Before we start, I feel like I should provide a warning. Spoilers will be inevitable for the Fairy Tail manga, as well as the anime. As there are still several chapters left at the time that I write this, some details (such as the state of Alvarez) may be off by the time the series reaches its conclusion, but I will do my best to address them if any inconsistencies come up. As long as there isn't a sudden surprise downer ending which clashes with the tone of the rest of the series, I should be good, but you never know.
During the battle with Alvarez, peace and normalcy seemed like they were about to become things of the past. While Ishgar had seen its share of skirmishes between guilds, full-blown war was extremely rare, especially one that involves the level of mages that exist in the present day. While the war had been brief, many had suffered both emotionally and physically, and with the dramatic revelations and countless near misses, it seemed like things would never return to the way they were.
However, not even a year later, Magnolia had gone back to normal. People were joyfully walking through the streets, stores were open for business, someone was being thrown through a window at the Fairy Tail guild…
"Bring it on, all of ya!" Of course, the Fairy Tail guild had degenerated into a massive brawl, with Natsu Dragneel at center. The pink haired Dragon Slayer hadn't started the fight – in fact, it was unclear who exactly had started it – but he was easily one of the most enthusiastic participants. Fortunately for everyone involved, the guild's S Class mages were staying out of it – Gildarts was sitting at the bar laughing it up as he watched the fighting happen, while Laxus was just annoyed by all of the racket. Erza would have stepped in to stop it by this point, but she was working on her third strawberry cake thanks to a trip to the bakery with Wendy, and the combatants were giving that table a wide berth to avoid becoming the targets of her wrath.
"Natsu! Let's see how manly you've gotteeeeeee—" Elfman's speech is interrupted as Gajeel grabs him, tossing him into a wall.
"Heh. Salamander beat Zeref, and all of a sudden, he thinks he's some kinda super star." Gajeel calls out above the din. "We all heard that Zeref went down in four hits, Salamander! I could've beaten him in two punches, easy!"
"Prove it, Gajeel!" Natsu leaps off the table, but runs face-first into an abruptly summoned ice wall. "GAH! Cold!"
Gray grins, his shirt discarded at some point. "You weren't all that tough when we fought, flame brain. Erza stopped us last time, but this time, I'm gonna show you that ice beats fire."
Droy stares at Gray, confused. "Uh… Gray, that makes no sense." All of a sudden, a chill runs up his spine, and it had nothing to do with Gray. Glancing over his shoulder, he expects to see the cold spectre of Death. Instead, he sees an angry Juvia, which is almost as terrifying.
"Are you insulting Gray-sama?" The blue haired woman tilts her head, her eyes wide and cold with fury, while her hand turns into water.
"I'm sorryyyyyyyyyy~~!" That's all Droy can get out before he's washed away in a sudden tidal wave along with several other guild members.
Lucy Heartfilia was mercifully untouched by all of this – planning ahead, she chose a seat near Erza, along with Levy, Wendy, Carla, and Happy, so they wouldn't be bothered. Barely noticing the chaos, Lucy looks forlornly at the mission board, which was practically barren and almost entirely ignored. The only other person paying attention to it was Nab, who was still unable to find a job off of it despite having significantly less options to choose from.
"How am I going to pay my rent now?" Smaller jobs were consistently coming in, but ever since Ishgar formally allied itself with Alvarez, and the newly appointed Emperor Invel decried any and all Dark Guild activity (especially those that would use the name of the former emperor for their own purposes), going after Dark Guilds became legal. The amount of Dark Guilds shrunk dramatically as a result, as did the amount of high paying jobs. Between that and Zeref's death resulting in the destruction of all of his demons, the world was at peace – this was good for society, but bad for Lucy's wallet.
While she had made great progress with her book, she still feels nowhere near ready to publish it, so making money from that was out of the question. Modelling gigs were few and far between, and she wasn't about to move to a smaller apartment.
Erza takes a break from eating her cake to smile at the blonde, well aware of Lucy's rent issues by this point. "Maybe we could take a mission together – that way, the reward wouldn't have to be split so many ways."
Lucy lays her head on the table. "…That's not why we normally don't get much money …" Still, thinking about it, it could be fun – Natsu tends to cause most of the destruction on their missions, and while Gray isn't as destructive, he does rack up quite a bit of public indecency charges just by bringing him along. "I'd be happy to go on one, though! What did you have in mind?"
"It's a simple delivery mission. We just need to bring supplies to a village…"
Lucy brightens up. "Okay, that-"
"…on a path through the Lightning Swamp." Erza eats another forkful of cake – to her, that sounds like an ordinary, even somewhat dull, mission.
Lucy stares at Erza, terrified, as Levy and Wendy chuckle nervously. "Um… I'll think about it."
"MAAAASTERRRRRRR!" Suddenly, a loud yell can be heard above the shouting and smashing in the guild hall. The sand mage Max Alors flings open the door to the guild hall, clutching a paper in his hand as though his life depended on it. "Everyone, you have to hear this!"
"Hm? What is it?" Makarov eyes Max with a curious expression on his face, taking a break from his chat with Mirajane.
Max waves the paper in the air, with the symbol of Fiore's royal family clearly visible on its back. "This just arrived… It's from the royal court!"
Upon hearing this, Makarov's face turns as white as his hair. Murmurs run through the crowd, as the assembled mages wonder what this could mean. "Oh no… What did Natsu do this time?"
Natsu yells at Makarov. "Hang on, gramps! I haven't done anything to those guys ever since I burned the Fairy Tail name into the side of the castle!"
Makarov's gaze turned to Natsu, wide-eyed; the guild master feels like all of his hair is going to fall out right then and there. "You did what?!"
Max shakes his head. "That's not it – listen." Clearing his throat, he begins to read from the sheet. "This is an official invitation to the Grand Magic Games. Normally, participation is entirely voluntary on the part of the participating guilds, but as last year's turn-out was missing many of the guilds that our subjects, and ourselves, were hoping to see, a more active approach is required."
Lucy chuckles. "It wasn't very interesting to watch, that's for sure." She had covered the entire X792 Grand Magic Games for the Weekly Sorcerer Magazine, and the competition that year was lackluster – she feels safe in saying that she could have taken on any member of the competing guilds and came out on top.
"Due to our recent alliance with Alvarez, we wish to showcase the talent that our continent has to offer. As such, any allied nations who can make the journey to Fiore can take part in this year's Grand Magic Games, along with all legal guilds, will be allowed to participate."
Natsu brightens up, thinking of the possibilities. "Whoa… That'll be a lot of strong people!"
"As usual, the only limit is that five mages are allowed per team, with one substitute player in the event of injury or inability to compete in a round. The competition will begin in one week's time, June 30th X793, in Crocus, Fiore's capital."
"Hope they repaired the stadium." A sinister glint appears in Gajeel's eye as he realizes something. "Hey, Salamander! I've gonna have to arrest you for that!"
Natsu yells back at him. "What?! That happened a year ago! It's ancient history!"
"There's more!" Max looks down at the note. "Due to a lack of interest from guilds in the previous year, the prize money has been increased temporarily. For this year alone, the winning guild gets a hundred million Jewels…"
"A-A hundred…" Makarov's eyes practically bulge out of his head, and it looks like he's about to fall over out of shock.
"…and on top of that, each member of the winning team will get a million Jewels!"
Lucy's eyes are gleaming. "My rent… finally, I wouldn't have to worry about my rent…"
Natsu laughs. "If they wanted more people to compete, they should've just asked! WE'RE IN!"
Makarov's hand stretches across the guild to smack Natsu on the top of the head. "You don't get to decide that!" Clearing his throat, he stands up on the bar. "As the eighth guild master of Fairy Tail, I declare that we will compete in this year's Grand Magic Games… And we'll kick the asses of any team that gets in our way!"
This gets a resounding cheer from the packed guild hall, as everyone gets to work, moving to create support banners, spread the word about Fairy Tail's involvement, and place bets on any number of situations that could potentially happen at the games, from potential events to who would win in certain fights. For the first time in a while now, everybody in the guild is active, energetic, and working towards a goal – even Nab is pitching in.
Erza looks around, amused. "I'm glad to see everybody working hard, but I feel like we should pick teams before handling anything else."
"Why?" Natsu hops down from the bar, walking over to Lucy, Wendy, Gray, and Erza. "We've already got Fairy Tail's A Team right here!"
"'A Team'? That's too bad, Salamander." Gajeel points at Natsu, grinning demonically. "'Cause we've got Fairy Tail Team One, ready to trample all over you guys!"
Laxus grumbles. "I thought we were the B team… And don't act like you're in charge, Gajeel."
The long haired iron Dragon Slayer turns his gaze from Natsu to Laxus, annoyed that his bragging was interrupted. "Shut it, lightning bastard! You wanna go?"
Juvia steps between the two of them. "Gajeel-san, Laxus-san, we're a team, remember?"
Gray's eyes go wide. "Juvia?! What are you doing over there?"
Juvia looks at Gray with her usual adoring look. "I'm sorry, Gray-sama, but since the Penalty Game didn't go as well as I hoped last time, I wanted to get another shot to make it work!"
"Geez… I still don't get her…" Even though the two of them occasionally went out on dates after Alvarez, Gray still found it difficult to follow Juvia's train of thought some times. Ever since Juvia nearly killed herself for his sake during the fight with Invel, Gray wasn't sure how to make it up to her, but a few dinners together seemed like a good place to start, much to Juvia's eternal delight.
Mirajane gives a warm smile, though one could still sense her demonic nature beneath it. "Ah, yes, the Penalty Game. That was quite a lot of fun - wasn't it, Erza? I'm looking forward to repeating it this year."
Erza points dramatically at Mirajane, as memories of being forced into a maid costume, tied up, and publicly humiliated come rushing back to her. "This year, you're the one who's going to go through that!" Even after all of these years, Mirajane is still one of the few people who can get under her skin with ease. Mira just giggles in response, annoying Erza more.
"I think I'll change things up this year." Cana rests her arm on Lucy's shoulder, a bottle of wine in her other hand. "Helping Wendy out was fun, but this year, I think I'm gonna spend some quality time with Lucy."
Lucy's face goes beet red as she remembers the other times that Cana wanted to spend "quality time" with her. Most of those times tended to happen while Lucy was bathing, so she had plenty of reasons to be nervous. "Um… Gajeel… Are you sure that you don't want me to help with getting people to watch your performance?" Sure, being forced to dance in a bunny suit was just humiliating, but not as embarrassing as what Cana was bound to do to her.
Gajeel shakes his head, enjoying how flustered Lucy is getting from all of this. "Nah, this year, I'm gonna make Wendy work for me."
Happy covers his mouth, trying and failing to supress a laugh. "You want Wendy in a bunny suit? I didn't know Gajeel was like Mest…" Somewhere among the pandemonium of the guild, Mest sneezes.
Gajeel growls, his mood immediately souring. "Not that, dummy! I heard the kid figured out how to use Dragon Force whenever she wants. I'm gonna get her to teach me how to do that, and then Salamander's gonna be the last place Dragon Slayer for sure!"
Natsu glares at Gajeel. "Huh? What'd you say, scrap brain?"
Wendy tries to keep them apart, though given how tiny she is, it doesn't amount to much. "Um… Can we save it for the tournament, please?"
Erza grabs Natsu's scarf, pulling him away and nearly choking him in the process. "That's right. None of us have even qualified yet, so we can't afford to get overconfident."
Lucy pumps her fist, energized by both the mood in the guild and the prize money. "No matter who wins, we'll definitely show everyone the power of Fairy Tail!" The gathered mages nod, and then split off to strategize for the upcoming games.
Throughout Ishgar and beyond, a similar scene plays out in countless guild halls – the massive amount of prize money, both for the guilds and for the winning team members, is too much for anyone to ignore. Even in one particular guild hall, the excitement is practically visible despite the hall itself being hastily put together and the guild consisting of a handful of people.
"Did you see the announcement for this year's Grand Magic Games?"
"Yes. Don't worry, we're competing. It's time away from the mission, but it's for a good cause."
"…Seeing your girlfriend doesn't count as a good cause."
"That's not - What I meant was, we need the money for our guild hall. Even if an appearance draws more people to our cause, it won't mean much if our guild hall looks like it would fall over from a stiff breeze. We only became legal thanks to our efforts in the war, and we're on the borderline as is. Competing in this should help to make us more legitimate."
"However you want to sell it to yourself, boss. We all know the real reason you're doing this."
"We all have our reasons. I'm sure you want in, since Natsu's almost definitely going to be there."
"You're damn right! I've been looking forward to getting some kind of payback!"
"Then it's settled – we're going."
As both old and new guilds gather together, drawn by the fame, the glory, and the prize money, the outcome of this year's Grand Magic Games remains uncertain. Only one thing is guaranteed, however – it's bound to be an improvement over last year's. Seriously, Scarmiglione was the strongest that Fiore had to offer outside of the guilds that competed in X791's games?
As I wrap this chapter up, I want to mention that the match-ups in this story will be determined by fan votes! The teams will be randomly matched up against each other once they're all revealed (there will hopefully be a few surprises among the competing teams), and there's no voting as of yet, but keep an eye on this work for further details.