DISCLAIMER: FAIRY TAIL AND ALL OF ITS CHARACTERS BELONG TO HIRO MASHIMA AND NOT ME. THE ONLY THING I CAN CLAIM IS THE PLOT AND THE OTHER CHARACTERS.
I know this has been long awaited guys, so I won't waste any words. Let's get on with story!
When Levy invites Lucy and Natsu on a mission to translate wall carvings from an ancient temple, they accidentally invoke the "Trials by Nature", a series of tests that an ancient tribe used as a way to initiate members into adult hood. They must conquer the twelve basic animal instincts, while trying to reign in the feelings that the trials invoke in them.
Natsu walked back to the women, who were waiting patiently for both Dragonslayers to return. He paid no attention to Gajeel, who was taking his sweet time walking back. It didn't matter to him. His focus was entirely on the blonde mage who was present in nearly all of his thoughts. Iron breath could have his insecurities, but he was no longer gonna deny his feelings. It had taken some time, but he was finally ready to acknowledge that he was utterly, completely, head over heels in love with Lucy Heartfilia. So in love, that the dragon inside of him was threatening to destroy their entire relationship because he had failed to act on his feelings. Feelings that his inner dragon had come to terms with before he had.
He was kind of embarrassed actually.
His baser instincts, that he was supposed to be in control of, had been acting out his feelings without him ever realizing it. He was even more embarrassed that he'd been caught by Gajeel of all people. At the very least, instead of being a complete dick about it, he'd been willing to help him.
But that was probably because he was in the same boat as he was.
So utterly in love with a woman, but unable to consciously act out his feelings of affection. But of course, he understood his hesitations, considering he'd viciously beaten the small mage when they first met.
But he had no excuse now. They were friends now. Practically more than friends if their behavior was any indication.
As he came to stand by the still blushing mage, still being subjected to Levy's playful ribbing and teasing, he couldn't help but grin, making Lucy's blush deepen, turning her head away from him embarrassment.
As Gajeel finally caught up with them, he saw the look of extreme discomfort on his face. Despite their conversation a few minutes prior, he found that he couldn't be hard on Gajeel. Like he said, they were in the same boat. He knew that Lucy held some affection for him, if her blushing face was any indication. But just like Gajeel, he had no way to guarantee that the woman of his affections wouldn't be scared off or hurt when they learned the truth. And they were here in an alternative dimension, with no way out but to complete some stupid Trials. And although both women were extremely intelligent, Gajeel and Natsu were Dragonslayers, natural hunters, raised in the wild with the deadliest hunters that ever lived, Dragons.
If it ever came down to a chase, he had no doubt that both women would try their best to stay out of his and Gajeel's clutches.
But he also had no doubt that they would ultimately fail.
He sighed, and decided to file that worrisome thought away for another time. For now, they had to deal with the problem at hand.
The first Trial.
Lucy sighed, and rubbed the back of her neck, trying to sooth away the ache that began to develop. "Alright, now that we're all here, we can take the time to regroup."
Gajeel scoffed, and rolled his eyes. "I don't think that's the prime objective here. The first Trial has started. We need to figure this out before we do anything else."
Levy huffed and crossed her arms. "There you go again Gajeel. Stop trying to order everyone around. This is my mission, and while I'm not saying I should ordering people around, it's not fair for you to just take charge of us."
"Levy is right," Lucy said, also crossing her arms in annoyance. "We just got dropped in an alternative dimension, we need to get our bearings. It's better that we're all on the same page instead of just doing our own thing. We need to establish what we need to do and then set about doing them in an organized, and constructive manner."
"Right, so we need to figure out the answer the to the Trial first. We have no idea if there's a time limit. Our magic is on the line." Gajeel said, a scowl forming on his face.
Lucy rolled her eyes and in a loud voice yelled, "Libra! We have the answer!"
Everyone's eyes widened, and Gajeel lost it. "Have you lost your damn mind?! We didn't even have time to talk about that stupid hint!"
Any further talk was halted as Libra reappeared. "You have an answer already?" She said, a hint of amusement in her tone.
Before Gajeel could interrupt her, Lucy stepped forward. "We have. The answer to this riddle, is the Leader."
Libra stood silent for a moment, and then nodded her head. "That is correct. Congratulations, you have passed your first Trial. Capricorn will soon be here to explain your second Trial. Good luck to you all."
Libra once again disappeared, and Lucy turned to them all, who looked absolutely flabbergasted that she'd had the right answer. "What?" She asked them. "It was an obvious answer. The weight of who's decisions is shouldered by many. It's the leader. Just like when a King makes a decision, it in turn affects his entire kingdom."
Levy recovered first, and after a moment of contemplation, she nods. "That was smart. Libra was right, we'd be lost without your knowledge."
Gajeel sighs and roughly runs a hand through his hair. "You got lucky Blondie, but next time. you discuss it with us before you do anything like that."
Lucy grinned. "You mean we should work together, and not just make decisions for everyone?"
Gajeel scoffed and turned his head away, obviously embarrased.
Lucy snickered, "And now that Gajeel has learned his lesson," Gajeel scoffed again, this time in annoyance, "we need to do what the Trial was hinting at. We need to decide on who should be the leader. We're gonna do this like civilized human beings. Everyone who wants to be leader, raise your hand."
Levy, Natsu, and Gajeel all raised their hands. Lucy sighed, and rubbed her neck again.
This was gonna be tough.
"Okay," she said. "Since I'm the deciding the vote, I'm gonna vote for Levy-"
"What?!" Gajeel said, outraged. "Are you kidding me?! This ain't gonna be a fair vote if you two are just gonna stick together. I say we vote on experience and skills. If that were the case, we'd know better how to use everyone else's skills to EVERYONE'S benefit."
Lucy contemplated for a moment and then nodded. "You make a good point Gajeel. I'll reserve my vote until then. Since you proposed this, you can go first."
Gajeel nodded and then began to speak. "I should be the leader because not only was I raised in environments like this, but because physically, I'm a lot stronger than anyone here, and from what I'm smelling, you're gonna need me to fight off the other creatures here."
Levy scoffed. "That's all really fascinating Gajeel, but the problem is that when you and Natsu joined this mission, it was for your strength. Not for your brains. Strength is not the only thing that matters, it never did. How are you supposed to use our skills to everyone's benefit if the only thing that matters to you is strength?"
Gajeel floundered for an answer, and Natsu snickered. "Boy, she really shot down your entire argument."
Lucy sighed. "Natsu, this isn't the time for ridicule. If you think you can do better, you go next."
Natsu grinned, and began to speak. "Well, not only am I strong, but I can at least know how to treat everyone with respect and not order them around without any consideration. I've known Levy and Lucy the longest, and I know their strength's and weaknesses. Not only that, since I've been by Lucy's side, I'm actually familiar with most of her spirits."
Levy grinned. "Very convincing argument Natsu. Except for the fact that the reason Lucy was so pissed off at you, was because you didn't have consideration for her skills and feelings when it came to the battlefield. Not only that, you agreed with Gajeel that Lucy and I should basically report to you two before we did anything. Also, all of Lucy's spirits love her, especially her Zodiac spirits. Do you honestly think that any of her spirits will cooperate with you willingly after you hurt her feelings so badly, and for so long? You're obsessively protective over her. Besides, whose to say you won't revert to that behavior now that Lucy's most powerful spirits are out of commission?"
Natsu's confident grin gradually faded with Levy's every word, and Gajeel's grin only grew. "Ha! Looks like I ain't the only one who got cut down."
Lucy rolled her eyes. "It's not about cutting someone down Gajeel. This is serious business. Honestly, both of you had good arguments."
Both Dragonslayers faces were surprised, but none more than Levy, who turned to Lucy, puzzled. "Are you serious? All they did was basically boast about their own strength and take jabs at each other." Levy said.
"Maybe so," Lucy said. "But they both bring up good points. Gajeel and Natsu are strong, and if what Gajeel said is true, and that there are other creatures out here with us, something that concerned him enough for him to bring it up, then we will need both Gajeel and Natsu's strength and survival skills to survive here. Natsu does actually have a good relationship with my spirits, and if they had any problems with him, they would have brought it up to me a long time ago. They have actually gotten along pretty well as of recently, so that won't be a problem. As for either of them being leaders though, I have to say that they would both be better as assets. Despite their skills, their rivalry is just too much temptation for them to take even more jabs at each other. They'll eventually start fighting and that's not what's needed."
Gajeel sighed. "I guess that means Levy is the leader."
Everyone turned to Natsu, who was staring at Lucy rather hard. "Lucy, how come you didn't raise your hand to be leader?"
Gajeel and Levy also turn to Lucy, who begins to fidget under the weight of their stares.
"What do you mean? You guys have way more skills than I do. Besides, this was Levy's mission in the first place. She's more than smart enough to use all of our skills to to help us complete these Trials."
Rationally, everything Lucy was saying was absolutely true. But if Lucy was being completely honest with herself, she knew that she didn't have any standing to be leader. Natsu, Gajeel, and Levy had way more experience than she did. They had been raised in their guilds, while she had been raised in a mansion like a fragile princess. Sure she had trained to be a mage, but she'd had tutors and magic teachers. Her friends had street smarts, and were extremely resilient. Who was she to try to lead these incredible people?"
Natsu frowned. "What the hell are you-"
"Look, unlike you and Gajeel, Levy doesn't have anything to gain over being the leader. You and Gajeel are constantly trying to one up each other."
Gajeel reluctantly nodded. "I hate to say it, but Blondie is right."
Natsu rolls his eyes. "Look, maybe me and Iron breath aren't the best leaders. But you would be. Sorry to say this Luce, but Levy WOULD gain something by being leader. Her and Gajeel have been arguing since you guys found that hidden temple. Her being leader would end any arguments against her. Unlike you, she didn't even try to see the benefits of either me or Gajeel being leader. Yeah we ain't the right ones for the job, but you're the only one who pointed out the positive points of our arguments. Just like me and Gajeel keep arguing, he and Levy are having their own little fight. Kinda hard to remain objective if that's the case."
Lucy tried her best to come up something to refute his claims, but was saved by Gajeel who turned to Natsu with a frown. "Oi, if that's the case, Lucy wouldn't be a good candidate either. You and her had that argurment in the temple-"
"Yeah, except me and Luce hashed all that out already. Besides, Lucy is the best with all these hints, and she knows our strengths the best. Libra even said it. We're LUCKY that Lucy is here."
"You know," Levy said, as she crossed her arms in contemplation. "Natsu has a point. Although I do have a lot of knowledge, Lucy would be the best at putting our skills to work to benefit all of us. She does it all the time! Just look at her magic, she deals with a lot of Celestial Spirits who have a myriad of different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses."
Gajeel nods, finding the idea of Lucy being the leader more and more preferential. "I gotta say, the Shrimp has a point. While me and Levy were arguing, Blondie here is the one who broke it up by saying we should split up into teams. Even had a time when we should be back so that if we were in any trouble, we'd know what to do."
Lucy's face became panicked, while Levy once again pitched in. "Not only that, but it was Lucy's idea to use Loke's powers to see what was at the bottom of the cenote. If it wasn't for her ingenuity, we wouldn't have even known that there was another temple, or even found the entrance behind the throne in the first temple, or the totem that we'd been looking for. In addition to that, Lucy practically saved us from being stuck here without you guys. When we found it, I wanted to go in and explore, but she's the one who stopped me and suggested we find you first."
"Oh come on guys-"
"Yeah, that's right!" Natsu said, his grin wide as he looked at Lucy with pride. "And she's the one who suggested that me and Iron breath help search the temple with you guys, so that we could save time and leave together by morning instead of leaving you two behind. Of course if the totem hadn't been such a pain in the ass, we actually would have made it, and had the extra money from finding the damn thing."
And of course, if the totem hadn't been such a pain in the ass, the two women would have had a chance to get away from them and be safe.
But of course, things just had to be difficult, Natsu thought as he calmed his thoughts and his inner dragon, who was still enraged at the thought of Lucy being away from him. Fortunately, being in such close proximity to his favorite mage, prevented his eyes from changing.
The Exceed would have certainly been out of the bag then.
Natsu took a deep and refocused on the situation at hand. After a few moments of consideration, all three nodded together and looked at Lucy, their minds seemingly made up. Levy spoke up up then, sealing Lucy's fate. "All in favor of voting Lucy the leader, raise their hand."
With a gulp, Lucy watched as Natsu, Gajeel, and Levy all raised their hands in favor of her being the leader.
"Look Luce, we all voted like civilized human beings, just like you wanted. Besides, you wanted a chance to prove yourself right? What better time than now?" He stepped closer to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders like he always did, and grinned his infuriatingly handsome grin at her. "You're gonna do great Lucy."
Lucy huffed, and pouted a bit, a blush forming on her cheeks. "...Fine, I'll do it."
Natsu whooped in excitement, while Lucy rolled her eyes and smiled a bit.
Damn him. He'd always had a way of making her do what he wanted.
As if sensing that everything was seemingly settled, another zodiac appeared. Once the light settled, it was revealed to be Capricorn.
"Capricorn!" Lucy cried, ducking under Natsu's arm and running into the Celestial Spirit's arms, hugging him desperately.
The Zodiac spirit smiled tensely, hugging his mage back. "Lucy-sama, I'm glad to see that you're okay."
Lucy looked up at Capricorn's face, knowing that something was wrong instantly. "Capricorn, what's going on?"
The Zodiac spirit sighed and frowned, before sitting on a nearby boulder, adjusting Lucy so that she now sat in his lap, something that mildly annoyed Natsu. "My mood has nothing to do with you, per se, Lucy-sama. My ire is firmly directed at Gaia. I'm sure that Libra has informed you of what's happening in the Celestial Spirit Realm?"
Lucy nodded. "She didn't tell us everything, but she said enough to let us know that we're in trouble."
Capricorn nodded. "Trouble indeed. Because of Gaia's arrogance, we are being forced to do these Trials again. The Celestial Spirit King and the rest of my Zodiac comrades are currently pleading our case to the Fates. Gaia is fighting us every step of the way. The Fates will be the ones who will decide who's contract has the most importantance. Naturally, I would say that our contract with you and Yukino-sama takes precedence. The consequences should you or Yukino-sama perish while our contract with Gaia is being enacted, far outweigh the consequences of not completing the Trials. However, the Trials must be completed. Also, the Fates have already deemed that it would be unfair to have access to the Zodiac spirits during the course of the Trials, as there is a chance for cheating."
"Who are the Fates?" Lucy asked.
"The Fates are just what they sound like. They are the ones who moniter the fates of every living creature in this galaxy. Not all fates are set in stone however, as it is possible to defy fate to a degree, but if it threatens the balance, the Fates will guide things into place so that the balance is restored. Unfortunately, in this instance, the Fates have had to personally judge how things must go. I'm just hoping that fate will be kind to us and things will go our way. All we can do for now is to argue our case. There's not much we can do until then."
"What?!" Natsu said, outraged. "That's complete horse shit! How is it fair that Lucy can't have access to not only most of the source of her magic, but the strongest source of her magic?! Libra even said that we're at a disadvantage because we don't have the same magic that these stupid Trials were made for! And if that ain't the worse part, we ain't the ones who were supposed to go through this shit!"
"I hate to agree with Pinky here, but he's got a point." Gajeel said, frowning. "If I remember right, Libra said that we're not even part of the tribe that are supposed to be doing the Trials, and that Gaia is the one who wiped them out."
Capricorn nodded. "That is indeed true. Which is why everything is such a mess. Gaia defied fate to such a degree that she was punished by being trapped into the Totem. Instead of being able to guide her people, she was forced to stay in this dimension."
Gajeel rolled his eyes. "Let me guess, wiping out a whole tribe of people is a big no-no?"
"Among other things. This tribe was meant for something greater, but Gaia's arrogance ensured that it would never happen, at least not in the time it was supposed to happen. That reminds me, your magic is safe. If you fail the Trials, you will not lose your magic. The Fates deemed that since it was not part of the original contract, that it will not be permitted for her to take your powers."
All of the mages there breathed a sigh of relief. Even if they failed, they would still have their magic.
"However, if you do fail, you forgo the reward at the end of the Trials."
Lucy looked up at her weary spirit. "What reward?"
"The Fates deemed that since you all came here at a disadvantage, that should you complete the Trials successfully, that you will all be gifted with the Anima magic. Of course, Gaia was unhappy with that, but the Fates found that for you all to be forced to complete the Trials, while not a part of Gaia's tribe, and Lucy without her Zodiac spirits, and the threat of the collapse of the Celestial Spirit Realm, that the long lost Anima magic is a fair gift."
Gajeel scoffed. "What's so special about this magic, that it's deemed a fair reward for us going through all this shit?"
Capricorn frowned at Gajeel and removed his shades, revealing his piercing eyes. "The Anima is a magic power that is unlimited."
Levy's jaw dropped, before regaining control of herself. "T-That's impossible. All magic requires Ethernano to function. It's not possible for it to be unlimited."
Capricorn nodded. "That is true to a point. But think about it, miss Levy, this is not Earthland, there is no Ethernano in the air here. Yet you were able to use your magic to land all of you safely on the ground."
Levy's eyes widened, as she looked at her own hands. Capricorn was right, she could feel her magic coursing through her body, but it felt freer somehow. She looked back at Capricorn, who replaced his shades and gave a wry grin.
"Do you see what I mean now? This atmosphere is quite different from Earthland. On Earthland, the atmosphere constrains and limits how much Ethernano your body can contain. Those with small containers, they can't do magic at all. But here, instead of being constrained, the atmosphere actually encourages your body to produce Ethernano on its own. Any magic you use, the Ethernano in your body automatically replenishes itself. In other words..."
"...You never run out of magic." Levy said.
Natsu finally decided to speak up. "Is that why humans have to leave once they complete the trials?"
Capricorn nodded. "Imagine if the wrong people, got a hold of the atmosphere here. This place is sacred, and the atmosphere here is extremely valuable. It's why the Anima magic is such a great reward. It contains all of the elements of this atmosphere. Once you have it, you will no longer run out of Ethernano. No matter what magic you use, it would never run out. But if you leave here without it, your magic will once again be restrained by Earthland's atmosphere."
Capricorn stood then, gently setting Lucy on her feet. "In addition to the atmosphere contained in the Anima magic, it also allows you to morph your body at will into any animal body part. Every single species of animal, and their advantages. Wings, claws, gills, venom, strength...All of that knowledge and power, available at your leisure, whenever you want, without the disadvantage of having to take over the animal. Even magical creatures count."
Capricorn sighed again. "I must take my leave, unfortunately, Lucy-sama. But with your knowledge, and your friend's help, I am sure I will see you again soon enough."
Lucy nodded and went back to Natsu, who wasted no time in wrapping his arm around her again murmuring comforting words in her ear, his eyes flashing red for a moment. While flash had escaped anyone else's notice, it hadn't escaped Capricorn's. Noting his behavior, the Zodiac spirit tilted his back, looking at the sky, judging the position of the heavens for a few moments before spotting what he was looking for. "...Ah yes, it's that time again."
Capricorn then looked at Natsu, and then to Gajeel who had moved much closer to Levy, the Zodiac spirit removed his shades once again to make sure they got the point. "I suggest that while you're here, you treat these ladies with the utmost respect and care. I care not for the season, if they are hurt, I will hurl both of you into the void."
Before anyone could begin to interpret what he meant, Capricorn crossed his arms and spoke again. "Conquest is always easier than subjugation."
The spirit then smiles and disappears, leaving them to ponder the hint, and the warning he left.
Both women turned to the Dragonslayers, their expressions and stances both demanding an explanation.
Natsu and Gajeel both looked at each other. They both thought that they would have more time to explain things.
Time's up bitches.
Hey guys! Hopefully you liked this chapter. Not much action, but not all of the Trials will be action based. Oh! The hint this time is a quote by Yoon Ha Lee! I thought it would be fitting considering Capricorn's history and the current Trial. I'll explain it in the next chapter. So! A lot of things were explained here, I hope you read over things carefully, and I hope that things aren't too confusing for you guys. As usual, leave a comment and tell me what you guys think! Till next time! Bye!