Summary: Getting lost in the woods is the least of their worries when Natsu and Lucy blunder their way into a cursed village and a prophecy that leads them to understand something about themselves.
Big thanks to Snogfairy for taking a look at this and giving me the shove I needed to actually fix a bunch of stuff I was waffling on!
Author's Notes: Mostly pretty PG-13, but there's a bit of violence, cursing, off screen death of OCs that happened long in the past, and a really NSFW scene towards the end. I'll admit this is a little weird and definitely darker in tone than my fluffy stuff. Nothing too bleak, I promise. I should probably warn everyone now that I have some strange kinks, though. It only seems fair to alert you all going into this.
For anyone reading this on FF net the NSFW section was primarily cut, so if it feels like there's something missing, there actually is. If you'd like to read that redacted part, hop on over to my Archive of Our Own account (there's a link in my profile) and you can find it there once we get to that section. It's not exactly important for the story, so you're not missing anything if you'd rather skip the naughtiest bits.
The time frame also got a bit messed up thanks to some things that happened during the Tartarus manga arc. I had originally planned this to take place in that ambiguous post-Tartarus future, but, well, Mashima had certain people show up...
"We're lost." Natsu scowled at the dense stands of identical trees, hands laced behind his head and lips pushed out in an exaggerated pout.
"We're not lost," Lucy said indignantly as she studied her compass. "We're heading East. The sun is right there, and it's mid morning, so that's definitely East. At least it should be…"
The fire dragon slayer continued to sulk. "It's not fair that we got stuck in the woods while everyone else is fighting bandits. Even Happy went with them!"
"He wanted to be with Carla, and Carla is sticking with Wendy."
"Well, Wendy could've come with you to do this instead of me. And we're definitely lost. We've passed that rock over there three times this hour."
"Gee, thanks, Natsu. Sure feels like some strong teamwork right here. And we're not lost! I think…" Frowning, the blonde tapped at the glass face of the compass, watching the needle swing wildly. "This is so weird… What's making it act like this?"
"Screw the Ice Bastard and Erza," he grumbled, not noticing her concern and batting angrily at a tree branch that threatened to whip at his face. "Why did they get to just vote us out here? We have to hunt around for these dumb ruins, and they get to have fun beating up bad guys!"
"Hmm, yeah, not fair," Lucy said absently. They'd been walking far longer than the map indicated was needed to reach where the villagers claimed the bandits stashed their stolen goods. She looked up from her madly spinning compass needle to the sun that really just didn't look like it was in the right position for mid morning. "Natsu, I think something's wrong with -"
She bumped into his suddenly outstretched arm. The dragon slayer's face was grim, eyes darting around the area, and he shifted to stand in front of Lucy. His nostrils flared as he scented the air, lips peeling back from his teeth in a snarl. "I know you're there. Show yourselves!"
Holding her breath, the celestial wizard waited tensely. The only sounds she could hear were the flock calls of birds and the gentle stirring of leaves by the breeze. Lucy knew better by now than to doubt a dragon slayer's nose, but things were entirely still. "Are you sure -"
"Come on out now, or I'll come in after you!" Natsu barked, cutting her off and using the back of his hand to tuck the girl more securely behind him. Whatever he smelled had to be serious.
The thick underbrush rustled more aggressively, parting to reveal at least a dozen people dressed in strange wooden masks. They held finely crafted spears and bows at the ready, some aimed right at the two guildmates. Lucy sucked in a surprised breath and crowded closer to her pink haired friend's back while her hand grasped the keys on her belt.
One of the men stepped forward, setting the butt of his spear on the ground rather than brandishing it like the others. His mask was elaborately carved and painted with colorfully dyed feathers and woven tassels hanging from the chin. One would think the bright ornamentation would make him stand out in the foliage, but it seemed the colors were well chosen as camouflage since it had taken a dragon slayer's almost supernatural sense of smell to detect them.
"Who are you? Why are you trespassing here?" the man demanded.
Natsu grinned threateningly and ignited the air around his fists. "Oh boy, did you ever pick the wrong people to jump. I've been itching for a fight all day!"
The display of force by the dragon slayer provoked gasps and murmuring from the masked ambushers until their leader raised a pacifying hand. "Are… Are you a wizard?" the warrior asked, deep voice shaking slightly.
"Sure am!" the pink haired boy declared proudly, and he twisted his torso to show off his guildmark. "We're from Fairy Tail, so you'd better -"
The man cocked his head questioningly. "Fairy… Tail? Is that your village?"
"They are strangers! We should send them away or tie them up or something." Another masked person, younger by the sound of his voice and build of his body, took a step forward. "How did they even get here?"
"That's enough, Radi." The leader reached up and pushed his mask away from his face. He had a pleasant if slightly nervous smile, deeply tanned skin, and dark hair plaited in long neat rows of bead studded braids. His face was clean shaven, but lined just enough to indicate he was likely in his forties. "Please forgive us. We truly did not mean to upset you, but your arrival here is… unusual."
Natsu studied the group for a moment before he broke into a bright, airy grin and extinguished his flames. "Hey, no worries. We just thought you were some bandits we'd been looking for."
"Bandits? No, no. We are just a hunting party. My name is Maulin, and I am honored to meet you, master wizard." He bowed politely to the pair, grip on his spear visibly relaxing.
"I'm Natsu, and this is Lucy." The dragon slayer jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the girl still hesitantly peering past him.
"It is an honor," Maulin repeated, "but we do not really get… visitors to this place. Would you mind me asking how you ended up here?"
"We got lost lookin' for some ruins," Natsu explained freely. "Hey, could you tell us how to get out of this forest? We've been wandering around in here for hours."
Exchanging odd looks, the hunters muttered to one another until Maulin cleared his throat. "I am afraid we do not know the answer to that question. You see… this land is cursed."
"C-cursed?!" Lucy squeaked, stepping out from behind her partner. "What do you mean by cursed?"
"No one can leave this place. No matter how hard we have tried or how far we walk, we always end up back at the start near our village." Maulin gave them a sad smile edged with guilt. "I fear that you have now been caught up in this. We would be pleased to escort you to our home, however. Perhaps a wizard such as yourself could make some sense of this."
Frowning deeply, Natsu glanced to his friend before agreeing. They'd already made their own attempt to leave and hadn't had any luck. "I don't think we've got much of a choice here. Lead the way."
The hunters moved through the thick forest like they were following an invisible trail, weaving past branches and leaving little trace of their presence. Pausing briefly to collect a deer they had strung up before trying to spy on the two wizards, they hefted it between two of their members to make carrying the bulk easier. The dragon slayer noted that it had been killed with a clean, expert shot right above the eye that spoke volumes about their skill. And also made him just a bit more wary of their cheerful escort.
Natsu seemed to have the same knack for subtle passage as they did, but moved more slowly to help Lucy as she stumbled over tree roots and snapped twigs under her boots. Embarrassed, she tried to lighten the mood with a joke about her ungainly tromping. "It's like I've got an extra pair of legs. Not exactly graceful, am I?" she laughed nervously.
"Nah, you're doing fine." Natsu caught her arm when she tangled her foot in some creeping vines that spilled down the trunk of a tree. He bent down and swiped a burning hand through the vegetation, cutting her free in an instant. "It's pretty rough going through here."
"Thanks," she whispered, finding herself very close to the warm fire wizard. A little smile tugged at the corners of her mouth when he grinned back. Looking up, she spotted the group of hunters just staring at them with open curiosity. Her face lit up in a blush, and she automatically started to shift away from her teammate.
His grip tightening slightly in resistance, and Natsu gave her a stern look. "Just stick close, 'kay?" Nodding mutely, Lucy decided she'd prefer not to get too far from him in this strange situation anyway.
"There is no need to be concerned," Maulin said reassuringly. "We are already here." He pulled back some of the dense brush to reveal a steep drop into a bright green valley.
Down in the lowland was a small but bustling village with a clear stream running along the outskirts. It was the kind of pastoral sight that barely existed in Fiore in the modern age and made the blonde's breath catch in her throat. It was stunningly beautiful, but a few things stood out to her immediately.
"Are you nomadic?" Lucy asked curiously, carefully picking her way down the slope behind the others. The villagers' homes were tents painted with graceful scenes and pictographs she'd never seen before. There were shallow firepits ringed with found stones scattered around the site and one larger pit near the middle but no permanent structures of any kind. Everything looked like it could be efficiently packed up and moved at a moment's notice.
"You are very observant, my lady." Smiling, Maulin wove along the bank with easy grace, spear resting loosely on his shoulder. "We indeed were nomads until we fell under this curse. Our people ranged all the way from this forest to the sea."
Natsu followed in the leader's footsteps while occasionally stopping to support his unsteady teammate. As funny as the thought of her tumbling head over heels might be, this hill was far too rocky for his taste, and she was more likely to break something vital than just wail entertainingly. "What happened here? Did you guys get attacked by someone?"
"What are you - Oh." Lucy paused for a second until the fire wizard tugged on her hand to make her move again. Now that she was looking for it, she noticed odd, bare craters in the grassy valley along with immense boulders that were split and cracked. There were a few places with four deep gouges in the earth that looked too regular to be natural, and some of the tents had scorch marks that blistered the hide and blackened their decorative paintings.
Maulin shrugged with a surprising lack of concern. "It happens," was his only reply as they reached the valley floor and proceeded into the village.
By now, the other villagers had spotted the two bright haired strangers in the midst of their hunting party and started to gather. They whispered to one another, gazing at the pair when they passed by. Natsu shuffled ever closer to Lucy, nearly stepping on the side of her foot, but she didn't complain. This kind of open attention was unsettling.
"Chieftain Daun," Maulin addressed an older man with wild white hair and an ornately woven shawl. His knuckles clenched around a carved staff that featured a roaring dragon's head, and Natsu's eyes were immediately drawn to it. "We found these two visitors lost in the forest. This young man is a wizard!"
"A wizard?" The old man stroked his beard which was far more carefully trimmed than his long hair. "Is this true, child?"
"Yes," Lucy answered for her friend, "and I'm his partner. We're both wizards from the Fairy Tail guild." The blonde showed her gold and silver keys. "I'm a celestial spirit mage, and Natsu is -"
"You summon star spirits?!" the elder cut her off, fingers tightening further around his stick and eyes going round in excitement.
"Uh, yes…" she said slowly, wondering if she was making the right choice by answering. "I suppose I do."
Daun's face was suddenly intense as he turned to look at her pink haired companion. "And you, boy? What magic do you possess?"
Puffing up, Natsu thumped his chest with a fist. "I'm a fire dragon slayer." The crowd of villagers immediately began to babble to one another, nearly drowning out what the old man was saying.
"You… You slay dragons?" The elder looked incredulous. He cast a quick glance to a frowning man standing just behind his left shoulder. "How is this possible?"
"Well, it's basically dragon magic," Natsu explained, hand making a loose gesture. "It kinda… makes you like a dragon. Let's you take on their strength, toughness and attacks. That sort of thing. I learned it from a dragon."
Shaking his head, Daun regarded him with an almost manic look. "This cannot be. I have never heard of a dragon deigning to teach a human their magic. They are territorial and vicious, and we are nothing more than cattle to them."
Lucy leaned in as close as she could get to her teammate, shoulder pressing against his. The crowd had gone from excited to terrified, their now hushed murmurings taking on an edge of fear. Even with their magic, she wasn't confident they could handle all these people if they started to panic.
"You sound like you know dragons pretty well," Natsu said, not the least bit intimidated. His eyes had a light of optimism that Lucy recognized from the day she'd first met him back in Hargeon. "Are there dragons around here? If there are -"
"We are plagued by them, just as everyone else is." The silent, passive man who had been standing behind the elder stepped forward. "Or we were until we could no longer leave this forest. Forgive me for intruding. My name is Tarsk, this village's shaman." He bowed to the pair, laying his right hand over his heart.
His face had lines tattooed in a simple pattern, and his hair was cut shorter than the others though it still sported the same braids and carved beads. The hawkish sharpness of his features lent an austere authority to his presence, and a wicked looking scar that cut a diagonal line from his right temple down across his mouth to the left side of his chin made him seem a bit dangerous. Lucy supposed he could be considered handsome, but something about the way he looked at the two of them set her on edge.
"Lucy," Natsu grabbed her arm excitedly, practically dismissing the man. "Did you hear that?! There are dragons here!" He ignored the girl's expression of concern and didn't wait for her to speak when her mouth opened. "Have you guys ever heard of one named Igneel? I'm looking for him. He's a huge fire dragon, so he should be pretty easy -"
"I do not recognize the name," Tarsk said tersely, giving the boy a very calculating look. "Unless you intend to slay it, why would anyone ever be searching for such a beast?"
"'Cause he's my dad; he raised me. He's the flame dragon king." Natsu's grin was wide and proud.
The assembled villagers went completely silent. Tarsk's mouth opened and closed, but he made no sound. "Er…" Lucy started, glancing around them at the stunned crowd. "Maybe you shouldn't have -"
"Please!" Daun's staff hit the ground with a heavy thunk and a slight bounce. The elder dropped to his knees and bowed his forehead until it touched the dirt. "Please… You must help us. I beg you Celestial Maiden, save our village!"