Thank you guys for the wonderful comments :) I'm so happy to hear that most of you have checked out Approvesports pictures for this. They are just so amazing!
Hope you enjoy this next chapter!
Chapter 2: Storming the Sorrow
The camp was silent, the ground littered with bodies. A small fire still burned and a strange metallic scent tinged the air. The moon overhead glowed brightly, unphased by the recent events and as the wind picked up, the tents flapped with the breeze.
When Natsu finally came to, he was weeping, salty liquid streaming down his cheeks. His throat was raw and he struggled to swallow as he sat up and stared down at his fathers' deceased form. Ever present, hanging from his neck, was the ruby amulet, streaked with drying blood.
Natsu reached out and trailed a finger around the golden edge. First his mothers… then his fathers. He grabbed the chain and slid it over his fathers head, lifting the piece to his face and staring at the mystical fire bird. How many times had he stared at this piece of jewelry? How many times had he touched it as a child in awe with the vibrant gems?
He blinked slowly and draped the necklace around his neck. It was heavy, the cold chain feeling foreign on his skin.
He took a deep breath, his body weak from emotion. Death surrounded him, guards, servants, enemies. He seemed to be the only one left.
His eyes moved back to his father in front of him and a fresh round of tears spilled down his face. It felt like his heart was dying as he sat there, alone, with no real family left.
After several minutes, exhaustion took over and he once again fell into blackness.
Footsteps padded silently up the steep grassy hill, the sun hovering just above the mountains in the distance. It was an early spring morning and Flora, the goddess of flowers, was certainly hard at work. White and pink oleander trees dotted the landscape, the only things interrupting the perfectly green expanse of grassy fields that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was truly a beautiful morning but the pair that made their way up the grassy incline didn't notice it, intent on their path and stopping once they reached the top where a large marble slab sat.
The stone had a human male form clad in heavy armor etched into it, its face in profile with a large shield on one arm and a sword held in the other. Carved across the top in bold letters was the name METALICANA and in slightly smaller letters beneath it, Legendary Gladiator.
Gajeel stared blindly at the ornate stone, his large muscular arms laden with ragged scars crossed over a broad chest with his ever present companion beside him. This had become the routine since his father had passed away several years ago. On the morning of a match, Gajeel and Lily would visit his father's grave, watching the morning drift away as they lost themselves to past memories and thoughts of what was to come.
Lily had been a gift to Gajeel, one of the last fond memories he had of his father.
It had been a day like any other, the large house that they lived in bustling with activity as the servants prepared their evening meal. Gajeel had been busy out in the Atrium, practicing his sword skills when his father had joined him, taking a seat off to the side and watching his only son in silence for a time.
When the sweat started to roll down his face, Gajeel dropped his sword to the ground and leaned his head back, exhaling loudly. He was sixteen, his long raven black hair tied behind his neck with a thin strip of leather. Several strands had escaped and clung to his damp skin, framing his angular face. His shirt had long ago been abandoned, thrown over the back of a chair and his adolescent body showed the signs of a large muscular frame, already towering over most people in town.
He grabbed a rag and wiped off his face, blinking his crimson eyes as the room came back into focus. Sitting in the corner was his father, lounging comfortably in one of the thickly padded chairs that randomly dotted the large outdoor space. He didn't speak a word but he knew his father wished to speak with him so he made his way over, skirting the pool in the center and passing several large statues of past gladiators and warriors. He took a seat on a nearby chaise lounge chair and dropped his rag beside him, his chest still heaving slightly from his previous exertion.
"You will be able to compete soon. Your form is good and you grow stronger everyday," Metalicana's booming baritone voice said while he idly toyed with something in his lap. The bundle was wrapped in black cloth, squirming restlessly and Gajeel tilted his head to the side, his brows drawn together in confusion. He wanted to ask what it was but he knew better than to speak out of turn. His father was a rough man and Gajeel had been on the receiving end of many of his reprimands growing up. Enough to know that his father would tell him what he wanted him to know, and nothing more.
Metalicana seemed lost in thought as he eyed his son, his hair the same color as his and falling in layers down to his waist. He had stormy grey eyes, large and intimidating when filled with anger and nearly silver when filled with mirth. His hairline was deep and jagged on his forehead and he had piercings lining his brow, nose and chin as well as his ears which had pewter swords dangling from the lobes. Short stubble covered his face, matching the color of his hair and his unkept appearance gave him an edge of mystery which many women still fawned over.
"I haven't always been the best father," he began, still absently playing with the bundle in his lap, "and I know it hasn't been easy for you growing up without a mother. But you have turned out well, a good man… a son to be proud of."
Gajeel's eyes widened, taken aback by his fathers words and unsure what he was supposed to say. Metalicana was never the type to sit and idly chat, often times being abrupt and almost rude to those seeking casual conversation. When he had something to say, he said it. And that was that. No fluff, no 'how are you doing,' just direct statements or questions to which he expected the same in return. Which was why Gajeel was at a loss for what he was supposed to say at this moment.
Thankfully, it didn't seem he was expected to as his father continued, "I don't know how many birthdays I've missed over the years. I remember when you were younger and you were playing with the neighbors kittens after they'd been born. I watched you and you seemed so happy, one of the few times I got to see you act like a child. You were always so solitary and rebellious, my fault probably. You take after me in so many ways that sometimes it scares me." His father frowned but quickly cleared his throat and started unwrapping the small bundle. "Even though this is quite late, I hope that it will make up for the years you went without one."
Uncovered slowly was a furry tan head and then large, slightly slanted dark eyes. Along its back was darker fur, spiked all the way down the length of its spine to its long tail. It turned its head towards Gajeel and then leaped from Metalicana's lap, paw outstretched as it swiped at Gajeel's face.
"What the…!" Gajeel exclaimed, catching the ball of fur around the middle and holding it at arms length in the air.
"It's a lion cub… a slightly manlier version of a kitten," his father explained with a small smile on his face, something that was rarely ever seen.
Gajeel grimaced as the animal bared its teeth at him but then a high pitched squeal came out of its mouth and Gajeel couldn't hold back the chuckle that worked its way up his throat. "Is that supposed to be a roar?" he teased, pulling the animal onto his lap and ruffling the spiked fur on the top of its head.
The cub turned its face up and rolled onto its back, playing with Gajeel's fingers as it squirmed around. "What's around its eye?"
Metalicana shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest. "It's just a scar. He must be a feisty one."
Gajeel nodded. "He seems to be. That's for sure."
Another squeal erupted from the cubs mouth and both men chuckled at the sound. "So, what are you going to name him?" his father asked.
Gajeel ran his fingers over the small scar and smiled when the cub swatted at his hand. "I'll call him Lily…"
Without thought, Gajeel's hand found the top of Lily's massive head as he drifted back to the present, standing in front of his father's grave. The scar was still there, stretching over Lily's left eye but he now had a mane of nearly black fur, fading into lighter fur over the rest of his body… a body which stood nearly as tall as the underside of Gajeel's chest.
They'd both grown over the past few years, Lily becoming a full sized male lion and Gajeel filling out and growing several more inches. His hair was nearly the same length that his father's had been and he'd adopted the same piercings he'd worn, looking so much like his father that oftentimes people would accidentally call him by his father's name.
This same comparison crept into the arena as well, people remarking on their similar fighting styles and execution. It irked Gajeel to no end. Not that he wasn't flattered to be compared to one of the greatest Gladiators in history but, he wanted to make a name for himself. This is why, with Lily at his side, he'd vowed that one day he would overcome the shadow of his father and become the greatest Gladiator of all time.
Time passed quietly. The sun was higher in the sky now and Gajeel could hear the city behind him coming to life. Soon he would have to make his way to the arena and prepare himself for the match that day. But for now, he was content to stand on the top of the hill with his closest friend beside him, letting memories fill his mind.
Natsu awoke with a jolt, sitting up quickly and staring at the space around him. His stomach turned, cringing at the sight that assaulted him. Never had he seen so much death before. Everywhere he looked, it was there. Guards, servants, all the people he'd been traveling with for the past several weeks. Whoever these attackers were, they had worked swiftly, barely making a noise as they'd made their way through the camp, killing everyone almost silently. If it hadn't been for that barely audible noise and his fathers constant alertness, he probably would have ended up with the same fate.
He looked down and lying on the ground in front of him was his father, his head falling to the side as if deeply asleep. If only that was so. If only he could shake him and wake him up. Like none of this had happened and they'd just drank a little too much the night before and fallen asleep outside.
But, it wasn't so and Natsu felt a new wave of sorrow cascade over him, tears threatening once again. He shook his head quickly and rose to his feet, determined to not get pulled into the grief this time. There were things that needed to be done. Maybe someone else was still alive. Maybe someone was only injured.
One by one he checked all the bodies, friends, enemies… growing more and more disgusted and angry with every lifeless form he came across. Who could have done this? Why had they done this? Was it some rogue gang that thought they might acquire a bit of wealth from their entourage?
Somehow he didn't believe that could be the case. Though their royal traveling party hadn't been extremely large like some of their trips, it hadn't been small either. Well over a dozen guards had accompanied them over the long journey along with half as many capable servants, all of which were well trained in combat. And these bandits had taken them down easily. Not something an ordinary band of thieves would be able to handle.
Natsu rolled a black clad figure over on to its back and felt his stomach turn at the sight of blood caked over the man's face and teeth. All this needless death… and for what? What had they been trying to accomplish? He shook his head and started turning away when suddenly something caught his eye, a glimmer of silver against the man's black robes.
Natsu reached down and grabbed the object, yanking it off the fabric where it was securely fastened and brought it closer to his eyes. It was a serpent, its long thin body weaving in and out of itself and its head encrusted with two purple gemstones for eyes.
He'd seen this symbol before. Actually, he'd seen it nearly every day since his father had remarried, draped over his step-mothers neck. Confusion clouded his mind and all he could do was simply stare at the object, following its winding body. Why was it the same symbol? Was it some kind of representation of a God that he was unaware of? It must be just a coincidence.
Although he wished it was something simple; that there was an easy explanation, he had a suspicion that in actuality, it was much more sinister and the thought made his body tremble with anger. He knew his step-mother wasn't a nice person, hadn't liked her from the moment she'd married his father. But to do something like this? Was she capable of doing something this horrendous?
When he searched another and then another black clad body and found the same brooch, his suspicions were confirmed and he clenched his fist in malice, screaming at the sky in agonized frustration. How could she do this? Why… why would she do this? What could she gain from killing her own husband and his…
A sudden image materialized inside his head, his younger step-brother, following him like a lost puppy inside the palace. From the first day he and his mother had moved in, he'd been a constant shadow, following Natsu wherever he went and mimicking whatever it was that he was doing. There was three years between the two brothers and though they were not related by blood, Natsu had grown to love the young kid, teaching him fighting techniques and showing him how to hide ants in their teacher's robes.
His mother had never approved of their closeness, whisking Sting away whenever she caught them together and sending him off to live with other relatives whenever possible, especially as they'd grown older. Over the past several years, Natsu had barely seen his step-brother and their relationship had grown distant, so distant that the last time Natsu had seen him at a royal dinner, Sting hadn't even acknowledged him other than sending a quick nod his direction.
At the time, it had bothered him. Even so much so that Natsu had sought him out in his private chambers later that night. He'd needed to know why he was behaving so coldly towards him. What had happened to make their relationship so tense? But the moment he'd gotten there, he'd been sent away by his step-mother who had greeted him at the double doors, an angry sneer on her face.
Could it possibly be that she wanted to take the throne for her son? Was her greed really that extensive?
Natsu stood slowly and walked over to the tent he'd shared with his father, the same tent they'd traded jokes and stories in over the past several weeks. It was all still so surreal, like any moment his father would come walking inside and berate him for leaving his muddy shoes on or laugh about something one of the guards had just said. His hands were shaking as he lifted a red blanket off of the back of a chair, still trembling from immense emotional strain, and returned outside. Slowly he made his way to his father and knelt beside him, his gaze intense as he looked down.
"I promise, no matter how long it takes, I will avenge you," he said and carefully laid the blanket over his lifeless body, moisture gathering beneath his eyes as he looked at his father's face one last time. "I love you."
The sun was high in the sky when Natsu finally finished burying his father, finding a small alcove within the dense surrounding forest, not far from where they'd set up camp. He placed a stone over the grave, carefully carving his name on it but left the details off, not wanting anyone to know that this was the King of Carthage lying there. One day he planned to come back and bring his father's remains to his homeland so he could receive a proper burial. But for now, with his path uncertain ahead of him, this had to do.
He made his way back to camp, leading Dunkin, his horse, alongside him who'd been the muscle behind bringing his father's body to its resting place. Now what to do with the rest of them? He knew he couldn't bury them all, there was simply too many. It would take days. But he couldn't just leave them there.
As much as he hated the idea, the only solution he could come up with was to pile them all up and burn them. At least that way they wouldn't be left out to rot for the vultures and other animals wanting to prey on them. But it still wasn't an easy job, dragging them all over to one area away from the dense trees, one by one. It took him several more hours and by the time he had them all laid out, the sun was already well towards the west.
His bag was already packed and secured on Dunkin's back as he stood beside the pile of familiar faces, faces that he'd grown close to over the long journey. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, vowing once again that this wouldn't go unpunished; that one day, he would make whoever had done this, whether it be his step-mother or not, suffer as these people had suffered.
The waning sun evaporated the few tears that slid on to his cheeks as he stood there motionless for several minutes, letting the memories he'd shared with these people travel through his mind. It wasn't till he heard a sound in the distance that he lifted his head, scanning his surroundings for anything suspicious, but nothing seemed out of place. Still though, he was on edge, his body alert and he wasn't about to ignore his instincts after what had already occurred. So he said a last farewell to his traveling companions and set the mound aflame, mounting his horse and leaving, setting off in the same direction they'd been going when they'd stopped the previous night.
Lucy watched as the pink haired maid she'd had since childhood bowed low to her in the open doorway and then mumbled, "Master would like to see you."
Lucy rolled her eyes. "How many times have I told you that you don't need to bow to me?"
Virgo muttered an apology as she bowed once again and left the room, leaving Lucy to just shake her head lightheartedly at her.
What could her father want? Rarely did he ever call on her, more often ignoring her when she wanted to say something or possible try and arrange to do something with him. Quite honestly she couldn't remember the last time he'd called on her. It made Lucy nervous as she stood to her feet and walked steadily down the large courtyard to her father's office where she stopped just outside the doorway, taking a deep breath and rubbing her moist palms on her flowing robes.
"Father?" Lucy questioned as she slowly opened the heavy wooden door, peering inside.
"Come in," her fathers stern voice answered, sending a wave of apprehension through Lucy's body as she quietly closed the door behind her and walked the rest of the way inside. He was sitting behind his impressively large desk, several stacks of scrolls sprawled out over its surface. He didn't even spare a glance at her as she stood in front of him; just continued to scribble down whatever it was that he was working on as he spoke up. "You are of marriageable age now. I have arranged several meetings between you and many respectable families. I trust you know what is expected of you."
Lucy stiffened. Marriageable age? As little involvement that her father had had with her through the years, she quite honestly expected him not to care whether she married or not.
Jude Heartfilia lifted his head, his small dark eyes staring in annoyance at his only daughter as his brows lifted in question.
Lucy stuttered and straightened. "Y-yes father," she answered, terrified of that look she remembered from her childhood. How many times had he glared at her in just that same way, chastising her for doing something he hadn't found acceptable? Mostly that meant that she had either distracted him from his work or wasted a precious second of his time. She'd learned long ago not to bother him while he was in his study. And over the years, that had expanded to include basically every room in the house.
"You can go. I will let you know when the first meeting is," Lucy's father said and with that, she turned and left the room, exhaling audibly after closing the door behind her.
Marriage… her father talked about it so coldly, as if it was some sort of business transaction that needed to be completed. It left a sour feeling in the pit of her stomach as she made her way silently into the gardens at the rear of the pavilion. The Night Gladiolus and Casablanca Lilies were already opening, their petals expanding to absorb the delicate rays of moonlight. A beautiful fragrance drifted in the gentle breeze and Lucy breathed it in as she sat down at one of her favorite spots.
For as long as she could remember, she'd been reading romantic tales, falling in love with the idea of love. Though she'd never experienced it for herself, she longed to. That was why she spent an endless amount of time writing about it in her stories, dreaming about it. She remembered as a child, sitting with her mother in this very same spot, listening to her tell the tale of Eros and Psyche and how they faced obstacle after obstacle, overcoming impossible feats in order to be together. It had become Lucy's favorite tale, fascinated by Psyche's overwhelming love for Eros and the way she braved even the underworld to be with her lover.
Lucy wanted that. She wanted to feel what it was like to love someone so much, to love them beyond even herself. That was why, as she turned her face up to the stars and gazed at the nearly full moon, she sent a silent prayer to her mother and the Gods, hoping that one day, love would find her and take her away from this house which was once so filled with warmth and love but no longer was.
It was well past dark when Natsu tightened the reins on Dunkin, entranced by the bright moon overhead. His horse was unusually skittish, snorting and stomping beneath him but Natsu couldn't tear his eyes away from the sky. It felt like something was tugging at his chest, his body filling with unfamiliar warmth till suddenly it burst inside of him and just as quickly... disappeared, leaving nothing behind but a feeling of emptiness and confusion.
He quickly shook his head, trying to put aside that strange moment, and eyed his surroundings. The path that he was on was nestled in a small valley between two hills, long shadows stretching over the ground from the few trees that littered the area. It was hard to see anything beyond a couple dozen feet and Natsu silently urged his horse to continue forward, uneasy with the place that they stood at the moment. He knew he needed to find somewhere to make camp for the night, remembering his father's words clearly about evil and darkness. 'How true had that been?' he thought as a wave of sadness washed over him.
They passed the hills, entering into a clearing. He didn't like the idea of camping out in such an unconcealed place so they kept moving, their pace quickening. "Don't worry boy. We'll find a nice spot soon and rest for the night," Natsu said, gently patting his horse's neck.
In the distance, Natsu could hear what sounded like gurgling water and he dug his heels into Dunkin's sides, urging him forward. "Come on. I think we can stop up ahead."
The ground grew rockier and soon they were upon the stream and Natsu jumped off, water splashing as his feet submerged in the shallow current. "See, I told you we'd find a nice spot," Natsu said but as he reached for something in his pack, the cracking of a small branch just south of where they stood made both of them stiffen in alertness, Dunkin's front legs splaying out, ready to bolt at an instants notice.
"Shhh, it's ok boy. I…" Another sound had the horse backing up, his head elevated in fear and Natsu didn't waste another moment before he jumped onto his back and the two spun around, darting out of the stream.
Within seconds, the sound of hooves echoed behind them and Natsu looked back, his eyes going wide at the sight of a dozen or more mounted figures coming towards them at breakneck speed. He urged Dunkin faster, the landscape flying by in a flurry of trees and brush. The men were less than fifty yards away and suddenly an arrow whizzed by his head, impaling a nearby tree.
Blood pumped rapidly through his veins, the sound pounding in his ears as adrenaline swarmed his body. The path opened up and Natsu leaned closer to Dunkin's neck, mumbling words of encouragement as they sped through a shallow valley, a large hill looming in the distance.
He glanced behind him, the men still close on their heels and he ducked as another arrow flew by. He had to do something. He knew Dunkin couldn't keep up a pace like this for long. He was bred for strength and endurance, not speed. But as the hill rapidly approached in front of them, he couldn't think of anything and fear started to creep up and constrict his throat.
Desperately he looked around the area, trying to find anything that could possibly help them. They rounded a small bend to skirt the hill and suddenly he could see a twinkling of light in the distance, slightly illuminating the outline of several houses a little less than a league away.
He urged Dunkin faster, feeling the men closing in on them. The path began a slow decent and though their pace quickened, so did their pursuers. Soon they were less than a dozen yards behind them and Natsu reached for his sword at his hip, ready to fight when suddenly an arrow grazed the side of his upper arm, stinging his flesh. A cry of pain erupted from behind, followed by the sound of a body hitting the ground and Natsu quickly turned his head, finding one of the men lying on the ground.
The air hissed beside his ear and then another man clutched his chest and tumbled off the back of his horse. Natsu jerked his head around, scanning the area for whatever it could be and suddenly the silhouette of a woman appeared, standing with squared shoulders directly in his path. He yanked hard on the reins, gritting his teeth. Dunkin narrowly avoided running headlong into the woman and when Natsu was finally able to turn them back around, he caught the woman striking down the horsemen, swords slashing through the air.
Disbelief made him hesitate but then he quickly snapped out of it and raced back, jumping off Dunkin and stabbing a man who was about to strike the woman from behind. He spun around, avoiding a lunging spear and out of nowhere, an arrow lodged itself inside the man's chest and he collapsed to his knees, toppling to the ground.
Natsu's eyes widened but he didn't have time to think before he was blocking another sword with his own, fighting back a man who was similarly clothed to the ones from the previous evening. He growled deep in his throat and sliced at the man's chest, barely missing him and then spun to the side and stabbed him from behind. The man collapsed and Natsu turned just in time to watch as the woman swiftly stabbed one man then jumped into the air and came down hard on another, her swords cutting through the air and slashing across his chest and neck. In the same fluid movement she kicked the last remaining attacker to the ground and then leaped on top of him, driving one of her swords into his chest before she slowly stood back to her feet.
Air rushed rapidly in and out of Natsu's lungs and he fell heavily to his knees, overwhelmed by the events of the past few days. It had all happened so fast. One minute he was riding for his life. And the next, he was staring at the ground littered with dead bodies.
The woman turned to him, her scarlet hair which easily reached past her hips whipping viciously in the strong breeze. She wore light armor on her chest and shoulders and her thighs were covered in thin metal plates. In her hands she still held her swords, both dripping with freshly shed blood and as she walked up to Natsu, he couldn't help but feel slightly intimidated by the sight.
"Who are you?" the woman asked, her voice crisp and stern.
Natsu wiped at the sweat dripping from his brow and looked up. "I'm Natsu," he answered, unwilling to let her know his whole name.
In a flash, the point of the woman's sword was hovering less than an inch from his neck and Natsu's entire body froze, his eyes going wide.
"I'm going to ask you again. Who are you?"
Natsu gulped audibly, his hands rising in surrender. "M-my name i-is Natsu. I'm traveling from Carthage on my way to Rome. My companions and I were attacked just last evening and I was the only one who survived."
The woman's eyes narrowed, her gaze sweeping up his form. She seemed to be deciding if what he was saying was true and after several moments she slowly lowered her blade and Natsu sighed in relief and stood.
"Thank you," he said and then stiffened when he heard a noise, making him instantly tighten his grip on the sword he still held.
The woman didn't flinch and quietly sheathed both her swords behind her back. "Do not worry. They won't harm you," she said and out of the darkness, two men appeared, one with hair so dark it camouflaged perfectly with the blackness of the night and the other with hair so pale it almost looked silver in the streaming moonlight. They both had it cropped moderately short, about the same length as his own. But where the dark haired man wore his falling forward over his forehead, the other spiked it away from his face.
Their bodies were slender with toned muscle covering nearly every inch and as they grew closer, Natsu could see that they both stood slightly taller than him. They wore light armor much like the woman's and clutched in each of their hands was a bow, instantly reminding Natsu of the many arrows that had taken down enemy attackers while he'd fought.
"This is Gray and Lyon," the woman said, pulling Natsu's attention away from the pair. "And my name is Erza."
To be continued…
Once again, several pictures have been done to accompany this chapter. Please check out Approvesport or mines Tumblr for them. As always, they are absolutely incredible and fit the scenes so wonderfully in this. It's really quite amazing because I actually picture her style of character drawings as I write this rather than the normal. It's really fun.
I hope you are all enjoying this so far. I know I am. It has been really fun to write and there is so much in store.
Much love to Approvesport for doing all her wonderful artwork and for being such a good friend and listening to me when I have a zillion ideas floating through my head. Same goes to Leoslady... she may not draw anything but she sure as heck has to listen to me babble a lot.