It was just another day of practice for Natsu as he went over the same routine with Gildarts. He practiced his stance, worked on his punches and kicks, and even meditation. At no point in his training exercises did Natsu ever get the feeling that he did the day that he fought the three slave men. He never got the burning sensation and though he often wondered why he never breathed fire again. That was something he actually would like to be able to do.
He wondered why it never came back to him, and why that time was different than any of the times he had fought. It bugged him as he even tried to do it when Gildarts wasn't looking, but no matter how much he concentrated and tried the fire wouldn't come. The burning sensation never came back, and though he wanted to try and regain it, it just never seemed to come. He didn't know what he did before that had caused it to arise, except for being in a fight. He decided that perhaps Gildarts would be able to help him. His instructor was experienced in combat, perhaps he knew how the boy to regain it.
"Gildarts?" Natsu said finally summing up the nerve to ask his instructor. He was a little hesitant to continue but he bit his tongue and continued it. "I was wondering if you could teach me a way on how to breath fire?"
Gildarts laughed at the remark causing Natsu to get a little upset with him. "Unfortunately my boy," Gildarts told him, "that is not a method of training I have come to know. And I have yet to met the man who is capable of such a feat."
Natsu was a little disappointed now. He would really like the ability to breath fire. Though it scared him to think that he could transform into the monster that he was back then. Though he hoped that he would be able to control it, but he didn't want to lose himself like he did before.
"Will it ever be possible for me to learn how to do it on my own?" Natsu asked him.
Gildarts thought about it some more. He had heard about the boy's incident from Iwan when he was hired. He never really understood why he was hired to take on a child as a protégé. Though he often had to work with some men of the town guard, but most of his time was focused on the boy. He knew from the first day he had fought with him there was definitely something out of the ordinary about the boy, and he could see the fear in most men's eyes when they saw him. He soon realized that he was the only man that was actually willing to work with the child, but he himself had never seen the boy become the beast most people claimed him to be.
"Maybe if you focus more on where it came from then you can harvest it again?" Gildarts suggested. "Go back to the source of where it all came from.
"Does this mean that I'm going to have to meditate some more?" Natsu whined. He hated meditation. It was boring and most of the time he just tried to keep himself from falling asleep during it. He honestly couldn't go more than a few minutes.
"Yes Natsu," Gildarts told him as he walked over to sit down in the corner of the arena, "it does." Natsu breathed out a sigh as he walked over next to his instructor and took a seat next to him. "Now think about it," Gildarts said as he closed his eyes. "What happened that caused you to bring out the fire. Where did it come from, what spurred it, where in your body did you feel it resonate from?"
Natsu closed his eyes and remembered back to that day, the vision coming in was a little blurry. He struggled since the day that he hit his head on the steps to recant all that happened or to completely regain his composure. It was all too fuzzy, he began to remember seeing the three men standing in front of him, the way they grabbed him, and his body falling down the stairwell. At that moment it became much more difficult. He just remembered his senses not acting in the same way that they usually did.
Then the image of the slave that he had burned flashed in his mind. He could see him now, standing there in front of Natsu holding the boy by the scruff of his neck. It was in that moment where the sensation of the burning radiating through his abdomen began to surge within him. He could feel it bubble in gut and then the sudden burst of flames that came forth from his mouth scorching the slave's face as the man collapsed to the ground in pain.
Natsu suddenly snapped out of his memory as he could hear the screams of the slave echo in his memory. His heart began to race and beat violently in his chest as he became startled by the images of the man withering on the ground in pain flooded his memory. He didn't want to focus on it any more and opened his eyes, breathing in a panic. Gidlarts could sense Natsu's stirs as he too opened his eyes to see the boy with a terribly frightened expression on his face as he was breathing heavy.
"What's wrong?" Gidlarts asked him placing a hand on Natsu's shoulder trying to comfort the boy. He wondered what it was that had scared the boy so badly.
"I don't want to think about it anymore," Natsu whimpered as he hugged his knees to his chest.
"Okay, that's fine," Gildarts said softly not wanting to pursue the issue. But he wanted to know what it was that bothered the boy. "Why not?" Gildarts asked him.
"Cause I'm afraid," Natsu said quietly as he hugged his knees tighter to his chest. He held back tears as they were on the verge of breaking through his eyelids. Gildarts was becoming even more worried for the child now.
Gildarts could see the boy was worried as he patted him on the back. "Maybe if we take a little break and try for it again, then you'll have a better chance at getting it."
"That's not it," Natsu said with weary eyes. "I just don't want to remember."
"Tell me why," Gildarts said as he relaxed a bit more.
"I don't want to," Natsu sighed.
"Do you want to talk to me about it?" Gildarts asked him. He began to grow more and more concerned for Natsu. He had heard what the boy went through and he had tried to avoid the subject, but he didn't know that it was the source of where the boy's transformation.
"No," Natsu said shaking his head subtly.
Gildarts chose not to pursue it. He figured that the boy was very upset about what happened. He wished Natsu would tell him exactly what happened that day. Somewhere in the mist of that memory resided the answer Natsu wanted to find, but the boy seemed too afraid to go any further. Gildarts didn't blame him, and he didn't want to do anything that would cause any harm to Natsu.
"Well why don't we call it a day?" Gildarts said as he stood up. "I think you've done enough for today."
Natsu said nothing as he stood up. He kind of felt ashamed himself for not being able to reflect on that memory. The one thing he wanted to do was learn how to breath fire, and it just scared him to remember what he did to those men. He was too afraid that it would happen again.
Gildarts patted Natsu on the back trying to comfort the boy as soon as the boy stood up.
"Good day gentlemen," the two of them heard Iwan say as he stepped into the arena with his hands behind his back. Trotting behind him was the young blonde princess. "How goes your practice?"
"It went well my Lord," Gildarts answered. Natsu's mind was elsewhere as he was still upset with himself.
"And what is wrong with your young pupil?" Iwan asked as he stepped up and placed a kindly hand on the boy's head. Natsu blinked snapping out of it for a second as he looked up at the nobleman. Iwan offered him a friendly smile to cheer the young boy up. "Is there anything I can do to help you my young friend?"
"Natsu is just a little upset about his mediation, but its not too much trouble," Gildarts said as he stepped in between Iwan and Natsu. He had a serious expression on his face as he glared at the nobleman.
Iwan blinked as he took a step backwards, a little surprised by Gildarts' advance. Though the smirk suddenly reappeared on him as he nodded down at Natsu. Gildarts became a little defensive of Natsu, he didn't exactly know what compelled him to stand between Natsu and Iwan, but something in his gut told him to do it. Lucy was a little surprised herself, but she then turned to look at Natsu wondering why the boy was so distraught.
"I wanted to learn to breath fire like I did that one day," Natsu sighed.
"Well don't worry my young friend," Iwan chuckled ignoring Gildarts. "I'm sure that you'll be able to achieve any task you put your mind to. Especially with the help of Master Gidlarts," Iwan said eyeing the instructor with a sinister glare. "But for now, Princess Lucy is ready for you to take her the lake."
The blonde girl smiled up at Gildarts and offered a small wave. Though she was feeling rather nervous as she could feel a slight tension between the two adults. She didn't know when the two of them had some aggression towards one another it never seemed like that before. Her eyes felt back to Natsu where she saw that the boy was still sulking a bit. His eyes were on the ground lost in the recesses of his mind.
"All right," Gildarts said as he offered Lucy a friendly smile. "Come along my Lady."
Lucy nodded his head as she stepped around Iwan and stood over next to Natsu. The young boy still couldn't lift himself out of his sulk. She began to grow worried wondering what it was that distraught Natsu so much. She reached down and took his hand in hers. Natsu felt her hands around his causing him to blink out of his memory. He looked up at her seeing her smiling face. It felt like his sorrow just melted away. There was something comforting about her being there. He could take solace in her smiling face as he warmed his heart.
"Well Master Gildarts I'll let you get going," Iwan said nodding his head. He continued to hold a large smirk.
"Thank you my Lord," Gildarts said nodding his head, but he still had a serious aurora about him. Without another word Gildarts took the two children and walked towards the back gate.
When they arrived at the lake Gildarts took a seat underneath one of the pussy willows by the water on the open grass. He pulled a out a pipe and lit it while taking a few puffs of smoke. After he lit the pipe he reached into his leather satchel and pulled out a fishing line and tossed it out onto the water. After he had settled he tied the line to a tree branch and pulled out a book to start reading. He decided he would just let the kids play however they wanted without interfering.
Natsu and Lucy walked around the edge of the water sitting on the banks Natsu sitting on his own heels. Lucy could still see that Natsu was still troubled, the boy's eyes were still vacant and lost. Natsu picked up a stick that was resting near the edge of the water and began to fiddle with it, creating ripples on the surface. Lucy watched him carefully, growing worried about the young slave boy.
"What's wrong?" Lucy asked as she sat down next to him.
"Nothing," Natsu muttered as he continued to flutter the stick around.
Lucy said nothing but instead ripped the stick from his hand and hurtled it into the lake water. Natsu gazed at her with both shock and confusion at her sudden gesture. He wanted to say something but couldn't figure out what exactly to say to her. Lucy on the other hand just pursed her lips furrowing her eyebrows at him. She was pretty serious and wanted to know what was going on with the boy. She stood up and placed her hands on her hips.
"Tell me what's wrong," Lucy demanded with authority. She folded her arms across her chest and continued to leer down at him, not breaking her eye contact.
"Fine," Natsu sighed giving up. There was no way for him to avoid her question anymore. "Today Gildarts had me mediate back to the time I breathed fire."
"What's mediate mean?" Lucy asked him. She had never heard the word before and now she was interested to learn about it.
"It's like sleeping without falling asleep," Natsu told her.
"Oh, neat," Lucy said. "So why were you meditating?"
"Gildarts thought it would be a way for me to find out how I breathed fire," Natsu said. "But the memory of what I did— I just couldn't do it."
"Well don't worry, it's okay," Lucy told him. "You don't have to breath fire or anything. If it bothers you so much than why would you continue to try and do it?"
"I would like to learn how to control breathing fire," Natsu admitted. "I just want to learn how to do it."
"Well you don't have to learn how to do it all at once," Lucy told him.
"I guess," Natsu sighed.
"What was it that caused you to breath fire in the first place?" Lucy asked. She knelt back down next to the boy. She offered him a gentle smile to try and comfort him.
"I remember the time when I was in a fight with those three slaves. And I felt really, really dizzy. I wasn't myself, and then when the man grabbed me I just had this burning pain in my stomach. And then, I don't know exactly what happened, but the fire just came," Natsu said as his eyes fell on the water as he saw a couple of fish swim up near the shore.
"Well stop letting it bother you so much," Lucy said as she stood back up.
As soon as she was back on her feet she made a dash for the apple tree. It was still in full bloom as the blossoms fluttered in the wind and fell gently onto the surface water. She turned back and grinned widely at him as she went through the brush of flowers. Natsu couldn't help but smiled as he too stood up and followed her over to the tree.
As he ran he felt a cold rush flow through his spine as he stopped in place. He had an eerie feeling creep up on him as he felt his heart beat rapidly once more. He began to peer around the lake wondering what it could possibly be that was startling him. He thought maybe it was nothing until something in his senses picked up that the cold sense was coming from behind him somewhere near the pathway they came. When he gazed back to the pathway he saw something lurking behind a tree and brush.
Natsu felt a weird sensation grow in him as his eyes began to narrow as his vision became much clearer, and even to the point that it magnified. It became clearly visible and then to his utter surprise he could see that there was a figure standing there watching him. He could see it clearly but the figure was that of a cloaked man.
Just then Natsu could feel that burning sensation from before radiate through him. What caused it was something he could not understand, but he felt more comfortable with it. His eyes leered forward, and he began to become frightened as he tried to hold it back. He could feel the burning in his gut and then he let it stir there for a second.
Lucy stopped just in front of the tree and turned around expecting to see Natsu running up behind her. But she saw that Natsu had stopped somewhere in the brush. Her smile faded as she could see the boy standing perfectly still. There was something about him, and she noticed that he had the same stillness that she had only seen on the day that he lost himself. She began to worry as she started rushing over to him.
Natsu felt the burn come up as he leaned over and from the pit of his stomach flames burst forth. Lucy came to such an abrupt stop that she slipped on the grass and fell on her rump. She was astonished by the sudden burst, and the sight of it reminded her of what happened to Natsu on that day. She started to become afraid. She turned to yell at Gildarts for help, but before she had the chance the old man leapt to his feet and ran over to the boy.
Natsu felt the burn cease, but there was still a boiling in his pit. He saw that the cloaked figure remained unstirred. His vision brought the man within closer view as he could see a slight smirk cross his lips. Natsu felt more natural and even to the point that he felt unafraid now. He took a couple of steps towards the cloaked man, but as soon as he did the cloaked man fell back into the brush and disappeared from the boy's view.
Natsu continued to hold himself there, waiting to see if the man was to come back. When he saw that he wasn't he cold feel the eerie sensation leave his body as he began to mellow out. But he didn't want to, he wanted to stay like that. He felt better about his body, a certain strength filled his bones and he liked the sensation of his blood boiling. The heat in the pit of his stomach began to slowly fade away but to his pleasure he summoned it up once more and let out another burst of flames erupt from his mouth.
Just then he sensed another person coming, and he turned to see who it was, but then he saw that it was Gildarts, and almost immediately his eyes transformed back to normal.
"Natsu, are you alright?" Gildarts asked as he took the boy by the shoulders. "What happened? What's wrong?"
"I saw someone," Natsu told him, his eyes going back to the area where he saw the man standing.
"Where? Where is he?" Gildarts asked as he turned to the direction that Natsu was looking at.
"He ran away," Natsu growled, he could feel his vision changing once more. It was going back to the same eyes that it had when he first spotted the intruder. "I don't know where he went but he disappeared into the brush."
"All right," Gildarts said as he patted the boy on the back. "You should let me know when you see someone like that. By the way what did he look like?"
"Don't know," Natsu said concerned, "he had a cloak covering his face so I couldn't see him."
"Natsu are you okay? What's wrong?" Lucy asked as she ran up to the young boy. Her eyes were filled with concern.
"Everything is fine," Gildarts reassured her. "Natsu just saw someone in the brush. He seems like he kept his composure for now."
To Natus's surprise he felt comfortable the way he was. He could sense the fire in his pit and without thinking about it he opened his mouth and let another small stream of flames burst out of him. Lucy gasped in surprise as Gildart slapped the boy in the back of the head.
"What was the for?" Natsu whined as he rubbed the part of his head that Gildarts slapped.
"For being an idiot," Gidlarts said scolding him. "Be careful about where you're doing that. You could have burned Princess Lucy."
"But I didn't," Natsu snapped back. As he did Gildarts brought down another hand that slapped Natsu again. "What was that for?" Another hand came back down and slapped him for a third time. Lucy couldn't help but giggle as she watched Natsu act all frantic.
"Stop whining," Gildarts said raising his eyebrows.
"Aren't you at least happy that I can control my fire now?" Natsu grumbled. Gidlarts slapped the boy in the head once more. "Why do you keep on doing that?" Natsu whined.
"I don't like your tone," Gildarts told him. Lucy was still laughing uncontrollably as Natsu glared at her. The young blonde couldn't control herself as she continued to giggle like mad.
Gildarts smirked at the two of them as Natsu practically pounced on the girl and tackled her to the ground. He wondered over to his spot and slumped back down. Though he kept a happy expression about him he was still concerned about what Natsu had seen. If it were true than that could mean potential danger. Natsu may have scared the man off for the moment but he worried whether or not the man would come back. For now he watched the two kids play, as Lucy managed to pry herself free and make a dash for the apple tree they always seemed to keep climbing.
Meanwhile the cloaked man made his way through the forest before he snuck back into the town. He made his way back to the same tavern and up the staircase to the same room. He knocked on the door and was told to go on inside. Once there he bowed his head and removed the hood of his cloak to reveal his snake like black eyes and scraggly raven hair. He had a mellow brown skin and incredibly thin boney structure.
Ivan sat at the head of the table with the same group of people he did as before. He sat in front of the fire place munching on a plate of food that rested in front of him.
"Kurohebi you're back earlier than expected," Ivan said as he tossed a tomato in his mouth and began to chew on it.
"My Lord," Kurohebi began as he entered the room. "The boy seems to have spotted me while I remained hidden in the foliage."
"And how, may I ask, did he manage to spot you?" Ivan asked irritably.
"The boy took a form of a beast, his eyes like that of a monster as fire erupted from him like the fog of breath on a winter's day," Kurohebi told him. "I know not how he discovered my presence, all I know is that he found me."
"And you say that the boy breathed fire?" Ivan asked intrigued.
"Like that of a dragon, my Lord," Kurohebi answered.
"Wow, now that is interesting, very interesting in fact," Ivan said as he leaned back in his chair. "I guess it will be more difficult to keep our little dragon a secret from the world anymore. But perhaps we can still use this to our advantage. And how bare his relationship with the young princess?"
The rest of the company's interest peaked as they heard the mention of the young blonde girl. A mutter began to erupt amongst those at the table and the exchange of curious glances. Ivan glared around the table with such a menacing glance that the mutter stopped almost insantly.
"The princess and the slave boy seem to have bonded incredibly well, like two good friends," Kurohebi answered. "If not so young, one could mistake them for lovers."
"Is that so," Ivan said smirking widely. "Well isn't that cute. I am deeply happy for the boy and the young princess. It breaks my heart that she will eventually have to marry a prince from another land and lose such a close friend. But thus is the life of a princess I guess. Kurohebi," Ivan said leaning back forward. "I want you to continue monitoring our little slave and see how much further he progresses in his hidden abilities. He has captured my complete attention now. I wish to learn how his progress comes along."
"Yes, my Lord," Kurohebi bowed his head before leaving.
"My Lord, what is this about a slave and the princess becoming friends?" one of the other men at the table asked.
"There is no need to concern yourself, or for any of you to pay it mind," Ivan told them. "What is being done is being done with my authority and my authority alone. And if any of you decide to disclose anything you have heard in this room to anyone, I will have your tongues cut from your mouths and left for you to drown in your own blood. Is that understood?" Ivan said threateningly. The rest of the company kept their mouths shut and nodded their head in compliance. "Good."