I do not own Fairy Tail or One Piece. Those belong to Hiro Mashima and Eichiro Oda respectively.
The nightmare was over.
The moment Mirajane's spell erupted from her fingertip, the burning home shattered like glass. The dark magic met with a barrier, dissipating like a torrent of water rushing against a boulder.
Mystogan stood there, staff raised, his magical barrier shimmering blue as Mirajane panted. She looked up at him, feeling her adrenaline fade.
"Did I pass?"
"Yes. Congratulations," replied Mystogan under his cloak and mask. "Go to the cabins behind me and wake up the other test takers." He tapped the ground with his staff and an orb of light materialized over his head. He then directed it behind him and the pillar, where it led to a semicircle of cabin doors.
"Then I head topside to see Master Makarov right?" asked Mirajane.
Mirajane smiled confidently and crossed her arms as she passed him. "Man, I gotta say, this test was easy peasy! I-" She turned around to see Mystogan's reaction, but he had disappeared. The orb of light remained, right where he once stood.
The silver haired girl rolled her eyes. "Weird."
Truth be told, she never anticipated a test like that. She had been close, so very close, to pressing the buzzer and fleeing the nightmare. She knew why, and she hated herself for it. She had been told the first trial was a nightmare, that it wasn't real. But the sight of her murdered family, and Coby along with them, had almost broken her.
Almost. Her mother died in that fire long ago. That Coby was there should have made it obvious that the vision was false. Perhaps a part of her had known, and drawn strength from it.
As Mirajane opened the door, she saw Coby sleeping peacefully on a hammock. She smiled as she looked down at him.
"I guess this puts me in your debt once again," she said in a low voice. "If it hadn't been for you, I would never have gotten through that nightmare. Heck, if you never came to this world, I would have failed that test. Even though we're rivals in this Trial, you're still helping me."
She put a hand on his shoulder and nudged him a little. The pink haired marine stirred and he twisted in the hammock.
Mirajane gasped. Was Coby having a nightmare too? About her sister? What kind of horror were they both facing?
She wanted to wake him up. She had to wake him up. She needed to deliver him from his nightmare, to bring him out of the darkness and into the light, where she was there for him.
But then she paused, as she realised that Coby was laughing.
Mirajane's eye twitched. She grabbed the rim of his hammock and yanked it up, depositing the sleeping marine on the floor with a crash.
"Owww…" Coby groaned. "What the…"
"Get up. We passed," growled Mirajane. "You wake up Erza, I'll wake up Cana." She spun on her heel and strode out of the cabin.
"Was that really necessary though?" grumbled the marine, rubbing his back. "You could have woken me up more gently. I was in the middle of a good dream too."
The silver-haired girl paused in the doorway, and gave Coby a glare.
"Exactly." She walked out, and only then allowed herself to smile as she headed for Cana's door.
'Coby. Thank you...for helping…'
"It is with pride and honor that I say congratulations!" proclaimed Makarov, smiling as he looked down upon the test takers from the rafter overlooking the deck. Gildarts was at the wheel and Laxus was at his side. "You four have passed the First Test of the S-Class Promotion Trials!"
"Alright!" whooped Coby. He held out his hand for a high five, which Erza accepted.
"It's amazing that over half of us passed, I'm surprised to say the least!" said the redhead. Cana returned a high five to Coby, while Mirajane stood there, arms crossed.
"Oh? Did you expect half of us to pass then?" asked Cana. She grinned. "I think it's funny that the old guys didn't pass at all!" She snickered as she glanced at a stewing Macao and Wakaba, sitting side-by-side nearby.
"Hey! You try being chained to bed while your wife goes 'bonobo in heat' on you!" barked Wakaba.
"Yeah! You try changing diapers! I-I had so many kids…" Macao shivered, his face pale. "The diapers…they just kept coming! They never stopped! My nose was burned and-"
"You had a nightmare about babies! What a joke!"
"You should love your wife, and yet you buzzed out of that! Coward!"
"Have you ever seen my wife! And who you calling coward, coward!"
The kids laughed heartily, treasuring their shared moment. Even Gildarts stifled a laugh behind his hand.
"Now now, everyone," giggled Makarov, stopping his laughter with a cough. "I suppose some of you are wondering about the true purpose of this test?"
"I think I know," said Mirajane, stepping forward. "It was to conquer our deepest fear, to face and overcome it, even when you have the option of escape."
Gildarts nodded, smiling. "Correct. You see, as an S-Class Mage you will encounter a lot of scary things while on the job. Whether in the form of a Bonobo nympho," he looked over at Wakaba, feeling his lips tug up. The Smoke Mage wished he would sink into the floor boards. "Or something more frightening, like a murderer or a monster. In real life you won't have a buzzer to make the bad guys go away. If escape is impossible, you need to tackle adversity head on."
"The strength to face it is the strength to overcome it," said Erza. "Just as you said Mira."
"Correct," Makarov nodded. "For now, let us prepare dinner. Macao, Wabaka, you can join us for the meal." He smiled cheekily at his guild mates. "You are in my guild, I can't exclude you now can't I?"
The two men stood up and nodded. "Thank you Master." The dwarf looked back towards the four children.
"Now, I'm sure some of you are wondering what the next test will be. That information will be withheld until right before the beginning of the second trial. For now, relax and enjoy yourselves." He pumped his fist into the air. "Tonight we party!"
Cheers erupted across the deck. Coby looked towards his fellow guild mates, his triumphant friends.
"So…" he rubbed the back of his head, getting their attention. "I take it no one wants to mention what they saw right?" The girls faces fell, from jubilation to sullenness.
"I'd…prefer to keep that to myself," said Erza.
"Me too" added Cana.
"Triple for me, It's…" Mirajane looked to the side. "A bit personal."
Coby nodded, smiling. "I understand. I also cannot mention what I saw as well. Let's just keep it to ourselves." He saw Laxus waving at him and looked up.
"Yo Coby!" called out Laxus. "Wanna help cook?"
"Is it seafood?"
"Count me in!" He beamed, running up to Laxus.
"Hey hold it!" called out Mirajane, running after him. "Knowing you, you'll devour everything!"
"No I won't! I…will just have a taste test."
"More like a taste feast! Let me cook!"
Erza sighed, looking back at Cana, then grinned mischievously as an idea popped into her head. "After dinner…wanna challenge Coby to a drinking contest?"
The brunette had the devil's smile, her eyes glinting. "Oh do I ever!"
Erza ran off after the trio as they entered the galley, leaving Cana out on the deck. She looked up, and saw Gildarts converse with Makarov. The auburn-haired man grinned and waved back. Cana smiled back awkwardly and walked into the cabin.
In the cabin, alone at last, her spirits sank. She could not yet forget those words, or those hard, disgusted eyes.
"I have no daughter. And I wouldn't want one if she was weak like you."
Cana bit her lip and shook her head. She reached into her pocket for a flask and took a slight swig. Better to be buzzed and happy than sober and depressed, haunted by the nightmare she hadn't been strong enough to defeat. She had screamed at the top of her lungs, denying the nightmare, denying the false, cruel Gildarts. It had been enough to convince Mystogan, but had she not dropped the buzzer…
'My passing…was a fluke…'
Cana walked down into the cellar below. Erza, now dressed in a maid outfit, was setting the table.
"Ah! Cana. Wanna help me set the table?"
Cana pocketed her flask and nodded, forcing a smile as she tried to put those words out of her mind. It didn't matter now, and t least she could spend time with her guild mates.
And there would be rum to drink!
The next day
"Land on the port side!" called out Laxus from the crow's nest. Those on deck stopped what they were doing and hurried over to the port side, eager for the sight of land. Makarov reached into his pocket, pulling out his watch. He looked up to Gildarts who nodded back and went down into the cabins below.
"So Makarov," asked Coby, coming to a halt beside him. "Is the next test coming up soon?"
"I can't say Coby, be patient," replied the dwarf as he looked out to the horizon. Coby shrugged and walked back over to his dumbbells, each with 100 K etched in bright yellow letters. He lifted them up effortlessly, and began his exercises.
Cana was lounging in the sun in her green one-piece swimsuit, Mirajane and Erza doing likewise in purple-white polka dots and bright red respectively. Coby thought of reminding them that they would need to be ready, but decided against it. Erza had her Requip magic, and the other girls had their clothes nearby.
And if the test was to take place in the water, they would have no need to change. It would be awkward, but Coby couldn't say he would mind.
Lightning crackled overhead. The girls jumped and looked up, Coby doing likewise. Laxus was in Lightning Body, heading towards the mainland of Minstrel.
"All right!" Makarov shouted out. "The Second Test of the S-Class Trials will begin shortly! All the candidates, gather around!" The moment Makarov finished his sentence, Gildarts walked out of the door leading into the ship with a large crate. Coby was about to open his mouth, but a glance from Makarov silenced him.
"I am going to explain the Second Test, but first you must wear these." Macao and Wakaba looked on from the upper deck, the latter on the wheel and gazing down at the crate as Gildarts rummaged through it.
"Here," the older man handed out white fanny packs to each of the teenagers.
"Now then, I will explain how this Test will carry out. Wakaba, stop the boat. Macao! Lower the anchor!" Both men obeyed, Macao using his Fire Magic to lower the anchor, Wakaba assisting with his smoke magic.
"Now then," Makarov said, turning back to the teenagers. "The first portion of the Trials tested the strength of your hearts. Now, we're going to test the strength of your bodies."
Coby seemed to have understood. "An Iron Man?"
"In a way, it is something of an Aqualthon. The Second Test will begin here on this boat. You must first swim from the ship all the way to shore, a distance of ten kilometres. Once you reach land, you will be in the Kobzar Province and must continue on foot, a hundred kilometres from the shore to the foot of the Bardios Mountain, where Laxus awaits you. Whoever gets to that checkpoint will advance to the next test."
"Ten kilometers…swimming?" Cana gulped.
"And a hundred kilometers running?" Erza was surprised, and a little unsettled.
"Is there a time limit?" asked Mirajane. If she was intimidated, she made no show of it.
"Forty-eight hours. It is quarter to two. Once the clock strikes two…" Makarov drew numbers and a colon in mid-air before them, like the face of a digital clock. The clock began to blink.
"…the test will start."
"So tomorrow at two in the afternoon is when the Second Test ends, got it. But what's with these fanny packs?" Asked Coby. "Are they survival gear?"
"In a way yes," answered Gildarts. "Inside of these water-sealed fanny packs is a water-resistant Magic Flare Gun. If at any point you are either too exhausted or you're in a precarious situation, just use this flare gun and either Laxus or Mystogan will come and rescue you. But as with the buzzer, to use it is to be disqualified."
"Just bear in mind," Makarov went on, his tone suddenly grim. "These are not nightmares, not illusions to scare you. There are monsters and dangerous fauna along the route. Use this if your life is in grave danger. I don't want anyone dying out here, understand? You can always get another opportunity to get into the Trials another time."
There were nods all around.
"Good. I'm glad to see you understand. There's also a water bottle in the fanny pack along with six Protein Bars. Use them as sparingly as possible."
"What if we run out of food and water?" Asked Erza.
"You'll be in the great outdoors. Just don't eat any odd-looking mushrooms or drink still water."
"And magic is allowed correct?" Coby asked. Mirajane looked at him with a quizzical expression.
"But of course," answered Makarov with a smile. "This will test not just your physical body, but also your magical abilities too. And the Flare Guns have their own lacrima, so they'll still work if you've run out of magic power."
Coby let out a sign of relief. He feared that these Flare Guns were something like the SE-Plugs, where one needed magic power to fire the gun. Makarov and the S-Class Magi had thought this through, and for his sake too! Best of all, he didn't allude to the fact that Coby wasn't a Mage.
His secret was still safe.
Unbeknownst to him, Cana gave him a raised eyebrow.
Coby took off his shirt and tossed it to the side. "If we take off our clothes here, will Mystogan or Gildarts give them to us on the shore?" he asked the dwarf.
"That can be arranged," replied Makarov. The other girls stood near the edge of the boat with Coby. To his left was Mirajane and Erza, the two of them grinning.
"I'll leave you in my dust Erza, just you wait."
"We'll see about that Mira."
Coby looked back out to the sea, eye on the land far in the horizon.
'This isn't a race to who is the fastest. It's who has the most endurance,' he thought to himself. He smiled. The marine knew what he was doing. All those training sessions with Garp were about to pay off, big time.
"How nostalgic," he murmured out loud.
Cana stood on Coby's right, hands at her cards. She gave him another odd look before looking back out over the water. Gildarts gave them the fanny packs, which they wrapped tightly around their waists. Makarov stood on the gunwhale, looking down at the four teens.
"Alright! Let the Second Test of the S-Class Promotion Trials!"
The four dived into the water. Cana jumped in feet first, while Coby, Erza, and Mirajane went hands-first. Coby surfaced and began to swim, kicking his legs and pushing out his arms in a front crawl. He felt the familiar sting of salt water in his eyes.
A dark shape shot underneath him. Coby knew who it was. The barracuda, wearing Mirajane's purple ribbon, raced out in front, the other fish scattering before it. Coby swam on, cutting through the water with the practiced ease of a trained marine, and one who had lived on the sea for much of his life. He felt the water shift, and glanced left to see the water glowing with a strange, almost certainly magical light.
"Requip! Sea Empress Armor!"
Erza erupted from the waves, her lithe body clad in armour Coby had never seen before. The breastplate, really more of an open-fronted corset, was fashioned like fronds of seaweed. Form-fitting plates covered her legs and forearms, her elbows, ankles, and shoulders sornamented with decorative fins, though those on the shoulders were blue rather than green. Her abdomen was almost completely uncovered, but for a black bikini augmented with a pair of starfish-like plates on her hips, while a white skirt hung from the back like a cape. A blue crown adorned her brow, ornamented with spread-fins flaring out from her cheek pieces. Her right gauntlet clutched a crystal-bladed longsword, with flaring fins for cross-guards.
Coby stared in disbelief as the waves bent to her will, and she stood up upon the waters. To see her standing there, in such lewd armour…
The redhead saw him, and shot him a confident smirk.
"Well Coby, I'll see you at Bardios, if you can make it that is!" The water below her became a wave. She thrust her sword forward, and Coby stared open-mouthed as the wave carried her to the coast, faster than any boat he had ever seen.
"Not cool!" he called out as he began to swim after her.
"Card Magic: Water Nimbus!" Coby turned again, and saw a glow of azure light. The light became Cana, hovering over the water on what looked like a small cloud. The brunette grinned down at him.
"See ya round!" The girl took a swig from her flask and sped off towards the coast.
And Coby was alone.
He sighed and swam on, taking deep breaths as his lungs strained. He could have used Geppou to catch up, but he suspected he would need the stamina later. Besides, it was only ten kilometres.
'The land part will be the hardest," he thought.
He faced the distant shoreline, remembering how easily the others had overtaken him. Something hot and angry rose inside him, burning away the cold of the water.
"I can't transform!" he barked between breaths, as he forced himself on. "I can't manipulate the elements! I can't ride on clouds!"
A wave bore him up, then hurled him down again. Coby surfaced, drawing in a hard, quick breath.
"But I'm not…gonna…lose!"
Well then, once a month updates should please ya right?
Anyways, I figured that if Erza were to pass on this segment of the exam, then Mirajane would have failed in the First Test had it not been for Coby when we learn that Erza passed first, then Mirajane, etc.
Also, finals are completed but I will be heading home for the holidays. Then it's back to a new semester. Updates maybe a bit slower...or faster...who knows.
Anyways, hope you all enjoyed.
Beta'ed by Juubi-k