu and the others realized that they were in fact at the top of the tower.
The floor was carved marble but each tile was carved to form a circle. Strips of gold aligned from different angles that met up at the center. Even smaller, black marble circular tiles spread out in a rippling affect. It was an extravagant setting, one that would make any king jealous.
And there at the center of it all stood a dark figure, clouded in a cloak of shadow. Though, now his hood was removed revealing the grotesque figure his body had eroded to. His hair was like strips of solid tar stuck together and to the pale, pasty, rotting overlay that was once the man's skin. His eyes glowed an eerie bluish-white, like little flames sat in the sockets. Patches of grime and scum outlined his body. Had his eyes not been shimmering with the spectacle of light that still radiated some sort of life, Natsu could have sworn they were staring at a corpse.
"Welcome, I've been expecting you Natsu Dragoneel," Ancologia croaked as he leered at the pink haired Draconian. His eyes shifted to Gajeel, "You as well Gajeel Redfox. Sons of Igneel and Metalicana, my former and once most trusted council members."
"So, you're the one that betrayed our people?" Natsu demanded. Ancologia nodded his head.
The dark wizard nodded before taking a step towards them.
"Do you know why they call it the Tower of Heaven?" Ancologia asked.
"Because it reaches the heavens?" Gajeel answered with a shrug.
Ancologia went silent for a moment. "Okay smart ass, ruin the fun."
"What is this place?" Natsu asked fastidiously.
"This tower was built centuries ago by the wizards that once ruled the lands we call Fiore," Ancologia began as he held up his hands and spun around admiring the construct. "It was a marvel to their power, built to honor the once great wizard Zeref. Now, it lies dormant, waiting for the time of wizards to return and rule as is our divine right."
"There's nothing divine about you," Arcadios growled.
"I'm sorry, who invited you?" Ancologia said as his eyes fell on the knight. "Well then again, nobody actually invited anyone so I guess everything is still in order. I mean I did put that barrier there so you would be teleported to the top, you know to save us all some time."
"You know my name?" he replied stunned.
"Of course, I know all of you very well." He shrugged. "One of the benefits of being a wizard."
"That's not important now," Natsu said as he let out a breath of fire and punching his fists together. "I'm going to kick your ass!"
Ancologia burst out into laughter.
"You exhibit such confidence, but I feel you are too much a fool young Dragoneel. You may have your 'powers' but the truth is you still cannot defeat me."
"What makes you so confident?" Natsu jeered. "You think that you're invincible because you're a wizard?"
"A wizard? No, I am no longer a wizard," he replied. "Now I am a god. I am the darkness that looms over this world. I am the watcher that guides those to their doom. I am reaper that all men fear. I am Death From Shadows!"
"Death from shadows?" Natsu laughed along with the others. "That has got to be the dumbest name I've ever heard someone give themselves. What were you twelve when you came up with that?"
"Well maybe we should just move on then," Ancologia sighed annoyed.
He lifted up his hand as a dark cloud swirled around it. Natsu prepared himself for any attack. Gajeel also stood firm as they awaited for some sort of blast. Ancologia just stood there, leering at them with those glowing blue eyes. Just then a Natsu's heart sank when he suddenly heard Arcadios let out a howl of pain. Natsu looked back and saw Arcadios hovering, his chest outstretched as though a large dark hand was squeezing the life from him.
"Arcadios!" Natsu barked. He glared over at Ancologia who smiled at him with a sinister smirk.
"Hey Natsu," he snickered. "Catch!"
Ancologia spun around and flung Arcadios towards the window at the other end of the hall. Arcadios crashed through and shattered the window as he plummeted downwards.
"Arcadios!" Natsu cried as he ran down the hall. He slid to a stop as he saw that Arcadios was still standing there watching him with that wry grin. "I'll be back for you," he growled threateningly.
"Terrifying," Anoclogia chortled as he watched Natsu sprint down the hall.