I know I have not been posting for a while and I apologize. Real life came in, I am now a father and then my health took a downturn and I now have more work to do, but I have been typing and was getting close to finishing a nice long chapter to make up for the wait, but have decided it's been long enough and will split the arc into more chapters.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Quick recap.

Link, Erza, Natsu, Gray, Lucy, and Happy were all given tickets to the number one tourist location in all of Fiore, Akane Resort by Loke, the recently reinstated Lion Stellar Spirit. Taking advantage of his generosity, the group happily went to enjoy themselves. Their first day started off perfectly, as they went and swam in the crystal clear waters and played in the white sandy beach. As the day waned towards evening, Erza, Natsu, Gray, Lucy, and Happy went to the underground casino of the resort in different groups; Gray by himself, Natsu with Happy, while Erza and Lucy grouped up after stopping by Link's room to let him know where everyone was going.

While Gray was having a good time at cards, he was surprised with the appearance of former Phantom Lord Element Four, Juvia of the Deep. To his further surprise, it appeared the blue-haired Water Mage wished to join Fairy Tail. Before they could continue, a large man walked up behind them and said Gray's name before blowing up the small bar where Gray and Juvia had been talking.

At the same time, Natsu and Happy were ambushed by a block man as they yelled at a gambling machine they felt had cheated them. In a matter of seconds, the block man had Natsu bound firmly against the machine by a joining of small blocks, helpless and unable to break free.

While the Fairy Tail Mages and Water Mage were being attacked, Erza was playing cards with Lucy watching as she decimated the dealer with hand after hand. It wasn't long before they were accosted as well, with Erza paralyzed by shock as she recognized the blonde man who threatened her and Lucy. The other two Mages received a telepathic report from the blonde and darkness flooded with the casino as the they took out Gray, Juvia, and Natsu.

Shortly afterwards they appeared over with the blonde, where a final addition appeared; a female brunette that entangled Lucy in a cat paw whip. As Lucy struggled, Erza became more and more shaken as each of the mages appeared before her; finally admitting that she had been their nakama in the past. The block man, Wally, made as if he was going to shoot Lucy to get Erza's cooperation, but instead shot the red-head in the back with a knock-out dart.

Before they could leave with her, Link appeared in a green tuxedo and told them to leave before he was forced to hurt them. Sho, the blonde, created a barrage of razor-sharp cards to fly at Link, but he easily deflected them with an instant Requip of a staff. Link now squares off against the four from Erza's past, a team that seems to have taken out three of Fairy Tail's strongest Mages without breaking a sweat.

At the same time, The Magic Council is summoned to an emergency meeting to discuss a new threat...


Era - Magic Council Headquarters

Yajima, the small Council Member and friend of Makarov, glanced up at his Rune Knight escorts as the moonlight shone through the large windows of the Magic Council Headquarters. "Did Siegrain say what this meeting was for?" He asked but they both shook their heads.

"No he didn't, Yajima-sama, but he and Ultear-sama both said it was of grave importance." The one on his right side said respectfully and Yajima gave a small grunt as he turned his gaze forward again. The Council Member was of course intrigued, for he had never seen Siegrain, or Ultear for that matter, ever take anything seriously. In addition to that, though, the old mage was wary, for he had never truly been able to trust those two due to the same reason he was even now intrigued.

Thus, his tone was gruff in addition to its usual somberness as they stopped in front of a large, ornamental door. "That will be all." Yajima said simply and the Rune Knights bowed their heads respectfully before they walked away. The old mage opened the door and walked in to a large, mostly empty room with eight members of the Council already there, standing in a large circle. "I don't suppose the Chairman is back?" He asked as he went to an empty spot in the circle while the doors closed behind him.

"No, it seems he's still on business for the King." Another elderly mage said before he cast a suspicious gaze on Siegrain. "It seems Siegrain timed this emergency quite well." He added with a hint of sarcasm in his scratchy voice that the blue-haired young man did not acknowledge. In fact, Siegrain didn't even seem aware of anyone else in the room as he stared forward expressionlessly as if his gaze was fixed on something far away. So far removed from his usual condescendingly amused smirk, this new face put Yajima and the others a bit on edge, especially as it was echoed by his faithful follower, the beautiful and equally young Ultear. Blue light flooded the room as Yajima reached his appointed spot, light that quickly formed into nine magical seals below each Council Member. The seals slowly levitated them up above the ground fifteen feet before stopping, at which point Seigran immediately began talking.

"My fellow Council Members, my apologies for calling this meeting at this time; but I've recently received intelligence on a grave matter." The blue-haired Council Member said and the older members looked at each other mild amazement. Not for his words, but from the way he said it; lacking any kind of condescension or amusement but somber and to the point. "A year ago, rumors reached this Council about the Cult of Zeref." He began and most of the members immediately looked exasperated. "I understand your disdain, for didn't I hold the same opinion when the task of looking into it was forced upon me?" He asked, his expression never wavering, and a few of them nodded their heads slowly after a couple of seconds. "The reason I've called this meeting is because I've found solid evidence to prove those rumors." He said before he brought his left hand up in a wave. Instantly the air before them wavered in the center of the circle and above them for a few seconds before it slowly showed the image of a lone tower in the middle of a vast body of water.

"I see," one of the Council Members, Org, said. He was a tall, gray-haired elderly man with a considerably long beard, as well as a mustache with pointy ears and only one of his dark-colored eyes was open. He also wore multiple layers of robes and on top of his head he wore a small bat-shaped ornament. "Then we shall immediately send troops and a squad of Rune Knights to investigate and bring an end to it." He announced and most of the other Council Members nodded their heads in agreement, for as the Second Seat he was highest ranking member there.

"There's not enough time for that." Siegrain suddenly cut in, his face showing the first sign of emotion that night.

"Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Siegrain." Org said sternly as he looked at the younger Council Member with a one-eyed glare. "But now we need to investigate this to determine the best course of action." He firmly stated and Siegrain's right hand tightened into a fist as he grit his teeth while the older Council Members nodded in agreement.

"You fools... there's no time for that." He said grimly in reply as he looked down at the ground. "We need to take them out now, before it's too late." Siegrain continued in a subdued voice before he suddenly took a step forward as he slashed his right hand out before him. "They're going to use the R-System!" He yelled with desperation clear in his voice, at which everyone's gaze immediately snapped back to him.


Akane Resort

"Link, be careful! Erza said they used to be nakama!" Lucy cried out and his gaze went to her for a second as the end of Wally's polygon rifle glowed. At the same time, Sho sent out another barrage of cards and Link immediately started to send his staff into a defensive spin.

"Yami Setsuna." Simon suddenly said and the whole casino was once again thrown into darkness a couple of seconds before the cards reached Link and an instant later a shot went off as Wally fired a magic blast from his rifle.

"Link!" Lucy cried out in terror, cries that were echoed by the entrapped civilians, before she froze as she heard sounds of disbelief in the darkness. Could he have- Her train of thought was cut off as she heard more shots going off, this time in rapid succession.

I-impossible! Simon thought as his eye, now glowing red, widened slightly, the only sign of reaction on his otherwise expressionless face. No matter how good the warrior, a sudden change from sight to blindness slows reaction time by at least a second. But his denial was pointless, as Link had effortlessly dodged between the cards and then jumped over Wally's blast.

The Maharathi teleported back down to avoid another shot, then went into what looked like a graceful dance as he moved between further card attacks and blasts. Milliana, wait for my command to trap Link in your whip. Simon sent telepathically and got a sense of confirmation from the cat woman, her eyes glowing like Simon's. Wally, Sho, try to keep Link pinned. If he escapes you, I'll launch an attack that should keep him in place long enough for Milliana to get him. He sent and the two immediately sent words of consent, though Sho, his eyes also glowing red, seemed overly frustrated with his inability to hit Link.

"Try this one, Maharathi!" Sho said as he created ten cards in each hand. "Faro!" He called out as he sent them out in a flanking toss at Link. When they were on each side of him, he crossed his arms across his chest. "Shaffuru!" He snarled and the cards flew in at Link, who was forced to stop his charge and jump back to avoid them as they slid between themselves with almost no space left between each card.

Wally split apart into dozens of blocks, though his head was left intact, that all shot forward at Link while he was still in midair. "Maibyo Sanjusan Furemu!" His head yelled right before the blocks were about to the blonde mage.

Link had already shifted his body and sent his staff into a high-speed defensive spin that deflected every block, with the only effect being that Link was pushed back a little before he landed on the ground. Right as he landed, Simon appeared behind him with his hands held over his head as he prepared to take out Link the same way he had taken out Gray just moments ago.

"GAH!" Simon gasped in pain as Link slammed an elbow into his solar plexus, using the impact to jump and spin to deliver a powerful staff strike to the side of Simon's head, or at least that was Link's intent.

"Porigon Toku!" Wally's voice could be heard as dozens of blocks came together to form a dome-shaped shield that deflected Link's strike away from Simon. "Maibyo Sanjusan Furemu!" He counterattacked with the blocks breaking apart right in front of Link, who simply teleported away in a green flash, as Simon regained his composure.

The instant Link appeared, he was surrounded by more playing cards. "Faro Shaffuru!" Sho called out even as Link brought Nayru's Love up to easily deflect the projectiles away. "Damn it!" Sho yelled as he ground his teeth and clenched his hands in frustration.

Calm down! Simon sent telepathically right as Milliana had been about to act out on her own frustration and prematurely send out her whip. Everyone, look at his eyes! He ordered and they all blinked before they listened.

What the?! They all thought in surprise while Wally reformed ten feet away from Link to form all circle with his teammates. The white of Link's eyes now had a purple tint while his pupils were filled with a red light. "So, you can see in my Yami Setsuna." Simon said to gain a little more time to fully recover and Link nodded his head. Every movement is strictly defensive, except for that last strike... The Dark Mage pondered thoughtfully, not realizing that last thought had been transferred to his teammates.

He's trying to wear us down a little at a time. Wally sent and they all blinked at the same time. Look, he's not even attacking now; he's going strictly for counters... hardly a dandy way to fight. He thought contemptuously.

Not the way I'd expect a true Maharathi to fight. Sho agreed with as much contempt as he readied his cards again.

But it is a smart way to fight when you're outnumbered. Simon cut in sternly and the other two paused at his tone. He's set on whittling us down a little at a time, so we need to make him leave openings. He said and a wicked giggle came through the telepathic conversation.

I've got something. Milliana thought before she glanced back at Lucy and a second later Lucy let out a small yelp of pain and surprise.

"W-what the-?"

"My Nekosoku Chubu is now set to continuously pull itself together." The brunette said with a cheerful smile. "In five minutes, your back will break in half." She said before she turned her gaze to a surprised Link. "Unless your green-clad friend here gives up and lets us go on our way." She added with a wicked tint to her smile and Link's eyes narrowed.

"Don't listen to her, Link!" Lucy called out after a few seconds of silence and all eyes went to her, though she didn't know it. "If they really, ung, took out Natsu and Gray, then, ah, you need to focus on, gah!" The blonde was silent as another contraction of the whip cut her off. "Then you need to focus on saving Erza from them!" She screamed and Link's eyes tightened for a few seconds.

"No." The Maharathi said and Lucy's eyes went wide in a mixture of shock and shame while Milliana, Wally, and Sho shared a wicked grin while Simon remained impassive. "I have a little over four minutes. I'll save both of you." He said in a matter-of-fact tone before he brought his hands a couple of inches apart in the center of the staff. He gave his hands a quick twist in opposite directions then pulled the staff into two equal-sized sticks.

The instant the staff became two sticks, Link disappeared in a green flash and reappeared in front of a still dumbfounded Wally to unleash a barrage of strikes and thrusts that had the block man sliding back several inches a second. Wally had no time to try and block, no opening to raise his polygon rifle and shoot, and his teammates were momentarily stunned at Link's sudden change to offense for several, devastating seconds. "Graaaaaghhh!" Wally yelled in mounting pain as he got hit by what felt like six strikes every second until he remembered that he had an escape. After five seconds, at which point his teammates were starting to react to Link's assault, he received another hit and shattered into dozens of pieces.

Link blinked in mild surprise before he made a mild adjustment to his grip and did a minute shift in his stance as the pieces started to surround him. "Maibyo Sanjusan Fureimu!" Wally roared as the pieces flew in, heedless of the red aura that had immediately formed around Link's sticks once his stance had shifted.

"Hyaaa!" Link roared as he went into a high spin and the aura shot out in a wide wave that sent all the blocks flying in different directions.

"Dainamoshaffuru!" Sho called out as two dozen cards appeared around Link, but the tuxedo-wearing weapon master had already been in the process of a multi-directional blocking as he came out of his spin. Every movement deflected at least two cards, and when it was over Link disappeared in a green flash directly in front of Sho, who instinctively took a step back as his eyes went wide in surprise and fear.

Link sensed and saw out of the corner of his eye a large form appear to his right and sent his right foot into a side kick while simultaneously thrusting at Sho with both sticks. Though the move appeared awkward, he had perfect balance even on one foot and sent Sho flying while Simon simply stumbled back from the kick; though his eye widened in surprise as the wind was knocked from him. Link immediately jumped from his left leg and went into a spin while inverting to deliver a double kick to Simon's chest, who was finally sent flying with a grunt of pain from the attack.

Now! Simon sent and Milliana immediately sent her Nekosoku Chubu out while Link's attention was focused away from her. Right as Link's right foot touched the ground, his left arm was entwined with the whip.

That's it! Wally thought as he reformed with his polygon rifle ready to go. Now he can't use magi-

"Nyaaa!" Milliana screamed as she was reeled in with a strong pull from Link, causing all three of her teammates' eyes to widen in surprise at his instantaneous reaction.

"Milliana!" Wally yelled as he scattered with all the blocks speeding towards Milliana. "Porigon Toku!" He yelled as most of his blocks formed to defend against a downward strike as one of his arms formed to grab hold of the brunette. At the same time, Simon appeared to grab hold of the Nekosoku Chubu to stop Link from continuing to reel her in while Sho sent another barrage of cards at Link.

The green-clad blonde's eyes narrowed as he allowed the bounce from impacting with Wally's Porigon Toku to propel him into another downward strike towards the incoming cards. Heh. Without magic and one arm restrained, all you can do-

"Hyaaa!" Link roared as he struck and a wave of air pressure slammed into the cards, scattering them. While Sho's sadistic smile slowly faded to surprise, Link quickly brought both sticks together and twisted his hands to reform his staff. Wally's Porigon Toku started to shimmer as Link gave the staff a spinning toss into the air and put his right hand into his pouch to pull out a dagger with an ivory hilt.

"Maibyo Sanjusn Fureimu!" Wally yelled as the Porigon Toku shot forward to hammer into Link, whose eyes narrowed as his knife lashed out to cut the Nekosoku Chubu. Link grit his teeth as Wally's attack slammed into him, forcing him back several feet, while he quickly unwrapped the remainder of the cat whip. The instant he tossed it away the ivory hilt gave off a momentary, faint glow, and Link's grip tightened as he weathered the remainder of Wally's attack.

"Lucy!" Link yelled as soon as the attack finished and Lucy's eyes widened as he jumped up to grab the still spinning staff in his left hand. "Use this!" He ordered as he threw the knife down at the restrained blonde. His knife cut the part that slowly pulled her wrists to her ankles and he immediately disappeared in a green flash right as Wally's polygon rifle appeared behind him. He reappeared before Lucy as she freed herself and spun to carefully try to grab the hilt and squared himself into a defensive stance.

He's pinned himself? Simon wondered in confusion as Wally and Sho came together with Simon and Milliana while Lucy was able to grab hold of the ivory hilt. The second she grabbed it her eyes widened in surprise before she quickly closed them again.

"Haaa!" Link roared and a brilliant, penetrating light erupted from him that immediately dispelled the darkness.

"GAAAAHHHHH!" All four of the attacking mages screamed in pain at the sudden shift from impenetrable darkness to brilliant light blinding them as effectively as any flash bomb. Link winced as all those trapped in the cards screamed as well, but he had steeled himself and quickly thrust his left hand out as the light faded back to the casino's regular luminescence.

By the time they could blink away enough of their tears to see, all four found themselves trapped inside the blue crystals of Nayru's Embrace. "N-Nya?" Milliana put out with a confused expression as they all looked around with matching expressions, with the exception of the once again expressionless Simon.

"Lucy, you can open your eyes." Link said as he Ex-Equipped his staff and knelt by the quivering Lucy.

"Eh?" Lucy said as she opened her eyes to see Link kneeling next to her with a kind smile.

"Are you okay?" He asked and Lucy blinked a couple of times before her gaze shifted over to three of the four mages struggling against Nayru's Embrace.

"Yeah... thanks to you." She replied with a tired smile and Link's smile grew for an instant before he stood up and offered her his hand.

"Go check on Natsu, Gray, and Happy." Link said and Lucy hesitated before her eyes went to the four from Erza's past.

"But, they said-"

"At most I expect they're only knocked out." Link said firmly before he shifted his gaze to the still unconscious Erza. "Go and I'll take care of things here." He said and Lucy followed his gaze to Erza and slowly nodded her head.

"That Wally guy said he tranquilized her." She said as she stood up and Link nodded his head before he turned to walk to the trapped four.

"You bastard!" Sho yelled and slammed his fists against the crystal barrier as Link got closer to them. "Let us out of here!" He demanded but the green mage ignored him as he directed his gaze to Wally.

"What kind of tranquilizer did you use on Erza?" Link asked but Wally just offered a smirk as he grabbed his hat, his white scarf shifting with the movement. Before he could offer a remark, Nayru's Embrace suddenly shrank a few inches, causing him to look at the barrier in shock. "Now." He demanded when Wally looked back at him, and the block man felt as if the fires he saw in Link's eyes would consume him from the inside out.

"I-it's a magical tranquilizer meant to keep a prisoner subdued for about an hour." He stammered out, to which Sho and Milliana gave him surprised looks before they noticed he was subtly quivering.

Link nodded his head in thanks as he ran a mental inventory of his potions and antidotes and was relieved to realize that he had something to counter that. Next, as cries of help returned once the dazed civilians had recovered, his gaze went to lock on to Sho. "Did you trap these people?" He asked, though he had already connected his use of cards with the way the people were being held. Even if he hadn't, the sudden outcry from them would have confirmed it for him.

"That's him!"

"That's the bastard!"

"Beat him to a pulp and get him to free us!"

"Please, get me out here!"

Those cries and many more echoed through the casino and Link's eyes narrowed in righteous fury at their helpless calls, causing Sho to gulp nervously. "So what if it was?" He asked condescendingly and with a confidence he obviously didn't feel. "You don't think someone who takes a title he hasn't earned is going to scare me, do you?" He asked and Link blinked in mild surprise. "Those of us from Avyactha kept waiting to hear word of your-"

"I passed my Pariksana." Link interrupted bluntly and Sho's eyes went wide with shock. "Passed down to me by my Guru, Atimaharathi Durga." He continued as he dismissed the barrier around Sho and took a step towards him. Sho instinctively took a step back as fear dominated his expression, a fear that multiplied as Link suddenly put his face a few inches away from him. "If you truly are a citizen of Avyactha, then you know the penalty for using your magic on civilians unprovoked." He said and Sho's entire body trembled as he saw only doom in Link's eyes. "Release them." He ordered as he lashed out his left hand and Requipped a metallic whip, causing a loud snap that made Sho jump in fear.

As soon as he Requipped the whip, all the cards were enveloped in light that quickly dissipated; showing the now free people. Link immediately turned around and walked towards Erza while Nayru's Embrace reformed around a still trembling Sho. There was a minor yet drastic difference between the one that formed, it was completely opaque; something that the other three crystals quickly copied. If there were any complaints about it, they were completely muffled within their crystalline prison.

As the crowd of people started to walk towards the crystals in growing anger, Link stopped and looked at them. When they all looked at him and were about to demand justice, he simply narrowed his eyes at them and shook his head. "Sir, we'll be contacting the Rune Knights right away." One of the employees said but paused when Link put up a hand.

"May I speak to your manager, please?" He asked and the employee hesitated uncertainly as he looked around before he gulped and nodded his head. As he walked towards him, he paused as he reached into his pouch and pulled out a vial with a blue liquid in it and offered it to a mascot. "Please give this to Erza." He requested and the mascot uncertainly took the vial. He looked at the unconscious redhead and then back at Link before he nodded his head, to which Link offered a small smile and nod of his head in thanks.


"Gray! Natsu! Happy!" Lucy called out as she ran through the casino and after a couple of minutes found herself in front of a destroyed bar counter. "G-Gray!" The blonde gasped before she rushed forward to the unconscious Ice-Make Mage, barely noticing the blue-haired woman a couple of feet away from him. "Gray, are you-!" Lucy cut herself off with a horrified gasp as she touched his shoulder, finding it cold to the touch. "No way... you..." She quivered as tears started to form in her eyes.

"Gray-sama is okay." Juvia said and Lucy jerked over in surprise before she leaned back with s squeak of fear and surprise. "Juvia is not here to hurt you." She said as she got up and a portion of her body parted like water to reveal another Gray.

Lucy's eyes went wide in shock and confusion before she felt the shoulder of the Gray under her start to crack. She immediately jerked back in surprise as she looked back down to see more cracks appear as the color faded from Gray to leave an ice sculpture behind. "A-an ice clone?" The blonde wondered out loud before she looked back at Gray as he coughed up some water. "W-wait... you were... inside?" She asked as a blush started to form on her face while Juvia moved to the side of Gray.

"That's right, Gray-sama was inside Juvia." The Water Mage said with a smug smile as her body reformed and Lucy's blush deepened before she shook her head as Gray got up.

"What *cough* happened?" Gray asked as he shook his head before his eyes snapped up to lock onto Lucy. "Lucy, Erza's being-!"

"Erza's okay, Gray." Lucy cut in reassuringly and Gray blinked before he sighed in relief. "Link took care of those four-"

"Four?!" Gray said in surprise before his eyes narrowed angrily as he caught sight of four blue crystals hanging in the air a good distance away. "Do you mean that Link was just fighting that big guy that jumped us and three other mages?" He asked with a dangerous glint in his eyes and Lucy nodded her head uncertainly.

"You mean you didn't feel it?" The blonde asked but Gray snapped his eyes to Juvia to fix her with a glare.

"What the hell were you thinking with that stunt?!" He demanded angrily and Juvia leaned back as her eyes went wide at his tone. "After I made that Ice Dummy, I was ready to deliver a counter to that bastard's attack!" Gray snapped and Juvia started to blink rapidly as she made a small sound of confusion. "If it wasn't for Link, then who knows might happened." He said before he shook his head in disgust.

"J-Juvia thought-"

"Hey, Gray, give her a break." Lucy said sternly as she got up to glare at the Ice-Make Mage. "It looks like Juvia was only trying to help... for some reason." She said with an uncertain look towards the Water Mage.

"It's okay, she's not here to attack us." Gray said impatiently with a dismissive wave towards Lucy. "You said Link took care of four mages?" He asked and Lucy swallowed her shock at seeing Juvia before she nodded her head. "What about the hothead?" He asked and Lucy blinked before her eyes went wide.

"Right! They said that they took out Natsu as well as you!" Lucy exclaimed before she took off in an effort find Natsu and Happy.

"Wait! Where's Erza?!" Gray extended his hand instinctively as he shouted his question, his pendant shifting with his sudden movement.

"She was unconscious but okay when Link sent me to look for you guys!" She replied without slowing down and his eyes went wide in surprise.

Gray watched Lucy run off for a couple more seconds before he sighed. "Look for the lottery machine!" He advised before he looked over at the crystals he had spotted earlier. "Yep, that's definitely Link's Nayru's Embrace." He said with a shake of his head before he looked over at a still repentant-looking Juvia and offered another sigh. "Look, thanks for trying to protect me, but never, ever, do that again." Gray said and Juvia slowly nodded her head with a look of confusion. "If you want to be a member of Fairy Tail, something you need to understand is that we never hide when our nakama are in trouble." He explained and the Water Mage blinked a couple of times.

"You see your Guildmates as... nakama?" Juvia asked and this time it was Gray that was confused.

"Why wouldn't I?" Gray asked before he turned to walk towards the crystals, leaving a shell-shocked Juvia behind. "Come on, let's go see what the hell this was all about." He said and Juvia jerked before she took off at a light jog to catch up, the Fairy Tail necklace swaying with every step.


Lucy quickly arrived at the lottery machine that Gray told her to look out for to find a group of people already gathering around it. "Excuse me!" The blonde said urgently as she pushed through the dumbfounded crowd until she was at the center, where she immediately froze as her eyes went wide with horror. "N-Natsu..." She said slowly as she saw the unmoving form of the Fire Dragon Slayer, smoke coming up from his mouth. "Natsu!" She screamed after a couple of seconds of stunned silence and ran up to his prone figure to kneel beside him. "Natsu... you're actually okay, right?" The blonde asked as everyone else watched with sad eyes.

When Lucy slowly put her right hand out to touch his shoulder, he suddenly blinked before he violently thrust his body up and let out a loud roar accompanied by a long plume of flame from his mouth; which caused Lucy and everyone else in the area to jump back from him in surprise. "Where is that blocky bastard?!" He demanded angrily as he glared around, causing the civilians to take another step back from the look in his eyes. "Eh?" The Fire Dragon Slayer finally noticed Lucy on her knees with tears forming in her eyes. "Lucy, are you okay?" He asked as he knelt down next to her.

What happened next took Natsu by surprise as Lucy glared up at him as her hands tightened into fists. "You idiots need to stop making me think you've been killed!" She screamed angrily and the pink-haired mage leaned back from her as Lucy pushed her face to within inches from his own. "First Gray and now you, were you just trying to lure your opponent into a counter as well?!" She demanded and Natsu mouth opened as if to answer but Lucy suddenly lunged forward to give him a strong hug. "I'm glad you're okay." The blonde choked out and Natsu hesitated, thrown off by her sudden change from screaming to gratitude at his wellbeing, before he uncertainly returned her hug.

"Of course I'm fine, it would take a lot more than some block-headed bastard to take me out." Natsu said with a nervous grin that quickly became reassuring as he put his hand on her head and Lucy made a small sound that was both sob and laugh. A small cough got their attention and Lucy quickly jerked away as a huge blush formed on her face. The Dragon Slayer blinked at her movement before his eyes widened with a sudden realization and he quickly grabbed her arms, completely ignoring the crowd of people around them. "The rest of you were attacked?!" Natsu demanded and Lucy flinched at his sudden yell before she processed his question.

"That's right." The blonde confirmed with a nod of her head. "It looks like they were old nakama of Erza, but they knocked her out and-"

"WHAT?!" Natsu demanded as his eyes widened in shock.

"But it's okay, Link showed up and took care of them." Lucy continued with a comforting smile and Natsu's right eye twitched as a vein started to pulse on his forehead.

"Link... took care of someone that knocked me out... and you said Gray was knocked out as well?" He asked and Lucy paused before she uncertainly shook her head.

"Actually he had set a big guy up for a counter but J... someone interfered and it only looked that way." She said and the vein on Natsu's forehead started to pulse faster. "There... ah... were four in total, but like I said Link took care of them." Lucy said as she started to lean away while Natsu's face started to turn red and looked around quickly. "Wait a minute! Where's Happy?" She asked and Natsu blinked before his eyes went wide.

"HAPPY!" Natsu roared as he pushed himself to his feet and looked around frantically. "Happy, where are you?!" He yelled as he looked around desperately as his hands clenched into fists before he stopped to look down at Lucy. "Do you know where that block bastard is?" He demanded and Lucy nodded her head.

"Yeah, but- oh, no!" The blonde yelled as she shot to her feet as well. "This way!" She said before she took off with Natsu right behind her.

Lucy quickly led Natsu to the four entrapped mages, though all he saw was what appeared to be four solid crystals. Is that Nayru's Embrace? He wondered before his eyes narrowed angrily and he quickly blew past Lucy to get to the four crystals, where he saw Gray and a pale woman dressed in blue with blue hair. She seemed vaguely familiar to the Dragon Slayer, but his mind was too focused to try and make a connection. "Which one of these is the block bastard?!" He demanded angrily and Gray crossed his arms over his chest with an irritable expression.

"Why the hell should I answer that?" Gray demanded in return and Natsu grit his teeth before he opened his mouth to utter a scathing reply when Lucy came up.

"Gray, I think one of them did something with Happy!" She got out and Gray's eyes widened as his arms went back to his sides. "Natsu, I'm pretty sure that one has Wally." Lucy said and Natsu looked back at her questioningly. "The block guy." She explained and flames immediately surrounded the Dragon Slayer's hands.

"What the hell are you planning, you idiot?" Gray demanded as he got between Natsu and the crystal. "You know you've got no chance of getting through this. Just wait for Link to get back and we'll find out what happened to Happy." He said and Natsu's face tightened in a mixture of frustration and anger before he looked to the side with a quick sound of annoyance.

Lucy gave a small sigh of relief as the flames around Natsu's hands died down before she stepped forward to put a comforting hand on his left shoulder. "Don't worry, these guys are too intimidated by Link to try and hide anything." She said and though Natsu's right eye twitched at that, he nodded his head in acceptance of her words.

"Attention ladies and gentlemen! This is the Akane Resort's manager with an announcement!" A loud voice suddenly filled the entire casino, causing everyone to look up either in confusion or curiosity. "Due to the unseemly circumstances everyone experienced tonight, you shall be refunded one day's cost back to your accounts!" The voice said and nearly everyone's eyes bugled in shock.

"WWHHHAAAAAAAA?!" The casino erupted with dozens of people shouting out their shock, even the still on-edge mages looked surprised by the announcement, before they exchanged laughs of excitement and rushed around to resume their gambling fun. As the crowd around them quickly dispersed, the four mages stayed around the crystals. While they waited, Lucy went to check up on Erza and see if she was starting to come around.

A couple of minutes later Gray spotted Link walking towards them and sighed. "About time you- urk!" He started to comment before he froze at the look in Link's eyes. Even Natsu, who had been about to demand that Link release Wally to question him about Happy, froze at the intensity in Link's eyes. However angry he might have been about the ambush before, it seemed that time had only made him angrier rather than allow him to calm down again.

Link stopped once he reached them and looked at each of them before his gaze stopped on Natsu. "Where's Happy?" He asked and Natsu blinked before his eyes narrowed in anger again.

"I think the block bastard did something to him and I-!" The Dragon Slayer was cut off as one of the crystals disappeared to release Wally. The angular gunslinger looked around in confusion at his sudden release before he spotted Natsu, at which his eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hair as his eyes went wide behind his sunglasses.

"N-no way... you're-"

"Where's Happy?!" Natsu demanded as he launched forward to grab Wally's collar and pull him in to within inches of his enraged eyes. "I know you did something to him you bastard, now where is he?!" He roared and Wally looked past him to Gray, where he got another dose of shock to see him alive as well, to Link, where he immediately went pale.

"H-he's right here." Wally said said as he brought his right hand up and the air above it shimmered before an unconscious Happy appeared in his palm.

The instant he appeared, Natsu immediately let go of the gunslinger and scooped the blue cat into his arms. His glare quickly returned to Wally, though, as a small plume of flame escaped from his clenched teeth and the block. "What did you do to him?" Natsu growled angrily but paused for a second as Link put a hand on his right shoulder. The instant Natsu glanced back at him, Wally was once again surrounded by the solid Nayru's Love and Link immediately turned around to go pick up Erza. "Hey-!"

"To my room." The blonde cut Natsu off as he carefully scooped the unconscious redhead into his arms and walked off without another word, the four crystals floating behind him as he left the casino.


Sho - Inside Nayru's Embrace

The blonde Card Mage looked around his crystalline prison as sweat dripped from his face before he grit his teeth and summoned a card to each hand. "Let! Me! Out!" He yelled as he slashed at the blue wall for four minutes before he stopped with a loud gasp. Despair reflected in his eyes as he saw his attacks didn't even leave a scratch on its surface, despite having done this off and on for almost half an hour. How long am I going to be kept in here? Sho wondered as the cards disappeared in a flash of light. I can't reach the others either... just what the hell is this crystal? He wondered before a flash of a man with blue hair, brown eyes, and a red tattoo on the right side of his face going above and under his eye. Damnit... at this rate we'll never see our true freedom! The blonde thought before he started slamming his fists against the crystal wall. "Let me out, damn Iiii-!" He extended the i's as Nayru's Love suddenly disappeared, causing him to stumble forward and fall flat on his face.

"Sho, are you okay?" He heard Simon say and he looked up to see the gigantic man kneeling next to him. Sho nodded before he noticed that Wally and Milliana were free as well, but their eyes were locked forward and their faces tense. "What do you want with us?" Simon asked as he stood back up and changed his gaze in the same direction and the blonde lurched back when he saw Link standing there with his arms crossed. He was dimly aware that the Maharathi was now in his usual green tunic ensemble, but his fear at seeing him so suddenly overrode that fact; a fear that quickly changed to shock when he saw Fairy Tail's Fire Dragon Slayer and Ice-Make Mage still alive and well.

Erza, awake and now in her steel breastplate and blue mini-skirt, stepped forward from behind Link and put a hand on his shoulder before she stepped past him to stand in front of Simon, Milliana, Wally, and Sho. "I asked Link to release you all." The redhead said as she regarded them with sad eyes. "I wanted to talk with all of you... I have so many questions." Erza's voice started to crack with repressed grief while her left eye started to glisten with tears. "How have you been?" She asked, to which Wally, Milliana, and Sho looked at her in surprise.

"Wh... why do you care?" Sho demanded as he slowly stood up. "After what you did, after your betrayal, why would you care?!" He shouted angrily as he took a step towards her and Erza looked down at the ground.

"What did you say?" Natsu growled angrily as he took a step towards them with his hands clenched into fists.

"You've got some nerve accusing someone of betrayal after the stunt you four pulled." Gray said coldly as his arms crossed his chest. "You're lucky Lucy told Link that you and Erza were nakama or else-"

"Sho's telling the truth." Erza cut in softly and Lucy, Natsu, Gray, Happy, and Juvia looked at her in varying degrees of surprise. Link simply put his left hand on Erza's right shoulder and, after a few seconds, she looked up to see him not disbelief on his face, but rather curiosity at her words. "It's..." The redhead trailed off before she sighed and nodded her head slowly. "Yes... since all of you were drawn in by them, there's no avoiding it." She said and offered up a weak smile when she felt Link's grip tighten on her armored shoulder. When she looked forward again, her smile disappeared at the look on Sho's, Wally's, and Milliana's faces. The look of someone who's anger at someone was about to be fully justified, a feeling which she honestly had no defense against.

After all, she had betrayed them long ago.

"This story takes place over eight years ago... before I had ever even heard of Fairy Tail." Erza said as she brought one hand up to wipe her eye. "Back then, I was together with Sho, Milliana, Wally, and Simon... together as slaves." She said and this time even Link looked at her in surprise as her eyes gained a distant expression while she looked back to that time. "A cult had attacked each one of our villages, as well as many others, to gather a slave workforce to build a tower. It was a time that wore us all down... made us lose hope..." Erza said before a small smile came to her. "Everyone except for one person... a boy our own age that never gave in to despair and helped keep our own hopes up; Jellal." Link's ears flicked in surprise at the name but stayed silent. "In his eyes always shone a fiery spirit and desire for justice... a light so strong that I have only seen it in one other person." At that she paused for a moment before she shook her head to clear her thoughts; although Sho, Milliana, and Wally exchanged surprised expressions.

Gray caught on to her meaning almost instantly and he blinked in surprise. "You're saying this Jellal could be as stubborn about that as Link?" The Ice-Make Mage asked in mild disbelief, and his question caused the other Fairy Tail mages to look at first him then Erzain surprise.

Erza remained motionless for a few moments before she slowly nodded her head, which immediately got a shocked reaction from everyone but Simon and Link. "However, that changed one day after an escape attempt we made." She said and at that Sho finally showed neither anger nor arrogant glee, but he finally looked to the side and a flash of shame crossed his face.


Unfinished Tower of the Cult of Zeref - Over Eight Years Ago

"Faster, you dogs!" A loud, angry voice rang out from a tall man in a loose, blue body-suit, a maroon jacket with gray lining and tied with a yellow sash, and a white mask that covered the top half of his face with a dragon figure drawn in the center. "I said faster!" He roared from on top of a raised platform as he lashed out with a whip, drawing a cry of pain.

Below him, dozens of people dressed in rags slaved away as they dragged huge stone blocks across the floor. The people were old, middle-aged, and young, both male and female, and all of them looked equally undernourished as well as overworked as they struggled with all their might to continue moving about their assigned tasks. It hardly mattered, as the taskmaster on the platform continued to whip any of them with impunity, not even caring whether they were actually slowing down or not. Cries of pain echoed throughout the site, a construction site that appeared to be for a large building, as the ground was scattered with a mixture of sweat, blood, and tears that the dry stone hungrily soaked up.

At an unsupervised portion of the site, a rarity as there was normally three guards every ten feet, five young kids gathered around a small hole in a lower portion of the foundation, four boys and two girls. The smallest of the boys, a young Sho, knelt in front of the hole, which actually led to a tunnel to the outside, and looked back at the others. One of the girls was Erza with her distinctive red hair and the other had short brown hair and a cat-like nose, a younger Milliana. Two of the boys shared dark hair, one black and the other brown, as well as a slender build that seemed to arise more from malnutrition than anything else. The hair on the brunette was short with some bangs, while the other boy's black was so wild it almost seemed to be trying to escape from him. "Come on, you guys, let's go for it." Sho urged the others, but the two boys and girls looked at each other uncertainly.

"I-I don't know, Sho." Erza stammered nervously as she looked around. "What if we're caught?" She asked with a gulp and the other three looked at each in shared uncertainty. At her words even Sho started to look nervous, for he knew what kinds of horrendous punishments awaited them if they were caught.

"Don't worry, there's nothing to be afraid of." The fourth boy said with a confidence that made the others look at him. "We have to take this chance, and with it gain our freedom." He said quietly but fervently as he brought his right fist up and Erza's face went bright red at the force of his personality while the others grew calm at his words. "Our future, our aspirations... we'll get them all back, starting now." He finished with a gleam in his brown eyes that drew smiles from the others and wide-eyed amazement from Erza.

"Y-You're right, Jellal." She said as she smiled at the blue-haired boy with the red tattoo over the right side of his face, who smiled back and extended his right hand towards her.

"Let's go, Erza." Jellal said and she slowly extended her hand out before she firmly grasped his with a sound of agreement.

"Hold it right there!" A loud voice suddenly commanded and fear returned to their eyes as they quickly looked to see a group of the cultists glaring down at them, at least they assumed they were due to the masks they all wore. "Just what do you think you're doing?!" The fattest of the cultists demanded angrily as he and his armed guards walked down towards them. "What's this?!" He yelled when he saw the hole in the foundation as his guards surrounded the children. "Trying to escape?" He snarled as he turned back towards them and brought up his staff in his right hand to tap against his left hand. "We grant you the honor of being part of Zeref-sama's return, and you repay us by trying to run away?!" He shouted as his grip tightened on his staff until his knuckles turned white and the children cowered before his rage. After several seconds he calmed down and started to tap the staff against his hand again. "But I'm in a merciful mood, if you will tell me who instigated this then the rest of you will not go to the Punishment Room." He said and fear flashed in all their eyes, but no more than young Sho.

Erza sent a quick glance over at him to see the blonde in tears as his entire body quivered in terror, and she swallowed nervously as she looked back down at the ground. One small hand slowly started to come up as her whole body started to shake as well. "I..."

"It was my idea." Jellal said firmly as he took a step forward, his eyes steady while he looked at the slaver. The slavers, as well as his friends, all looked at him in surprise at his nerve.

The fat cultist, however, didn't like the steel in his eyes and looked over at Erza and the fear she had and gave an evil grin. "I don't believe you." He said and Jellal blinked in surprise. "It was really this one, wasn't it?" He asked as he grabbed Erza by her arm and pulled her up.

"No!" Jellal exploded as he rushed forward, only to be blocked by two cultists as the fat one gave a malicious laugh and threw Erza over his shoulder. "I said it was me!" He yelled desperately as Sho's eyes filled with fear and shame. "Stop!" The blue-haired youth screamed as all the cultists laughed.

"It's okay, Jellal." Erza said quietly and his brown eyes, as well as the eyes of her friends, went wide at words. "It... It's like you said, there's nothing to be afraid of." She said in a wavering voice as she gave a weak grin.

"Erza!" Jellal screamed as his eyes began to fill with fire.

Punishment Room

Inside a large room, the fat cultist stood with another slaver in front of a tall post. "I hope you know who is truly to blame for this." He said with a malicious smile as he looked down at a restrained and bloodied Erza. "If you and your friends would just learn your place, then we wouldn't have to do such things-" "GRAAAGH!" A sudden yell of pain from outside cut the cultist off and caused both of them turn to look before the door burst open to reveal Jellal, wielding a broadsword as big as him. "Why you little -!"

"AAHHHH!" Jellal screamed as he rushed in and slashed at the two cultists. The two of them collapsed with yells of pain but Jellal paid them no more attention as he immediately dropped the sword and rushed to the restrained redhead. "Erza!" He exclaimed as he removed her bonds. "Are you okay?" The blue-haired youth asked as he removed the last knot. Jellal quickly moved to catch her as she immediately started to drop and narrowly got her in time. "Erza?" He asked as he moved her hair then froze as a look of fearful concern came to his face when he saw what had been done to her. "Why?" He asked brokenly as tears came to his eyes. "What the hell is wrong with this world?" He screamed angrily to the heavens.

Erza stirred at his scream and slowly opened one eye. "J... Jellal?" She asked weakly and he immediately looked back down at her and a relieved smile broke out. "What are you... doing here?" She asked and Jellal's eyes firmed as a fire glowed in their depths.

"I'm freeing you." He stated and a confused look came to her eyes. "Erza, there's no going back; it's time to take back our dreams." He said warmly as he looked down at her.

"H-how?" Erza asked weakly, unsure of how such a goal could be reached but his confidence never wavered.

"We have to fight." Jellal said and Erza felt herself being caught up in the flames in his eyes.

"You brat!" A downward strike from a steel rod accompanied the yell of anger from another cultist and drove Jellal to the ground. "Look at what you did!" He yelled as more cultists filed in behind him and they all rained blows down on him. "Death won't be enough for him!" Another cultist yelled as he moved forward to stop their attacks. "Get this other brat out of here, we'll make an example of him." He said and everyone nodded their heads in agreement.


Present Day

Erza paused in her story, caught up in the emotions of her past, while Gray, Natsu, Lucy, and Happy looked at her in horror. Link's left hand and his ears twitched erratically as he looked down at the ground, his blue eyes holding a mix of fury and sadness at her words. Wally, Sho, Simon, and Milliana all looked down the ground as they also relived their past. "A young boy faced with the evils of the world stood up to protect those important to him." Link suddenly said quietly and everyone looked over at him to see his eyes now held a distant expression. "He found that his strength wasn't enough and was beaten down... this is when something in Jellal broke and changed." He said as a flash of pain crossed his face before he looked up at Erza. "Am I right?" He asked and Erza slowly nodded her head.

"After that, we rose up in revolt in order to save him and gain our freedom." She said before she paused as Simon knocked on his crystalline prison.

"What she means is, Erza led all of those enslaved in the revolt." Simon said, which had Gray, Natsu, Lucy, and Happy look at Erza with wide eyes.


Tower of Paradise Cell

Simon, Sho, Milliana, Wally, and the adults of their cell, including an old former mage named Rob, all looked over as Erza slowly walked into the open door of their cell. "Nee-san, you're back!" Sho shouted happily as he rushed forward to grab her hands before he froze when he saw the patch over her left eye. "Erza-nee-san..." He said as he slowly walked back as tears formed in his eyes.

"Where's Jellal?" Simon asked as he slowly stood up against the aches of the day.

"He said he was going to free you." Wally put in, though he kept his gaze down in shame for not going along as well.

Erza remained silent, though, her hair shading her face as she continued to look down at the ground lifelessly. "Erza just got out from the Punishment Room, let her be for now." Rob said gently with a kind smile.

"Jellal was taken, wasn't he?" Wally asked and tears started to stream down Sho's face while Milliana's eyes went wide.

"Erza, where's Jellal?" Simon asked more forcefully as Sho started to cry, which had Erza cover her ears with her hands.

"I don't wanna be here!" Sho screamed as he dropped to his knees, his tears falling like miniature waterfalls down his face.

"Our future." Jellal's words suddenly started to echo through Erza's head as her face started to twitch.

"I wanna go home!" He cried as Rob moved to give him a comforting hug while Milliana started to cry.

"Our aspirations." His words continued to echo in her mind as her entire body started to tremble.

"Hey, you brats be quiet!" Two cultists yelled in annoyance at the racket.

"It's time to take back our dream." How? Erza asked silently as she felt a tremendous pressure building within her chest, a pressure that had been building since she had started her walk back from the Punishment Room. "We have to fight!"

"Graaagh!" The two cultists suddenly screamed in pain, and everyone in the cell looked up in shock to see Erza standing there with a sword and shield in her hands.

"Everyone, we have to fight!" The redhead declared to their unbelieving stares. "For our dreams, our hopes, and our freedom!" She said with such force and determination that they found themselves rising up. "Rise up and take back our lives!" She screamed and was met with yells of determination from her fellow slaves.

The revolt for their freedom had begun.


More Than Meets the Eye

It was the peak of the warmest season in Fiore and that meant extremely hot sunny days, sweltering humid weather, and unbearable heat waves. It was the perfect temperature for many summer-loving folk, and there were many in town, but not for Gray Fullbuster who was just dying in the awful heat.

When it was scorching hot, one dumb, obnoxious Fire Dragon Slayer was often more dumb and obnoxious than usual that it greatly pissed Gray off.

The pair got into another brutal argument where childish insults were violently exchanged along with ice hammers and fiery punches. It got so bad that Gray had stormed out of the guild, not caring about the trip to the beach that Cana and Erza wanted him to come along. If that stupid flame-brain was going, then Gray wasn't going.

Riled and downright angry, the Ice-Make mage decided to leave town so the others couldn't find him and drag him with them on their trip. Plus, the town felt like a boiling volcano to Gray. He had to escape the unbearable heat somehow and decided to take refuge in East Forest.

Trees taller than the tallest buildings in Magnolia guarded the lush, ancient forest. Their large, knotty roots covered nearly every patch of earth on the forest floor and some had massive trunks that were as thick as five full-grown men standing side-by-side. Branches stretched high and far, seemingly entwined around one another like wooden fingers within the tall canopy, their many green leaves filtering the light of the sun. Beneath the guardians were all sorts of fungi and plant-life, ranging from tiny, colourful toadstools hidden under every dark, moist crevasse between the cracks of wood or rock to large leafy shrubs covered in sweet-smelling blooms that brightened the shade.

It was cool, damp and quiet within the grand forest; a pleasant change from the sun-baked city of Magnolia Town. Rarely did Gray ever wander through East Forest since it was rather far and it was easy to get lost deep within. And not to mention there was a cranky, human-hating old hermit-witch who lived somewhere inside along with a bunch of dangerous, ferocious animals and monsters. The boy made sure to be careful to avoid running into any of them.

As Gray ventured the forest, he was in awe at the natural beauty all around him for he had never truly taken the time to admire the world beyond the gates of Magnolia. Nature was so serene, vibrant, and colourful. It was no wonder some of his guild members chose to live far out in the forest and not in the bustling town made mostly of stone, metal, and wood.

Speaking of which, Gray was certain Link's new home was somewhere within East Forest from what Erza had told him. The ice mage had yet to visit the newest guild member's house so he wondered if he could find it just out of curiosity. Since the day was far from over and still broiling hot beyond the boundary of the protective woods, Gray decided to spend the time to search for the blond warrior's home.

The dark-haired boy clambered over giant roots that snaked along the earth, climbed over rocky ridges overgrown with ivy, balanced on fallen, rotting logs, and stopped by a small, clear stream to take a cool refreshing drink. For an hour more, Gray explored the vast forest, discovering many little fascinating things he had never noticed before.

He quickly forgot his previous objective until he stumbled across something that looked out of the ordinary. It was a huge, full-grown tree that had toppled over, but it hadn't fallen on its own; its thick, sturdy trunk was split apart as if something big and strong had smashed through it with ease. And it wasn't just the one tree, there were many more, each one just as broken, creating a trail of devastation that led somewhere deeper into the forest.

The damage appeared to be recent, judging by the fresh splinters of wood littering the disturbed soil. Yellow sunlight poured through the large gaps where the forest's guardians once stood, brightening the area. Gray warily scanned left and right for any sign of the powerful creature that could have done the deed, but fortunately found nothing lurking within the vicinity. He moved in to inspect the shattered trunk of the nearest tree only to pause when he noticed the many shallow holes in the torn dirt, each one as wide as he was tall. They were footprints and they belonged to a giant, hoofed beast that, without a doubt, had likely rampaged through the woods not too long ago.

Gray was curious but also a little hesitant to find out what sort of monster was capable of knocking down the big trees with ease. He looked around one last time before deciding that it was better to avoid running into the powerful creature than risk getting killed by it.

He left the light of the sun and reentered the cool shadows only to jump almost a meter off the ground when he suddenly noticed someone standing idly by the trunk of the nearest tree, watching him.

"Holy hell! Don't sneak up on me like that!" the ice mage shrieked shortly after recognizing the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy dressed in green.

Casually leaning his shielded back against the trunk, Link cocked his head slightly and blinked. "I did nothing of the sort. I was here shortly before you arrived," the older boy replied nonchalantly, calmly folding his arms. Before Gray could demand why Link simply stood quietly aside, the swordsman asked first; "Are you lost, Gray?"

The younger mage crossed his arms arrogantly and huffed, "No! I'm not lost!"

"Then why are you all the way out here? And…" Link's blue eyes flickered over Gray before he raised a blond eyebrow at him, "why are you naked?"

"What? I'm not nak–" The ice mage cut himself short with a sharp gasp when he glanced down at his body because, lo and behold, he was as naked as the day he was born. Gray quickly scanned the surrounding area for his clothes that he had subconsciously discarded; an inconvenient (and expensive) habit he had developed during his harsh and sometimes brutal training with his late Master Ur. He found nothing that resembled his clothes, not even his favourite boxers. He had unknowingly lost each article of clothing while he was wandering through the forest without a care. Or did he strip back in town where it was hottest?

And just how did he not notice that he was walking around in mud and dirt barefooted?

Embarrassed and red-faced, Gray abruptly turned his backside to Link and said haughtily; "I-It's hot out, okay?!"

He heard Link smirk in amusement at his excuse. "True. It is another hot day," the older boy agreed. "Still doesn't explain why you chose to frolic out here… without clothes." He added the last part under his breath. "Shouldn't you be at the beach with everyone?"

Pouting, Gray glanced over his bare shoulder to peer at the blond-haired swordsman in annoyance. "I didn't feel like going."

The swordsman wore a knowing smile, but didn't say anything.

Judging by that look, Link somehow knew Gray's true reason and it annoyed the younger boy even more. "Why're you here?" the Ice-Make mage shot back irritably.

Since the day Link had spontaneously appeared out of thin air at Fairy Tail a couple months ago, Erza and Link had become inseparable partners and rarely left each other's sides. Erza had gone to the beach with stupid Natsu and some others from the guild so it was a little odd to see Link not with them knowing Erza would have loved to take the blond with her.

Link raised a questioning brow. "Have you forgotten? I kind of live here now given the circumstances. And I have something I need to attend to at the moment."

"Like what?"

The boy in green glanced towards the destruction lying ahead of them, his young face turning grim. For one brief moment, he looked older than what he appeared to be, with his hardened blue eyes set on an unspoken goal. Bold, fierce, determined; there was something he sought to do. However, when he blinked and met Gray's stare, his ambition was gone as quick as a fleeting memory. He lightly shook his head, making the end of his green hat sway behind his head.

"It is nothing you need to concern yourself with, Gray," Link murmured quietly with a kind smile.

Gray furrowed his brow slightly, quick to assume that Link was troubled by the sight before them. He wanted to inquire more about it, but the older boy once again beat him in asking;

"Do you know your way back to town?"

"Of course, I do! It's…" Gray looked around the area again, trying to recall which direction he previously came from. It was opposite of the fallen trees, that was all he knew. With no landmarks to go by, he made a wild guess and pointed in a random direction. "That… way?"

Again, Link soundly smirked, making the younger boy deepen his pout. "If you keep going that way, you'll end up in a swamp," the swordsman replied with a short chuckle. Ignoring the ice mage's fuming glare, the swordsman pushed off the tree and motioned for the smaller one to follow him with a little nod of his head before making his way through the forest.

Gray was indignant at the other for being treated like a dumb, lost kid. Nonetheless, Gray really was lost and it was something he hated to admit. Left with no choice, (and not wanting to forever trudge through the vast woods in the nude), the dark-haired boy cast away his stubbornness and ran to catch up with the warrior.

Gray stayed a few steps behind the older guild member, still feeling abashed by his peculiar situation. He noticed that Link didn't openly mock or poke fun at the ice-user's strange habit unlike some of the others in Fairy Tail. In fact, Link had never brought up the issue in spite of still being fairly new to the guild. He was quick to adapt to the customs of Fiore and it seemed like he understood most of Fairy Tail's quirks in a short amount of time.

Gray's scowl faded away when he realized that the older boy was lending him a hand even though he didn't ask for it. Link was a kind person – something Gray had not truly known since he rarely hung around the swordsman. At the guild, the blond warrior was often quiet and reserved and spoke only when something important needed to be said. He was mature for his young age. Being only two years older than Gray and Natsu, he never engaged in the same antics or foolhardiness as the two younger boys.

It made him a dull, boring person in Gray's opinion, but that would soon change.

The Ice-Make mage tried to keep in pace with the other, but Link was an expert at maneuvering through the woods, moving with a certain prowess and grace as if the forest was his entire backyard (and it literally was). However, when he sensed Gray falling behind, Link would patiently wait for the younger boy to catch up without complaint.

Winding around the trunks of giant trees, hopping over and crawling beneath the wild tangle of roots, squeezing through dense shrubbery and plant life, and clambering up rocky slopes, Gray kept his sight on the colourful shield strapped to Link's back throughout the seemingly long journey.

The ice mage silently marveled at the design of the shield. He had overheard Link call it a Hylian Shield some time ago. Made of shiny, silvery steel, the edge-shaped shield was almost as big as its user. It looked heavy too, making Gray wonder how the blond warrior could carry it with ease. Painted on the surface was a stylish red bird with its large, majestic wings spread out in flight and above its head were three golden triangles in unity. The design was unfamiliar and mysterious.

There was very little Gray knew about Link, aside from being a quiet, strong warrior whose skill with the blade was on par with Erza's. The swordsman was never one to talk about his past or explain how and why he had sudden appeared in Fairy Tail, injured and bleeding, whenever others had confronted him out of curiosity. Gray was as curious as everyone else, however he never dared to ask.

Everyone had their own secrets; even Gray for the past was sometimes better left untold so it could fade away and become a forgotten memory.

Whatever happened before his arrival was Link's own secret that only he could ever be willing to share. Understanding this, Gray had always left the older boy alone on the subject.

For what felt like another hour to Gray, the pair travelled in silence, enjoying the sounds of the forest. The Ice-Make mage, having forgotten to pack some snacks and a water bottle during his grumpy phase back in town, (not that it mattered since he lost everything anyway), had grown hungry and exhausted. Out of breath, he slumped against a raised, rough and knobby root only to have a clear, glass bottle full of water thrust into his face shortly after.

He wordlessly took the offered item and gave Link a small thankful smile.

Before Gray could uncork the bottle, the swordsman suddenly motioned for him to be quiet. Fully alert, Link turned his head to the side, his sharp blue eyes narrowing at something in the distance that he had sensed with his acute hearing. Twisting on his heel, his hands moved quickly, drawing out a small, wooden bow in his left, gloved hand and an arrow in his right. Nocked and ready, he aimed the iron point and waited for the unseen target to come into view.

Gray gripped the water bottle tightly and held his breath in anticipation, staring intently at where Link was aiming. He saw nothing at first, but not before long, he noticed movement in the far distance where a line of thick shrubs grew.

The leaves of plants rustled and branches of shrubs noisily snapped in half when a large and tall, dark green-furred, four-legged, two-toed beast the size of an average carriage broke through. It was a brontodeer, a harmless giant herbivore native to East Forest. It had a meter long, white-spotted neck, four stubby, rounded horns of gold atop its deer-like head and a long hairy tail that swept along the ground, picking up all sorts of debris. It was a female and she had two young ones trotting behind her, each one a miniature version of their mother.

Link withdrew his arrow, his hardened expression replaced with fondness. With a small smile, he observed the brontodeer family as they continued on, oblivious to the pair of humans watching from afar. Once they were out of sight, Link wordlessly resumed his pace with Gray in tow.

As Link replaced his arrow within the quiver on his back, Gray took a sip of water and said, "I didn't know you could use a bow." Often, it was a sword and shield in the young warrior's hands whenever the ice mage had a chance to watch the other spar with Erza.

Link was a talented swordsman for his age. Was he a talented marksman too? Gray wondered.

Wanting to find out, the dark-haired boy pointed at a distinct white-barked tree growing on a rocky ridge a fair distance away. "Can you hit that tree over there from here? That white one?"

Link glanced over his shoulder and after seeing the eagerness on the other's face, he smirked. He stopped with an arrow back in his right hand. Drawing a slow, deep breath, the swordsman pulled the bowstring taut and aimed at the pale target. It wasn't a clear, easy shot with low hanging branches in the way. Nevertheless, Link released his arrow and the string snapped with a sharp twang. The projectile hissed through the air, narrowly missing all the obstacles, before soundly piercing the wood of the wanted tree with a resounding thud that made the leaves quiver. "Looks like I can," the older mage answered.

Gray couldn't hide his awe. "Can you… Can you teach me how to do that?" The Ice-Make mage was already familiar with using swords, shields, lances, and hammers. Adding the bow to his arsenal would be so awesome as well as handy.

The older one glanced at him curiously.

"I mean, do you have the time? If you're busy with that monster that wrecked the trees back there, I can… probably help you with that," Gray added the last part meekly.

Blue eyes narrowed at that. Link shook his head. "It's far too dangerous."

"But weren't you planning to hunt it down?"

"Yes. Alone."

Gray furrowed his brow angrily and crossed his arms with Link's water bottle still in his hand. "You shouldn't worry about me getting hurt. I'm a mage of Fairy Tail. I can handle any kind of danger." And I've been a member longer than you, the ice-user wanted to add to his retort, but thought otherwise for Link had proven he was more than worthy to be in the famous guild of Fiore.

Link's smirk returned. "I do not doubt your abilities, Gray. I don't want to burden you with a problem that is my own."

Gray's frown lessened. "We're in the same guild. One member's problem is everyone's problem. It's what Cana always tells me."

"So I've heard." Link lightly chuckled as he turned and started to walk in the same direction they've been heading. "The damage you saw was done a few days ago while I was away on a job. I discovered it last night. The monster has probably left this forest since then so there is no point in going after a cold trail." When Gray caught in step beside him, he offered his bow. "If you want to learn, then I'm willing to teach you."

The younger boy grinned and exchanged the water bottle for the weapon. He studied the short bow closely. It was lightweight, small enough for Gray to use without too much difficulty, and made of wood that was polished smooth and glossy. Blue painted rims bordered the grip while the tips of the limbs were a vibrant red. Overall, it was a simple bow with nothing too special about it.

Gray handed it back to Link who raised a questioning eyebrow. Gray's right hand was aglow with magic before Link could say a word. With a clear image in his mind, the Ice-Make mage molded the glowing, icy blue energy in his hand into the form he desired in a blink of an eye. "Ice-Make Bow," he said as his magic burst with a white flash of light. In his grip was an identical copy of the swordsman's bow in ice form. However, since thin ice was fragile and inflexible, he used his own magical energy threaded around the ends of the limbs to act as a bowstring.

There was a hint of admiration in the older boy's gaze as he eyed the frozen creation that steamed in the heat. "Impressive," he praised the ice-user. "What of arrows?"

"I can make them too," Gray boasted with a proud grin. Needing only one hand for a simple task, the younger boy molded a long shafted arrow that was as clear as glass and with a point that was as sharp as its iron counterpart.

Link smiled. "Once we reach my home, I'll show you how to use it."

"Why not here?"

The blond's smile turned into an amusing one. "You're naked, Gray."

The ice mage looked to the side, embarrassed once again for he had forgotten his current lack of clothes. "Oh… right."

It took another half hour before the pair reached the secluded cabin that was Link's new home. At first, Gray didn't see anything but a wooden ladder until he craned his head upwards, following its entire length to find it connected to the front porch of a cabin that was built atop the broad, sturdy arms of a mighty oak. It was mostly constructed out of light-brown planks of wood while the sloped roof was a darker shade that bore faint runes that Gray could barely make out. There was one square, glass-paned window on the front and another on the side that the ice mage could only see.

Link climbed up the ladder with the younger boy right behind. Once Gray was at the top, he glanced behind him, his breath taken away by the thirty-foot drop. It was quite a view too, being able to peer between the trees at a greater height where the sun's rays lightly touched upon his face. He heard the click of a turned knob.

"Come on in," said the green-clad swordsman as he opened the plain wooden door of his cabin.

The moment Gray stepped foot inside, he was greeted with the smell of fresh wood and earth. He looked around, finding himself standing within what appeared to be the main living room. There was not much in furnishings or decorations, but that was to be expected since the cabin was still fairly new and Link hadn't been around for too long. The walls and floor were bare and the windows could be covered by purple curtain. A pair of blue-cushioned chairs sat in the centre of the room on either side of a rounded table, each piece made of the same red wood with their legs elegantly carved to depict living, climbing ivy.

To the left was a tall wooden bookshelf with more empty space than books on its ledges and at the back was a long counter with a set of glassware, chemical apparatuses, tools, ceramic jars, glass bottles, various plant material, and all sorts of strange ingredients. To the right were two doors and Link gestured for the younger boy to follow him through one.

It was Link's bedroom, made obvious by the large, unmade bed and the collection of trinkets and odd objects on the nightstand table that held a small Lacrima lamp. Fluttering slowly around the yellow light-emitting crystal were two glowbugs, which was a rare sight given that these particular insects mainly thrived in towns and cities. There was a little décor hung on the wall beside the one window in the room; a small shield of wood with a bright red symbol painted on its rough surface and a small sword in a blue sheath. They were simple, child-sized weapons, but Gray had a feeling they bore some sort of importance to Link.

There was another door and a closet which Link chose to open first. He briefly rummaged through an assortment of clothes hanging inside, some similar to the green tunic and hat he wore, before finding what he was looking for. "Erza bought me these a little while ago when I was starting to settle in. In truth, they are not to my liking, but keep that a secret between you and me," he said, pulling out a light blue T-shirt with an image of a cutesy smiling white rabbit face on the front. It came with a pair of matching black shorts that also bore the bunny face on one of the legs.

"I can see why…" said Gray, grimacing at the awful design that only girls could ever love.

"'Cute', she calls them. I do not wear cute. I will lend you these to wear."

"What? Serious? I'm not wearing that!"

Link pulled out another horrible T-shirt-and-shorts combo, this one orange and white with happy yellow ducklings. "Would you prefer this?"

"Err…" Gray bared his teeth in dread. He had to remember that the older boy was willing to help him out and teach him archery even though there could be more important matters to tend to. (And it didn't seem like Link was going to part with any of his tunics.) The dark-haired mage mentally groaned and selected what he considered to be the least humiliating set.

After slipping the shirt and shorts that were a little too big for his size and freshening up in the bathroom that was on the other side of the other door, Gray met with Link outside on the porch. Gray was a little grumpy, not liking the fact that he had a smiling bunny on his chest.

Link was seated on the porch's rail with his legs dangling precariously over the edge, gazing out at the forest before them as if lost in thought. He didn't acknowledge Gray's presence.

Sighing, Gray joined the other by the rail, folding his arms and leaning over it instead. "Why did you pick this place for your house?" he wondered out loud after a moment of silence passed between them.

The other said nothing as he continued to stare longingly at something that he could only see. Gray decided to follow the swordsman's gaze, only to find nothing but nature.

"Being out here… It helps me think," Link began quietly, "It helps me cope… with what I have now." He gave the ice mage a sideways glance, his lips twitching into a slightly amused smile at Gray's new attire. "Shall we begin? Meet you at the bottom." With that, he pushed off the rail, fell thirty feet towards a dirt ground, and rolled into his landing. It was all done in one smooth flawless motion that sparked a little envy from Gray.

Showoff, the Ice-Make mage wanted to say but didn't want to be overheard. He quickly and carefully slid down the ladder.

From there, Link went straight to demonstrating the proper use of the bow; how to hold it, how to notch an arrow, how to fire it. Just the basics that Gray was quick to grasp.

Things didn't go well at first for the younger mage since his ice bow was unable to withstand the tension from a fully taut bowstring, resulting in his creation to snap in half. It was trial and error with his designs, choosing to thicken and broaden the bow's limbs for greater strength and support as well as increasing the thickness and adding layers to his arrows so they wouldn't easily shatter upon impact. Gray had politely refused Link's offer to use his wooden bow because the ice mage didn't like the feel of real weapons in his hands.

With the design of his bow finalized, it was only the matter of managing to hit something. Gray's accuracy was terrible, to say the least. Instead of hitting the same tree Link had pierced with his wooden arrow, his frozen points would often end up ten feet off to the side or plunged straight into the dirt. It was frustrating but Link was surprisingly patient with him, giving him tips and often demonstrating.

After missing for the fiftieth time, Gray was about to give up when Link suddenly turned away and started for his house. He quickly climbed up and entered his house without a word, bringing nothing but dismay on the younger boy's face.

Was Link angry? Did his patience finally wear out? Gray was left alone to ponder these disheartening thoughts.

But then the door swung open and the blond warrior came back out. He hopped off the porch and landed harmlessly on the ground with something clutched in his left hand. He offered the item to Gray and said, "Put this on. It will give you plus twenty-five percent accuracy."

"Plus twenty-five?" the ice mage exclaimed, brightening at the sound of that. It was a thick silver chained necklace with a small sword-shaped pendant that gleamed in the light. He said his thanks and hastily clasped it around his neck. "I definitely won't miss now!"

Link was about to say something only to stiffen in his posture, his attention turned elsewhere. Gray's question was interrupted when he heard the loud cries of hundreds of birds flying above the canopy coming from the direction the swordsman was facing. Soon to follow was complete and utter silence as if the entire forest was devoid of all wildlife.

"What's going on?" the ice mage asked, breaking the stillness in the air.

Link didn't answer. He hardened his gaze, his expression dark and grim. "Head west to go back to town, Gray," he said instead as he broke into a sprint, not bothering to wait for the younger boy's reply.

"Hey! Wait!" The Ice-Make mage chased after the warrior in green only to lose sight of him seconds later. Link was just too quick and Gray had no footwear to protect his feet from the rough ground. "I don't know which way is west," Gray grumbled to himself as he made his way through the forest in hope of catching up with the other.

Something urgent was happening and the ice mage had a dreadful feeling he knew what it was. He ran until he was out of breath and his sides were horribly aching. To no avail could he find Link or any sign as to where he had gone. Just when Gray thought he had gotten lost again, he heard the echoing sound of something striking hard into wood followed by the noisy thump of a falling tree. The earth slightly rumbled under the boy's bare feet from the heavy, distant impact.

He started to search for source of the sound and not before long, he spotted the newly toppled tree, its broken branches, and the enormous monster that was responsible for knocking it over. It was a giant Boarhinox – a four-legged, hoofed, muscular beast with a body and face shaped like a boar's and covered in short, rugged roan hair. This one was as big as a two-storey house with two pairs of huge, curved tusks sprouting from its lower jaw and a single, thick horn growing from the center of its forehead that was long enough to pierce through the trunks of the thickest trees. It was completely out of place in the forest because its habitat was the vast savannahs of Fiore's neighboring country, Seven.

Gray cringed when the monster thrust its powerful horn into the poor tree blocking its way. Wood easily splintered apart from the impact and when the Boarhinox gave a loud grunt, it dug its hooves into the soil and roots to push its head against the trunk. It didn't seem like it took any effort for the beast to snap the whole tree into two.

Eyes wide, the boy was stunned by the strength and size of the monster. A hand suddenly yanked him by the back of his collar to pull him behind a tree.

"Why did you follow me?" Link demanded in a stern, quiet tone all the while peering around the trunk at the humongous beast.

Gray ignored the question and asked instead in a loud whisper; "You're not going to fight that thing, are you?!"

"It's destroying the forest. It has to be stopped." Another tree trunk was shattered and another tree fell with an echoing crash.

"Are you serious?! Look at the size of that thing!"

Link shifted his attention from the Boarhinox, to Gray, back to the monster, then back to Gray. "I can clearly see its size. What about it?" he asked quizzically as if there was nothing absolutely terrifying about getting stomped on or impaled by one giant boar.

Gray gaped at him in disbelief. Insane… There was no better word to describe Link but to call him utterly insane. This was likely a side-effect from hanging around Erza way too much. And she was the exact definition of insane.

"No matter how big they are, every monster has a weakness," Link assured, "It's only the matter of finding one. Do you know anything about this creature?"

"All I know is that it's a Boarhinox and it doesn't normally live around here."

"So that is a Boarhinox… I've heard their meat is very valuable here. Interesting." There was a dangerous glint in the swordsman's eyes as he turned back to the monster making short work of another forest guardian. It was the exact same look Gray had seen on Erza when she was determined to win or gain something whether it was a contest, fighting match, or competition. It was frightening to know that Link had taken a page from her.

"The eyes are often a good weak spot. Blinding a monster can make it vulnerable but also berserk," the older boy advised. "With something this large, we don't want it rampaging in a wild panic. It will do more harm than any good. We have to somehow strike its heart or its neck to stop it for good."

"W-We?" Gray gulped with unease.

"If you're afraid–"

"I'm not afraid! Just a little… anxious. That's all! I can help!"

Link gave him an encouraging smile. "I have nothing that can cut through its thick hide. Can you make your ice strong enough to pierce through?"

"Of course! I can make anything! You can trust me with this."

"Then I will try to make it rise on its hind legs. When it does, aim for its heart or its neck."

Gray nodded apprehensively. They were just two kids – two kids against a humongous monster that could crush every bone in their body with just one step. How was Link not even the teensiest bit afraid?

The blond-haired warrior took out his bow and got an arrow ready in his hand. He motioned for the younger boy to follow him closely.

Together, they carefully and hastily moved closer to the Boarhinox, slipping behind one tree and onto the next to avoid being seen. They circled their target until they were facing the monster's front left side where Link then gestured for Gray to move into position.

The boy in green sidled against the rough trunk and readied his bow. Magic flared from the iron tip of his arrow, bringing a look of surprise from Gray. Never had the younger one seen the blond empower his arrows. A deep blue energy swirled around the point, visibly cold due to the thin wisps of rising steam.

Just as the monster rammed its horn into another trunk, Link released his shot. His magically imbued arrow hissed through the air, nicking the many leaves fluttering downwards, and struck the beast's front left leg with a bright blue flash. Crackling pale blue ice suddenly materialized, spreading quickly down to the hoof and up to the shoulder.

The Boarhinox squealed like a pig in surprise and tried to jerk aside on instinct but its horn was stuck in the tree, preventing it from moving too far. It violently shook its shoulders and kicked its frozen leg, breaking and dispelling the ice before it could spread any further. It thrust forward, slamming the top of its head against the trunk it had pierced to knock the tree over and free its horn.

Before the tree could soundly land, Link released another freezing arrow, hitting the same leg as before and drawing out another squeal from the monster. It angrily stomped its frozen foot to shatter the layer of growing crystal only to have another ice arrow refreeze it and another arrow to encase its other front leg with ice.

Shrieking in both anger and fear, the Boarhinox reared onto its hind legs to kick its frozen ones free, sending chunks of glimmering crystal flying in every other direction. That was the opening Gray was waiting for. Jumping out into the opening with his hands shrouded in cool blue magic, the dark-haired boy quickly formed several crystalline lances, each one twice his height and sharply pointed, and launched them all at the monster's exposed belly. Two impaled its stomach region and two more pierced its lower chest, but none struck its heart due to its thrashing legs smashing some of the lances and getting in the way. It screamed in agony, releasing an awful squeal that made Gray horribly cringe.

It landed on its front legs with an earth-shaking thud, its scream of pain turning into one of rage. Its beady black eyes found the one responsible for its torture and it bellowed a deep, rumbling roar that reverberated within Gray's chest.

The Ice-Make mage cursed under his breath the moment the beast threw its enormous body at the few standing trees that barred its way from reaching him. With a deafening bam, the Boarhinox collided with the living barrier that instantly gave way. Two giant trees toppled at once and both were falling in Gray's direction.

"Gray! Get back!"

At the shouted command, the younger boy whipped around only to trip over something hard and immovable. He fell over with a yelp and cut the palms of his hands open against the sharp rocks and rough wood of the roots that covered the ground. Sensing the falling trees, he shut his eyes and cowered instinctively. Both loudly crashed nearby, shaking the earth and sending debris in every direction, but thankfully neither landed on top of Gray.

However, there was another mighty bam that shook the air followed by the splitting of wood as the last of Gray's defenses were taken down. Two more trees fell, smashing against others that still stood before slamming into the ground, narrowly missing the cowering boy.

Next came the awful crunch of breaking wood right by Gray's head when two giant black hooves landed on the fallen guardians on either side of him, crushing the trunks as if they were only made of cardboard. Gasping, Gray twisted onto his back, horrified to find the smelly Boarhinox right on top of him, snorting furiously. It was about to stomp him flat when a flash of blue pelted the side of its face. Layers of blue ice formed over the right half of its ugly head, making it shriek and whip its head from side to side in an attempt to throw off the cold spell. It reared its head and its body, rising onto its hind legs to reveal its pale underside yet again.

It was another chance – probably the only chance Gray would ever have if he wanted to survive. Without hesitation, he instantly formed a red crystalline bow in his right hand and a long and deadly shard of scarlet ice in the other, both items infused with his blood that bled from his torn palms. He aimed at the beast's heart and fired, desperately praying not to miss his mark.

His red arrow plunged true into the monster's chest, through thick fat, muscle and bone, deeper than any of his lances. Within an instant, the monster stopped its raging squeals and ceased in kicking its front legs. Then the massive, limp body of the Boarhinox began to fall forward, plummeting straight for the boy who killed it. A pair of strong hands grabbed Gray by the pits of his arms and quickly dragged him out of harm's way.

The monster landed with a resounding crash, its humongous, ugly head pounding into the earth an inch away from Gray's dirty toes. It laid in a motionless heap with half of its face covered in ice and several sharp and icy protrusions jutting from its body, its flowing crimson blood freezing on the ice it touched.

Gray breathed one big sigh of relief as he plopped over backwards, not caring about the rocks and other hard things pressing into his back. His nerves were badly shaking and his heart was beating heavily against his chest.

Link appeared in his view, frowning in worry. "Are you all right, Gray?" he asked, kneeling beside him.

"That was way too close," the ice mage replied, wanting to rub the sweat off his face but found his hands crusted in bloody ice. When he clenched them tight to break off the crimson layer, they badly stung. "But hell, we did it! Did you see? I actually got 'im with an arrow!"

"It was an excellent shot," the older boy praised with a smirk as he dug into his bag.

Gray laughed with joy. He was overwhelmed by their victory that had felt impossible in the very beginning. "Un-freaking-believable. Wouldn't have done it without your necklace," he said as he sat up and lightly grasped at the silver pendant hanging down his neck.

"I'm sure you would have succeeded without that necklace because there's nothing special about it."

"What?" Gray stared, seeing Link's amused smile.

"I lied about it boosting your accuracy. It's just an ordinary trinket I received as part of a reward from one of my missions a little while ago."

"R-Really? What if I missed that shot?!" the younger boy suddenly exclaimed, imagining every possible worst-case scenario.

"You didn't miss. Don't you see? You shot that arrow yourself. I only gave you the necklace so you wouldn't give up trying. If you want to learn how to do something, you have to believe you can do it. Here. A potion for your wounds. A small sip would do." Link offered him an uncorked glass bottle full of a strange red liquid.

As Gray took the potion, he contemplated over everything the older boy had said. He was grateful for Link's help. "Who taught you your ice magic? And do you want your necklace back?" he asked before taking a drink of the red concoction. The instant a drop touched his tongue, he made a disgusted face and gagged at the acrid taste. He wanted to spit it out, but through sheer willpower, he swallowed the little amount he managed to pour into his mouth. The medicine worked as quick as magic, soothing the pain in his hands and sealing up the wounds.

"Ice magic? It's only my arrows that I can empower with ice and nothing else. It was… a reward of sorts. That trinket is yours to keep. You can keep those clothes too. I won't complain if you somehow 'lost' them like you did with your other clothes."

The dark-haired boy's wide grin soon faltered. "What if Erza finds out I lost them? She'll kill me!"

"Let me worry about that. It'll probably be me whom she'll blame," he said with a nervous chuckle. After putting his potion away he pulled something else out. They were a pair of gold-plated, brown-leather, finger-less gauntlets meant for an adult to wear and yet Link slipped them on. They hung loose on his arms and the ends reached all the way to his elbows. To secure them, he tied pieces of twine around the wrists. "This Boarhinox is valuable. We can sell its meat in town," he began when he noticed Gray's questioning look. "But first, we have to get it back to town in order to do that."

"And how are we going to do that? This thing is huge! And it stinks." The boar reeked of something foul as if it rolled in its own dung.

"There's nothing we can do about the smell. However…" Link flexed his little fingers in his huge gloves and gave Gray a knowing smile.

Suffice it to say, the task was feasible by having the Ice-Make mage create a giant crystal wagon and a ramp for Link to use to shove the dead beast onto it with the incredible power of his golden gauntlets. The blond had a second pair of gauntlets, these ones armoured in silver, which he lent Gray to wear, increasing the younger boy's physical strength by tenfold. They were very big and loose and had to be tied on with a lot of twine.

Together, they pulled their prize around the forest's border where there was enough room to squeeze their frozen wagon through.

It was around evening when the pair reached town, but it was well worth the effort because Gray got a share of over eight-hundred thousand Jewels. And he had gained the trust of a new friend.


Thanks to Icy Cake for the Into the Past.

Hope everyone enjoyed the chapter.

Till next time.