Chapter One: Thirty Days
"This is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard," Jellal declared. "Are you seriously trying to threaten me?"
"It sure looks that way," came Natsu's cool response. "It doesn't seem to me like you're in the strongest position right now, Mister Councillor."
Jellal levelled a glare at the arrogant brat. That was a look that had been known to silence pompous members of the Magic Council and fearsome dark mages alike, and yet it didn't make the slightest dent in Natsu's smug attitude. Threatening glares tended to be a lot less effective when the man employing them was tied to a chair.
He was Jellal. He was one of the most infamous and dangerous dark mages in existence. He was the Master of the Tower of Heaven; the leader of a sinister cult that had not only evaded capture by the authorities for the past eight years, but had managed to construct a device capable of bringing about the end of the world while they were at it. Right now, he was this close to being able to unleash an apocalypse of death and ruin upon the entire world.
As his alter ego, his fictitious twin brother Siegrain, he had become a member of the Magic Council, thus making him one of the ten most influential people in the magical community, despite being only nineteen years of age. He was also a Wizard Saint, a rank that attested to his incredible power and his unrivalled knowledge of magic. Those fools on the Council depended on him and trusted his judgement on all matters of magic, blissfully unaware that they were playing right into his hands. Not one of them suspected that the respected, powerful Councillor Siegrain, and his younger twin brother, the notorious dark mage Jellal, were one and the same.
He was the master of this game of deception. In fact, at this moment in time, he was quite possibly the most dangerous man in the world.
And he was currently tied to a chair, surrounded by one hundred angry Fairy Tail mages.
How on earth had he, of all people, ended up in this position?
"Don't think you're going to get away with this," he snarled.
"That's our line," Lucy returned. She folded her arms, standing in firm solidarity at Natsu's side.
"I'll have you know, I am a member of the Magic Council, and-"
"You could be Zeref himself for all we care," Gray interjected bluntly. "A pervert's a pervert, and deserves to be treated as such, no matter where he might stand in society."
Jellal narrowed his eyes. "Well, you're about the last person I want to hear that from."
"What the hell are you insinuating?"
Most of the assembled members of Fairy Tail just rolled their eyes at that. "Gray, clothes," Lucy reminded him, and the ice mage momentarily vanished as he rummaged around under the table in search of his missing trousers.
"The real question," Mira spoke up, with a gentle smile that didn't quite match the sinister undertone of her words, "Is what we're going to do with him now that we've caught him."
"We could always turn him in to the authorities," Lucy suggested. "That would be the sensible thing to do."
Many of the guild mages – infamous for their slightly dubious relationship with said authorities – might have had something to say about that, but, and perhaps surprisingly, it was Levy who got there first. There was a dark gleam in the girl's eyes, and Jellal did not like the look of the way she was holding a spare bit of rope taut between her hands.
"And what would that achieve?" she demanded. "They don't care about things like this! Besides, as he keeps reminding us, he's a member of the Magic Council – he is the authorities. Worst they'll do is give him a slap on the wrist and let him carry on. And it's because convictions are meaningless that no one persecutes cases like this, and that's why guys like him think it's perfectly okay to act like they do. If we want justice, we'll have to do it ourselves. I think we should take this to the media."
"It'll be the last thing you ever do," Jellal vowed.
"He does have a point." Having successfully retrieved his trousers, a still-topless Gray had returned to the circle of Fairy Tail mages, and he proceeded to talk as if the captured councillor couldn't hear him. "If we play all our cards too soon, we'll have nothing left to defend ourselves with." He cracked his knuckles; he and Natsu exchanged grins. "I say we teach him a lesson with our fists."
"Do it and you die," Jellal warned him, but as he was very rapidly learning, it was difficult for even a Wizard Saint to come across as threatening when his hands were bound behind his back.
Lucy placed one hand on Gray's shoulder, and another on Natsu's. "Steady on. Attacking a member of the Magic Council is a bit far, even for you two."
"Says the person who tied him up in the first place," Gray shot back.
"Shush!" Lucy hissed; an attempt to conceal his incriminating statement which was undermined somewhat by the attention drawn by her rapidly flailing arms. "I told you not to mention that in front of him!"
Jellal almost laughed. It was quaint how she thought he cared about precisely who was responsible for his situation. He was going to make each and every one of these Fairy Tail mages pay for this. Forget about waiting to activate the Tower of Heaven; he would use his influence as a councillor to get the guild shut down this very day-
"Maybe we should let Erza decide what to do with him, when she gets back to the guild," Mira suggested. "It was her room you caught him in, after all, Lucy."
"I suppose we should at least consult her first," Lucy mused. "After all, if she doesn't want to press charges, there's not really anything we can do."
A murmur of agreement ran around the entire circle of mages. Levy grumbled something unintelligible, and although she didn't openly object, it was clear from the way she was still glaring at their prisoner that no peaceful settlement would satisfy her. Gray seemed disappointed he wasn't going to get to beat anyone up. Jellal glowered at all of them, seething with anger. The only thing that could possibly have made this situation any worse for him was throwing Erza into the mix. He had enough to deal with without having to put on an act in front of her as well.
As if on cue, the doors to the guildhall swung open and two figures strode into the main hall. Resplendent as always in her armour, with her scarlet hair swaying back and forth with every step, Erza was deep in animated conversation with the short, elderly man at her side. "I just think that moving the S-Class Quest board down to alongside the normal one would make a powerful statement, especially since Laxus is absent from the guild almost as much as Mystogan is these days. Now that we've finally finished building the new guildhall, we have the perfect opportunity to…"
Her voice faded to nothing as she noticed the scene that the two of them had burst into. For the first time in as long as she – or anyone else in the guild, for that matter – could remember, the hall was utterly silent. Most of the long tables that normally lined the main hall had been dragged off to the sides, in order to make space for the impromptu interrogation that was taking place in the centre. Each and every member of Fairy Tail was standing as both guard and juror, encircling the trussed-up Jellal. Many of the mages were holding weapons, ranging from table legs and bits of rope to genuine swords and magical staves, in a way that was undoubtedly meant to be intimidating. Even for Fairy Tail, the situation was abnormal – and that was saying something.
"Finally," Jellal growled, glaring at Makarov. "Someone with some common sense has arrived."
Makarov, who frequently had to deal with the Council in his capacity as Guild Master, likely had more political acumen than his audacious young mages. With any luck, he would see how utterly ludicrous it was to treat a member of the Magic Council like this, and force the guild to let him go.
Indeed, upon laying eyes on the situation, Makarov's face turned ghostly pale. "What on earth do those brats think they're doing?" he grumbled to himself. "Probably best not to get involved…"
It was with a casual smoothness that he made an easy about-turn and began sidling back towards safety. He might have made it, were it not for Mira, who had somehow crossed the room in a flash and placed herself between the old man and the exit. "Going somewhere, Master?" she asked, with a sweet smile and a promise of danger.
He shrunk away from her. "N-no, I was just…" Then he heaved a sigh, and approached the gathering in the centre of the room as though he were walking to the gallows. "Just another ordinary day in Fairy Tail," he muttered to himself. "Alright, alright. Someone tell me why there's a member of the Magic Council tied up in the middle of my guildhall – and it'd better be good."
Everything had been going so well.
And that, Jellal reflected, had been the problem.
He had embarked upon an eight-year-long scheme where a single error of judgement or slip of the tongue could spell his doom, and he had actually pulled it off. He had unlocked the secrets of that ancient, forbidden magic; the R-System. He had become one of the most powerful mages in the kingdom. He held the Council in the palm of his hand. It wasn't as if there hadn't been problems along the way – only that he had been able to overcome them, and become stronger, more capable, more experienced, and more confident for it. He had taken a plan so outrageous in detail, so far-reaching in scope, and he had made it work perfectly.
In fact, if a plan could be "too perfect", then that was what his was.
Now that the Tower of Heaven was complete, all he needed to finish his plan was to acquire the woman he had chosen to be his sacrifice, Erza Scarlet. The problem lay in how he was going to get her out of her guild and into the Tower of Heaven.
Kidnapping Erza while she was out on a long job alone as a Fairy Tail mage would have been a piece of cake for someone as powerful as him, of course, but that wasn't the point. Achieving something so incredible as to convince the Magic Council that his evil twin was the one behind the plot to destroy the world had given him a taste for the dramatic. Merely overpowering Erza wasn't a satisfying culmination to his eight-year endeavour. For one thing, it would be much more poetic if he could get his underlings – Erza's former friends – to be the ones to capture her. There was a wonderful irony in that. Such a tragic reunion would be an excellent warm-up before he broke her spirit completely.
And so he had devised a plan.
The preparations had begun months in advance. First, his evil scheme had required him to investigate all the coastal resorts on the stretch of the mainland closest to the Tower of Heaven in order to find an appropriate spot to lay his trap. After several weeks of compulsory holidays, he and the others had finally settled on the perfect location: Akane Resort. Then his underlings had needed to work their way into the required positions.
Sho had started an apprenticeship as a gaming dealer. His natural dexterity and skill with the cards, a result of training with his magic, had caught the eye of his boss just as planned, and he had quickly been promoted to work on the main floor of the resort's pride and joy, the casino.
It had been easy for Simon to land himself a role as a security guard, given his imposing stature, and a month of offering to take the unpopular night shifts had given him unrestricted access to the resort's security systems and lacrima surveillance network.
Concierge host had been an excellent choice for Wally, whose smart appearance quickly endeared him to the wealthy patrons. It wasn't long before he had memorized the schedules and habits of all the resort's senior figures.
Millianna had found employment in the harbour rather than the resort itself, where she had befriended the sailors and fishermen and become such a regular sight around the shoreline that if she wanted her boat moored up on this particular isolated jetty on that exact day, not only would they have been more than happy to oblige her, but they wouldn't have questioned it for a moment.
And all the while, Jellal himself had been steadily building up influence around the Council as his alter ego Siegrain, as well as putting the finishing touches to the beautiful fractal structure of the Tower of Heaven – ready for the day that the world would be his to end.
A few days ago, the Tower had finally reached completion. His master plan entered its final stage.
As a powerful councillor, it was a trivial matter for him to utilize the Council's information network to observe Fairy Tail. He noted the Balsam Village incident and the return of the Lion Spirit to his rightful place amongst the Zodiac with interest – that, he decided, would be his way in. Erza wouldn't suspect a thing.
It had been so simple. Subliminal advertising to encourage Loke to stop by the Summer Faire on his way to Fairy Tail the following day. Bribing the man at the tombola stand so that Loke would win the top prize: four tickets to Akane Resort. There was no doubt that the Spirit would give them to his friends, including Erza, as thanks for helping him out… and then Erza would fall right into his hands.
The following day had been one of near-unbearable excitement. Everything had been perfect, from the electric tension of the world's final morning to the suitably apocalyptic storm raging outside the walls of the Tower. Unable to contain his anticipation, Jellal had paced up and down the room at the top of the Tower of Heaven, laughing gleefully to himself while the storm of his fury lashed against the sides of the Tower and lightning danced freely through the clouds.
He re-read the Council protocol for firing Etherion for the thousandth time, ensuring that he had not missed some technicality that would prevent the other councillors from voting to use the weapon of mass destruction on the Tower of Heaven. He checked and double-checked the calculations that would exactly neutralize that Etherion blast and contain all its energy. He ran his hands over the carvings on the walls and bathed in the unhallowed magic of the R-System, certain that the structure was working exactly as had been written in those blasphemous texts; ready to seize that energy and use it to wrench open the door between life and death, and return the dreaded Black Mage to his rightful place as ruler of the world of devastation.
All this waiting was so going to be worth it.
Then, right on time, Millianna's boat had appeared on the horizon. To his eager mind it had seemed to take an age for it to crawl across the sea to the Tower, but eventually it had disappeared from view as it moored down below, and moments later he had sensed their arrival in the building. Only, rather than taking Erza straight down to the dungeons in accordance with their plan, they had headed upwards instead, to where he waited to end the world.
And all four of them had arrived in the room at the top of the Tower.
"What do you mean she didn't show up?" Jellal shouted.
Sho gave a shrug. "Well, can you blame her? Who in their right mind would go to a seaside resort with the weather like it was today? Today's attendance was at a record low for August. If this keeps up, our – I mean, the resort's – income is really going to take a hit."
"But- the plan!" Jellal cursed. "It was perfect!"
"Not even you can plan for the weather," Simon said, as if to reassure him. "These things happen."
Jellal gave a soft snarl. "Eight years! Eight long years I have suffered for this day, and my apocalyptic scheme has been foiled by the weather?"
"There's no need to overreact," Sho returned. "We can always just kidnap Erza tomorrow. Whether we activate the R-System today or tomorrow won't really make a difference, right?"
"Actually, it's not that simple." Millianna spoke up hesitantly; when Jellal's furious gaze turned upon her, she raised her hands defensively. "Well, it's not. You know how we needed that specific dock to moor our boat at – the only one out of sight of the lifeguards, where we can get a bound hostage on and off our boat without being spotted? Well, with the storm today, pretty much every ship in the vicinity will have come in to the harbour. They'll take up all the dock space, and then since they've been forced to make land anyway, they'll probably get repairs done and stock up on supplies while they're here; that sort of thing. Basically, it's going to be busy in the harbour for a while. I'd say it'll take at least two or three days before we can get our spot back."
In a vain attempt to get his anger back under control, Jellal resumed pacing. "Fine. We'll carry out the plan in three days' time."
"Uhh… no, sorry," Sho said.
"What do you mean, no?"
"I'm not working on the casino floor next week. They've got this new kid and they want to give him a go in the main casino, so, you know, I said I'd wait on tables in the restaurant instead. It's going to be a little tricky to get away with kidnapping Erza from within a casino hall full of people without my magic."
"The week after, then."
"Actually, I'm off the following fortnight," Simon pointed out apologetically. "I've accumulated some holiday leave since I starting working there, and I figured the plan would already have been carried out by then, so I booked in some days off so that I could go travelling."
"…Simon, once we've activated the Tower of Heaven, we're going to have true freedom. That's the whole point. Why would you think you would need to book time off work in order to go travelling when we're ruling the world?"
"It's always sensible to have a backup plan, just in case something goes wrong. It's a good job I did, really."
"Well, something has gone wrong, so cancel your holiday leave and get back to work."
"I could do that…" Under Jellal's malevolent glare, the big man folded his arms. His boss could be as moody as he wanted; it wouldn't change the truth. "But it won't make a difference. They've already given my shifts to someone else; they won't switch them back at such short notice. They'll just give me an extra patrol route or something rather than my usual role as head of security, which sort of defeats the purpose of me being there in the first place. Plus…"
"My two weeks off has been on the wall planner for months now. Telling me to cancel it now is a little harsh."
"Alright, alright. We'll carry out the plan in September."
"You might want to take a look at the resort's schedule before deciding that. Just saying!" Wally added hastily, as their leader rounded on him. "Only, attendance really drops off once the summer season is over, and the resort usually tries to make up the numbers by hiring out the hotel and casino to host big events. First weekend of September, for example, they're holding the 105th National Rune Knights' Conference there. I can't be the only one who thinks trying to kidnap Erza from within a resort literally full of Rune Knights is a bad idea. Then, after that, they've got the Annual Inter-Guild Poker Tournament, followed by the Convention of Earth Magic Users, then-"
"I get the picture," Jellal interrupted coldly. "So, you're saying we'll have to postpone until October."
"Oh, what now?"
Simon took up the story. "That would work, but do you really think we'll be able to lure Erza to the resort in October? I mean, the theme park closes at the end of September when the weather starts to turn, and who goes to the beach in October? The hotel and the casino are open all year round, of course, but even though Erza did betray us eight years ago and abandon us to our fates in the Tower, she still doesn't strike me as the kind of suspicious person who'd be really into gambling."
"The best we can hope for is March, I suppose. That's when the theme park area of the resort re-opens, and we can cross our fingers and hope for good weather."
"I can't wait until March!" Jellal practically screamed. "Eight years I've been waiting for this day, and now you're telling me to postpone it until next March?"
Sho reasoned, "We get how you feel, but it doesn't look like we have much of a choice. Yelling isn't going to change the fact that Erza didn't show up today."
"There has to be another way. I can't keep the Council away from the Tower for that long."
"You have to. Otherwise we'll all be in trouble."
Jellal turned away from them irritably and resumed pacing. The shadows moved restlessly with his every step. Those fools seemed to think it was so easy to be an evil mastermind and a member of the Magic Council at the same time. Even he wouldn't be able to divert the Council's attention away from an obviously evil cult for much longer without arousing suspicion. But whether it was possible or not was irrelevant. He couldn't wait that long. He wouldn't. And that meant…
"Then, there's nothing else for it," he murmured. "We're abandoning the Akane Resort plan."
"Are you serious?" Simon queried.
"Very much so. If the only way I can get Erza into the R-System before March is by going to her house and kidnapping her myself, then that's what I'm going to do."
It wouldn't be easy. Under normal circumstances, Erza was surrounded by her fellow guild mages, and he couldn't wait for her to embark on a long S-Class Quest when there was no guarantee she'd be doing one any time soon. If her guild noticed she was missing and tracked him to the Tower, there was always a chance that they'd be able to work out what was going on and prevent the activation of the R-System – and that was assuming he'd be able to steal her out from under their noses in the first place. Ordinary mages weren't a threat to him, of course, but on their home turf Fairy Tail would have the advantage of numbers, and there could be serious trouble if their Guild Master – himself a Wizard Saint, just like Jellal – got involved.
Yes, it would be a thousand times more dangerous than luring Erza to Akane Resort and nabbing her there, but then again this entire eight-year project had been dangerous. He was powerful and he was capable – the completed Tower rising up around him was evidence of that. Besides, if he was caught, they would automatically assume he was Councillor Siegrain, and he'd be able to use his influence as a politician to get himself out of trouble.
He could do this. Seriously, how difficult could kidnapping Erza be?
"You're going to go yourself?" Sho asked. "Do you want us to help?"
"No, it'll be easier if I'm alone." Easier to pass himself off as a member of the Magic Council if he was seen, anyway. Besides, breaking and entering, and fighting to subdue a mage who was powerful in her own right, was something he felt should be done alone. "You know what they say: if you want something done properly, do it yourself."
Millianna folded her arms crossly. "Hey, it wasn't our fault that Erza didn't show up today. Not even you can kidnap her from somewhere that she isn't."
"I want to come," Sho interrupted. "I want to see Erza. I won't be happy until I've confronted her for what she did to us all those years ago."
"There'll be plenty of time for a confrontation once we have her safely in the Tower," Jellal assured him, biting back his annoyance. He could afford to make them that promise – they had served him faithfully for eight years, and it was his fault that they harboured such a deep hatred for Erza anyway. There was no point in jeopardizing that and risking having them turn on him before the R-System was ready to go.
The others slowly nodded, accepting this new plan. "Right," Jellal added. "You four stay here and keep an eye on the Tower of Heaven for me. I will return as soon as I have Erza."
And that was exactly what he had intended to do. It just hadn't quite gone to plan.
"It's quite simple, really, Master," Levy was explaining.
There was a sharp edge to her tone that Jellal didn't like. For some reason, it was a lot more worrying to hear it from a bright and cheerful girl than it would have been from Natsu or Gray.
"Lucy's been having so many rent problems recently that she's considering moving out of her house and into the girls' dorms, so I was giving her a tour of the place this morning. Only, when we got to Erza's room, we found that the door was ajar, and we could hear someone moving around inside – which was odd, because we'd passed Erza heading into town just a few minutes earlier. So we went in to take a look – only to find this pervert, who had clearly broken into Erza's room and was going through her stuff."
"Which of you actually caught him?" Makarov demanded.
"That was Lucy."
Lucy gave a grimace as everyone's attention turned to her. "Turns out the only thing Aquarius likes less than being summoned from Erza's bathroom sink is creepy guys. She didn't even wash me away with him this time…"
Natsu clapped Lucy on the back. "I'm very proud of you, Lucy. Beating up a member of the Magic Council – it's like you've become a fully-fledged member of Fairy Tail at last."
His praise only made her swallow nervously. "In my defence, I didn't know he was a member of the Magic Council. I thought he was a burglar." As Jellal glared at her, she added meekly, "It's an easy mistake to make, right?"
Levy concluded her story with a bright smile which did not quite extend to her eyes. "We weren't entirely sure what to do with him, so we brought him to the guildhall to get some advice from everyone else. That's pretty much what we were discussing when you came in, Master."
Jellal scowled once again, tugging ineffectually at the ropes which bound his hands behind his back. They were already starting to go numb.
The girls had only caught him in the first place because they had taken him by surprise. In the moment that they had burst in on him, he had been torn between wanting to fight his way out as Jellal and bluff his way through the situation as Siegrain; unsure of how to respond, there had been a moment of hesitation, and the girls had seized their chance. It might have been impressive, if it hadn't resulted in him being bound to a chair. What sort of guild just happened to have magic-suppressing rope lying around their guildhall anyway?
He was starting to see why his fellow councillors took such a disliking to this unorthodox guild. Over the past few months, he had often argued on Fairy Tail's behalf in the Council, simply because it annoyed his colleagues. Their antics kept things interesting for him. This, however, was too much. Their astounding audacity in treating him this way had to be punished.
"I'll tell you exactly what you are going to do with me," Jellal echoed, with all the venom he could muster. "You are going to untie these ropes this instant, and then maybe, just maybe, I won't have your guild shut down by the end of the day."
As he had hoped, Makarov paled visibly at his threat. Unfortunately, Levy was less impressed. "You can shut up, pervert," she ordered him. To her Guild Master, she added, "He keeps claiming that he had a perfectly normal and non-perverted reason for breaking into her room-"
"-but he won't tell any of us what it is."
Kidnapping was a perfectly acceptable reason for him to be there. It just wasn't a reason he could share with anyone else.
"Levy feels very strongly about this matter," Lucy explained to Makarov, almost apologetically. "I'm not sure I've ever seen her this worked up about anything before…"
"Of course I feel strongly about it! Erza's clueless when it comes to things like this, so someone has to stand up for her. He's a creep and a pervert and for the sake of women everywhere I can't let that stand."
"I'm not a pervert," Jellal scowled.
"You were going through her wardrobe!"
Well, he'd had to check that she wasn't hiding anywhere, hadn't he?
"Well…" Makarov glanced somewhat anxiously from the unusually defiant young woman, who clearly had the support of Mira and Lucy and most of the members of the guild, to their furious prisoner. Clearly, the last thing he wanted was to have to come up with some sort of judgement on the matter. He knew all too well what the repercussions would be if he submitted to the whims of his mages and made an enemy of the Magic Council. "I can see where you're coming from, Levy, really, I can, but if it's just our word against his-"
"Oh, we have photographic evidence. Didn't we mention that?"
"I checked the feed from the security cameras in the dorms," Mira confirmed, handing a lacrima about the size of her fist to her Guild Master. "Here's the recording. You can quite clearly see him breaking into Erza's room, and then once Lucy and Levy go in after him, you can see everything that happens inside through the open door."
As Makarov projected the footage stored in the lacrima onto the air in order to review it, Jellal averted his eyes in irritation. Alright, so he maybe should have taken out the surveillance lacrima before trying to find Erza, but he couldn't have been expected to account for everything. All his ingenuity had gone into his Akane Resort plan.
The existence of that footage was a problem. It wasn't as if he cared personally, but his enemies on the Council would have a field day if they ever got their hands on it. A political scandal right now was the last thing that he needed. Even if he managed to weather the publicity storm and retain his seat on the Council, it would be a big hit to his credibility at a time when he needed to appear authoritative and adept if he was going to convince the others to fire Etherion at the Tower of Heaven. The timing couldn't possibly have been worse.
Makarov gave a low whistle. "This is incriminating."
Jellal did not like the look of the gleam that had entered the old man's eyes. What had happened to his nervousness? The politically-savvy Guild Master wasn't considering moving against him, surely?
"Right?" Levy insisted. "I vote that we send it to the major news outlets. The press love a scandal, and they'll ensure that the Council can't just brush this under the carpet. That'll send out the message that irrespective of the perpetrator's rank in society, creepy behaviour like this will not be tolerated."
"Though we wanted to check Erza was okay with it first, since it does involve her as well," Mira interjected, before Levy could begin ranting once again.
Silence followed her statement. Surprised, she glanced over her shoulder to look at Erza. The young woman was stood silently with her gaze fixed upon some invisible point on the floor. Her face was a mask. She gave no sign that she had even noticed Jellal, let alone that she was following the conversation.
Interesting. Of all the people in the room, the only one who could come close to understanding her sudden hesitance was Jellal himself. He wondered what she made of him. If he had been anyone else, caught trespassing in her room, would she have been as worked up about it as the other girls were? Quite possibly.
But because it was him, she didn't know how to react. Even though he had managed to convince her, during the handful of times they had met over the past eight years, that he was Jellal's identical twin, he knew that whenever she looked at him, she thought of Jellal – of the hell she had left behind; of her own weakness; of the boy she had once loved, who had betrayed her.
Who would betray her again, the moment he escaped the clutches of her accursed guild.
"Erza?" Mira prompted, causing her to glance up sharply.
Erza's gaze flickered briefly around the ring of mages, as if to ask why they were all staring at her. Slowly, her distant expression faded. She did not look at Jellal – she could not quite bring herself to do so – but, by focussing her intention solely on Makarov, she managed to give a somewhat normal response. "Uh, whatever the Master decides. That will be fine."
"…Seriously?" came Natsu's startled shout. "What happened to you, Erza? You're always getting mad at me for the smallest thing, but this guy breaks into your room and you're not even angry?"
"Not really," she murmured.
If it wasn't for the dire situation he was in, Jellal might have laughed. That was it – the strong, proud warrior he had been observing from afar for the past eight years, reduced to a mere shell of a human being simply by standing in the presence of someone who reminded her of her past. How he longed to take her to the Tower! To reveal to her the true nature of his deception; to break her spirit completely and use her as a living sacrifice to achieve his dreams!
Oh, it would be beautiful. Just as soon as he could get out of these goddamn ropes.
"Erza," Gray began worriedly. "Are you sure you're alright?"
She had to drag her gaze away from the floorboards again to answer him. "Yes, I'm perfectly fine."
"It's alright to be upset," Lucy reassured her. "Finding out so suddenly that a creepy guy was caught in your room is a pretty horrible thing to have happen."
"It's something we're definitely going to make this pervert pay for," Levy added, raising the length of rope she held in a threatening gesture.
"Just you try it," Jellal hissed back. "I swear I will destroy this guild, along with everything that you hold dear. If I propose disbanding Fairy Tail, there isn't a single person on the Council who will stand up for you. This guild is finished."
The crowd began to jeer. The distinctive flicker of magic being called into existence sparked across his senses. They wanted a fight, did they? Oh, he'd be more than happy to fight them. If they tried turning magic upon him, it would only be a matter of time before the restraints binding him broke under the assault, and then to hell with pretending to be a law-abiding politician. He'd show these self-important mages the true power of the Master of the Tower of Heaven-
"Quiet," snapped Makarov, and the hall fell silent immediately. To Jellal, he said, "You've just given me an excellent idea."
"Oh?" the young councillor shot back; that lilting word a dare.
The Guild Master continued with perfect smug calmness, as if he hadn't noticed the challenge. "I think the main reason why Fairy Tail has so little support on the Magic Council is that the councillors don't know what it's really like to be part of a guild. They make the rules for us to obey, and they judge us harshly when we break them, without any consideration for what drives us to act in the way that we do."
"What's your point?"
"Only that I see before me an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate to a member of the Council the true value of Fairy Tail's way of life. If it's acceptable to all of you, Erza included-" Here he paused to glance around the circle of mages "-then I have a proposal to make. We'll keep hold of this surveillance lacrima, without handing it over to the press or the Council, for thirty days, after which we'll destroy it. In return, for those thirty days, Councillor Siegrain – you will join my guild."
There was a moment of stunned silence, broken almost immediately by outraged cries from all the mages in the hall – Jellal included. "Are you out of your mind?" he demanded of Makarov. "I'm not joining your stupid guild!"
Makarov tossed the lacrima from one hand to the other. "It doesn't look like you've got much of a choice to me. Either you spend the next thirty days as a Fairy Tail mage, obeying all the rules of the guild and participating fully in all guild activities – or this evidence goes straight to the Council."
"This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. I am not joining Fairy Tail."
"Have it your way," the old man breezed, turning to Levy and holding out the lacrima. "I can leave this in your care, then, can I, Levy?"
"Don't!" Jellal snarled. When Makarov turned back to him, his eyebrows raised innocently, Jellal hissed, "This is blackmail."
"Ah, the councillor is finally catching on. As a politician, I thought you'd have been much more familiar with the concept, but better late than never I suppose."
"You won't get away with this. All you're doing is buying yourself thirty days. I will destroy your guild."
"We're Fairy Tail. Do you think we're afraid of taking risks?"
"Whatever idiotic goal you're attempting to accomplish with this, I can assure you that it won't succeed."
"Then you have nothing to lose by agreeing to my terms, do you?"
Jellal scowled as he pretended to think it over. "All I've got to do is join your guild, right?"
"How can I be sure you'll keep your end of the deal?"
With a sigh, Makarov raised the lacrima in one hand and held his other directly above it, palm-down. He closed his eyes in concentration. As Jellal watched suspiciously, purple light began to spread from the old mage's palm to form a disc above the lacrima, curling into a familiar circular pattern.
"A self-destruct magic circle," Makarov explained, for the benefit of the guild members present, before focussing on their prisoner once more. "It'll detonate in thirty days. You can set the cancellation code yourself, and then no one but you will be able to stop it from destroying the lacrima once that time is up. Of course, until the moment it explodes, the lacrima is still fully-functional, and your rivals on the Council will have no trouble extracting the footage from it if you fail to uphold your end of the deal between now and then."
In a show of good faith, he held it out to Jellal, allowing the other to examine the magic he had bound to it. "Is that satisfactory?"
Jellal made a show of checking and double-checking it as best he could while he was still tied up, but he knew at a glance that the self-destruct circle had been cast exactly as Makarov had said. It seemed he really was serious about this. "Alright," he grunted.
"Then, do we have a deal?"
All he had to do was put up with this infuriating guild for thirty days, and then the evidence would be shattered by the self-destruct magic and he could get back to destroying the world – once he had suitably punished Fairy Tail for their behaviour, of course. He could do that, couldn't he? He had endured all manner of humiliation in the service of the Council before he had finally managed to gain his seat amongst them, and it had all been worth it to get him closer to his goal. This was no different. He could put up with this for thirty days.
It didn't have to come to that. No, Makarov was unwittingly giving him an unprecedented opportunity. For the next thirty days, he would be in the same guild as Erza. No more sneaking around or making up excuses – no one would think anything of it if he approached her now. This was perfect. He couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to kidnap her.
He didn't have to put up with this guild for thirty days – he only had to do it for long enough for him to separate Erza from the others and steal her away to the Tower of Heaven. Once he had her, the threat of blackmail became irrelevant, as there wouldn't be a society left to accuse him of any crimes.
Thirty days as a member of Fairy Tail.
A perfect thirty-day window in which to kidnap Erza.
For the first time since the weather had ruined his plans, a dark smile spread across Jellal's face. "We have a deal."
A/N: So, hello and welcome to my third Fairy Tail story! As you'll know if you've made it this far, this one is a Jellal/Erza story set in a timeline where the Tower of Heaven arc has yet to happen. It's probably best described as a mix of romance, humour, and combat-oriented slice-of-life. This story has a habit of taking very silly ideas and then treating them very seriously. Most chapters won't be as silly as this one. A few will be sillier. Expect deadly serious full-chapter fights to the death sandwiched in between accidental dates, beach chapters, and every anime romance cliché in the book.
This story will update every Sunday evening, life permitting. It's going to take a while for Jellal and Erza to get together - not least because he's still an evil jerk and she has yet to get over her trauma from the Tower of Heaven. There are important themes in this story other than their relationship; in fact, there will be whole chapters in which Erza doesn't appear at all. We've got a mountain to climb before they can possibly get together. You have been warned.
Also, note the fact that this is T-rated rather than M-rated. And even that's just in case I end up going overboard with language and/or violence later on, which I probably won't. In other words, if you're looking for M-rated romance stuff, you're in the wrong place. This is a perfectly clean Disney-esque romance. Albeit with a Prince Charming who is hell-bent on destroying the world.
Right, I think that's pretty much all the orders of business. Thank you for reading the first chapter, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the story! ~CS