AN: I am sorry ... I, Foxy, can't directly recall if I responded to all the reviews last chapter or not. Last week was final project review week in studio and gaaah, nightmares ... okay … we definitely should've left some of this in the previous chapter, as we severely broke our 10,000 word limit … I mean, it spans twenty pages in the word document … XD Be kind to us? Nealls' part will have to wait … Maybe we'll shift some of this into the previous chapter when it comes time to delete the ANs from previous arcs. Since it's the end of the arc, we're curious about what y'all will think will happen next … the next arc is slightly filler (for time filling and character bonding reasons), but Edolas is soon approaching (we decided we'd do the Edolas before the "G.S." arc). What do you think the people over there will be like? XD And do let us know for the next chapter ... would you rather see some of trio humor (you'll figure out who as you read the chapter) or FT humor first? Please read and review! Kitty's answering this time.

Disclaimer: If we owned Fairy Tail … Zeref's name would actually be "Zeffy." Yes, we're going to get all of you to call him that.


Under the Flames

A Fairy Tail Fanfiction by Kitty & Foxy

Chapter Thirty Eight: The Idiot in Me


"Do you think Gajeel and Jura are okay …?" Lucy mumbled worriedly, chewing on her fingernails as the remains of the alliance watched Nirvana topple onto its face. She felt tired; her body ached, she knew she would feel those bruises later and having stayed up the entire night fighting made her want to collapse on her knees right there.

"And Leader too …" Hibiki chuckled lightly while scratching his head.

"I'm sure he's fine! Leader is the best at this kind of thing!" Eve commented, pride in his tutor giving him the willpower to remain on his feet. They were all tired but they could take the next few hours to rejoice and regroup.

"I am here, men~!" Ichiya cried out randomly, startling the entire group – though the Trimens were enough to distract him.

A few minutes later, they ran into a clearing where two others stood and a flying cat turned happily at the new arrivals. "Ah, Lucy!"

"… What happened?" Gray asked as he woke up groggily, Lyon dropping him down onto the ground. He was bewildered as he saw the crumbled city on the ground before them. "Who went on the rampage here?"

"That's right; you were unconscious the entire time!" Happy cheered as he saw Gray's jaw drop while rubbing his sore head. Everything ached.

"Oy, you're joking, right?! I missed everything?!"

Lyon clapped a hand on Gray's bare shoulder, startling him ever so slightly. "Apparently there are stories you still have to tell me, Gray."

"Stories?" Gray blinked as Lyon nodded. Stories? What stor - then it hit him as the floodgates in his head opened up, revealing his … unruly behavior. And Ichiya? "Oh hell no!"

"It's good to see that you're awake, young man!" Ichiya beamed, causing shivers to run up and down Gray's entire body as he backed away. But then his charm turned towards Erza. "My honey, I am so relieved to see you are safe –"

"Stay away," Erza growled, causing Ichiya to stop in his tracks. This astonished everyone, but no one dared to question it either.

The others continued to exchange their gratitude and cheer at having completed the mission, though Lucy noticed something odd.

"Is that one of the hosts from Blue Pegasus? I don't remember one like that …" Lucy frowned, approaching Erza cautiously.

"That's Jellal. But somehow he's completely ignorant of everything …" She said it bitterly as if it was nothing, but Lucy felt her blood run cold. "I don't understand why he is here, but …" Erza started slowly, still suspicious of it all, "he was willing to help us. He's the one who informed me of that Dragon approaching Nirvana."

"N-no way …" Lucy stuttered, looking back at Jellal who awkwardly stood there, clearly feeling out of place and rightfully so.

He was here. He wasn't hurting anyone, he wasn't completely confused, and he wasn't attacking nor rejoicing with the rest … he seemed a loner, lost but still seen from what happened around him.

"Jellal?" Wendy approached the tall, blue haired man cautiously, seeing him turn his head to her. She would have welcomed any emotion – anger at her, confusion at her presence, a warm smile or a cold hearted glare – but it hurt the most to see a completely empty, indifferent expression on his face. Was he even aware that she was the one who had awakened him? Who knew him?

"It's m-me, Wendy Marvell," Wendy insisted while Charle hovered close to her. "You saved me, when I was younger … we travelled around together before you had to leave."

"I am sorry. I can't remember anything." Jellal answered softly, looking away from Wendy's crestfallen face. "I don't remember you."

Wendy hung her head low, tightening her lips to keep any tears she had left from spilling out. It wasn't fair. Jellal had taken care of her when she was young but now he was unable to remember any of it.

"I am truly sorry, Wendy."

Wendy shook her head, fighting back the sniffles. "It's alright …" Her voice quavered, forcing a smile before turning and walking away. "It's alright."

"How exactly did you know him, Wendy?" Charle questioned after Jellal ambled off back to his own corner. "I never knew you knew him."

"It was before I met you, Charle …" The Wind Dragon Slayer felt her voice tremble as she forced the words out of her throat. "I was stranded after Grandine vanished. I didn't know how I'd get along without her. But he found me and we travelled for a while together before he left me with Cait Shelter."

Charle hadn't known this before. Wendy had not confided in her about her childhood before Cait Shelter. "Hmph. Strange he wouldn't remember something like that."

"No …" Wendy sniffed, a small smile coming across her face. "M-maybe it's better he doesn't remember … if he had to remember me, he'd have to remember all the other horrible things that we heard he did in the council … h-he can start good again, right? M-maybe this time, I can help him …"

They heard a yelp of surprise come from Ichiya as he slammed into an invisible wall. Everyone raised eyebrow. "I was going to release some parfum into the bushes, when –"

"Do you have to word it like that?" Gray mumbled, but raised his own eyebrows when he saw a familiar green glow sparkle before Ichiya. "Runes?!"

*
The army advanced down the road towards the fallen Nirvana as the daylight hit the forest, going forward at a steady pace that the beasts hauling carts could follow. Garbed in candy-colored robes fastened by lacrima jeweled pins, they kept their faces stern and their staffs at hand – they had been informed of just how great this threat was by the dark guild thugs they had captured escaping the forests. Part of the army scoured the far forests for the remnants of dark guild members while the majority was led by a slender, glasses-wearing and stern man they knew as Captain.

"It seems that the alliance members have stumbled into one of the Rune traps the scouts set up." One of his men informed, saluting the Captain while returning to the ranks.

The Captain nodded. "The left flank, follow me – we're going to meet with the alliance. Center and right flanks, investigate the remains of Nirvana. The scouts will continue to survey the Woodworth Forest."

"Yes sir!" They replied, saluting as they divided up as commanded.

The Captain's glasses shined in the emerging daylight as he advanced forward. Within ten minutes he and his men were met with the sight of the alliance in a clearing, caught by the rune traps of several of their skilled scouts. They soon came in view of the alliance, which turned to the approaching military men with curiosity and apprehension.

"W-who are they?" Wendy stuttered, stumbling closer to Lucy who looked just as worried as her. Unlike the regular guild members, Wendy had yet to ever encounter trouble with the higher forces of Fiore.

"The Royal Army." Lucy answered, sighing and slouching forward as her palm covered her face. "Be prepared for long interviews about what happened …"

"I do not wish to do harm," the man garbed in Captains' clothes advanced forward to the edges of the Runes, boldly showing his face to the guilds. "You accidentally triggered one of the traps set up for the dark guild remnants. But please stay here for a while as we assess what has happened."

"But who are you?" Happy asked curiously, his tail curling as he observed the leader. We've only ever had to deal with regular army guys, this is different!

"I am Captain of the Reformed Magic Council's 4th Enforcement and Detention Corps. My name is Lahar." He answered astutely.

"Reformed Magic Council? Weren't they disbanded when …?" Gray stuttered, looking to the others for information.

Lahar knew that the recent change was hard for others to accept. "We have been reborn in order to uphold the law and protect justice in Fiore. We have no mercy for those that do evil acts."

"But we haven't done anything bad!" Happy retorted, his paws reaching up to his chin. He didn't like the idea of being contained – not since Freed went nuts during that festival incident.

"Of that I am aware." Lahar assured yet his face remained stony. "Our purpose to arrest Oracion Seis. It seems that none of them are with you."

"Err, two of them fled …" Hibiki chuckled nervously. "As for the rest … err … who here knows for certain about the other four?"

"Hoteye was taken care of." Lyon answered.

"R-Racer too …" Wendy added.

Lahar adjusted his glasses, noting the confusion amongst the members and assuming that the enemies had been taken care of separately. "We will conduct interviews to determine their status. We are also here for another matter."

All heads turned curiously to the stoic army.

"It was brought to our attention by captured dark guild members that another criminal is among you." The alliance watched Lahar with hesitant glances. "The one who infiltrated the magic council, destroyed it and fired Etherion …" Erzas' breath hitched as she knew the name that would pass Lahar's lips. "… Jellal. If you resist I have orders to use lethal force."

Lethal force …

Lahar realized he would need to explain the reasons to the alliance. "That man is dangerous. We cannot allow him loose in the world again. Jellal Fernandes … I hereby place you under arrest for the crime of high treason against the state."

"Erza, thank you for everything." Jellal spoke in a quiet, low voice, knowing only she – the closest one to him – could hear his words. "I don't remember my crimes but I remember you … you're someone I can't bring harm to, with or without my memories … so I will go peacefully with the army."

Erza remained silent, her feet locked to the ground.

"If you could, thank Natsu for me." Jellal continued, ignorant of her ever increasing rigidness. "He didn't try to force me to join a side when I could remember nothing. He allowed me to follow him around until I started to find my own reasons, until I wanted to help all of you. Please let him know I am grateful."

So that's what happened … Erza felt her fist clench, although for what reason she couldn't fathom. Natsu may not be a part of any guild, but he is the kind to help whoever's in front of him. So far she had only witnessed him helping the various guild members around her – Lucy during the Phantom Lord incident, herself when they were brought to the tower, all of them during the early fiascos with Oracion Seis … he would help whom he found to be in the right and he never attempted to overthrow the entire arena, plot against anyone or anything. He would just help – and from what she could tell, there was never anything sinister behind it. I'm the idiot here.

The amnesiac turned to the military, allowing several guards to move forward and cuff his wrists with the lacrima-powered cuffs.

"Is that all you wish to say to them?" Lahar asked Jellal as he was moved passed the Captain, his gaze fixated ahead of him. "It's pretty much guaranteed you'll be executed or given life without parole. You'll never see another human face again."

The rest of the alliance watched with hitched breaths. But one out of all of them struggled more than any other over this dilemma.

Jellal is going away … he finally awakened from his nightmare, and yet ... how can I just let him be shut up in the darkness again?

"No." Erza growled, her head turning up the guards as they had started to lead Jellal into the depths of their ranks.

"Jellal doesn't remember anything! H-he lost his memories!" Wendy added. She would defend Jellal – he had helped her when she was little, now she could help him.

"By clause thirteen of the criminal code, that is not a valid defense." Came an immediate response from Lahar, quoting the code.

Why? Why did they feel … a need to stop this?

*
He had followed his nose to the scents of the others, noting the distinct presence of Jellal. It seems he got his chance to warn them after all. Though he couldn't say how well it had been received.

Natsu raised his eyebrows, watching from his hidden perch the scene unfold before him. I don't believe it … they're moving to protect him their selves. Jellal had some weird effect on people, Natsu determined, his shoulders slacking. He even got Erza to trust him, and I was certain she'd try to slice his throat or something. Little did he realize that character assessment was correct though circumstances had prevented it from carrying out.

Yet there's something strange about him. This is definitely the same Jellal from the Tower, but un-possessed, he's of a greater interest … Natsu couldn't place it. What did it mean? What kind of mage would he be without the manipulation from afar? Furthermore … why did Natsu trust him to begin with?

Maybe he's the one you saw in that vision earlier.

Natsu entertained the ideas for a few moments but shook his head, quietly laughing it off. That would be ridiculous. First off, the appearances didn't match that much. No tattoo! And the amnesiac mage who allowed himself to become so easily possessed? Then again, it's precisely those kinds of scenarios that keep happening. He inwardly groaned. But what can I do about it?

He noted the mages argue back with the military men, offensive stances taken on both sides. But at this rate they're all going to get arrested if they keep arguing with the military … shouldn't they have as much military trouble as I do by now? Granted Natsu racked up most of his troubles from the West and the continued thefts of documents, but this was just as insane.

There's no need to intervene. Not with the military here.

No. There are reasons why I should intervene. Natsu told himself, biting his lip as he hunched forward, keeping an eye on the movements of the mages and the army. That use of Underworld Magic … there are only a few exceptions and it cannot be taught from a master to a student. It either means he originated from the Underworld or he somehow found a fluke … either scenario is bad. He needed to figure out which answer it was. The former would be easier to solve than the fluke because then it meant his priorities needed to change, and fast. I can have them check it out … they would be able to figure it out better than I could. So that meant he needed to go on yet another secondary mission.

Think. It would be easier to grab him here than from a jail. Though it means going out there … in front of the army … Natsu shivered. Ugh, I don't need them getting an image of me, but there's not a whole lot of choice at this point.

The Fire Dragon Slayer moved forward from his hidden spot, advancing as slowly and as closely as he could without worry of detection.

«Jellal.» Natsu spoke sharply and as narrowly as he could, though he couldn't help but notice surprise cross a few faces on both sides of the squabble. That means there are more sensitives than just him. «Separate yourself from them as fast and as far as you can.»

Wendy had jumped at the sound of the voice in her head, looking at Jellal as the blue haired man appeared to comply with whosever orders she'd heard. He ducked away from the guards and distanced himself, maneuvering off to the side he had heard Natsu's words from.

Jellal? The odd movements caught Erza's questioning eyes, as she watched carefully what he was doing. Why is he -?

A look of confusion and fear crossed one of the guards' faces, and he turned frantically to Lahar. "S-sir, I think that som-!"

A flash of a fiery blur shot out from the forest edge near them, jumping down and nearly winding Jellal. Natsu didn't waste a moment nor hesitated in his movements as he awkwardly grabbed and slung Jellal over one shoulder, holding onto his legs before shooting back off – clear across the clearing with sparks to his feet, stunning everyone around him as the two vanished within the blink of an eye.

Those who recognized him and those who didn't felt precisely the same shock, though those who knew him better felt a creeping outrage.

Caught in a glimpse, a gaze where eyes did not meet and in a blur that few could discern, Lahar's face twisted into that of disbelief.

Him …

The thief! Lahar knew that face! He's the one who -!

"Aaah, all new guards have sentry duty." His senior spoke to him, clanging his armor together while brushing off crumbs of the sandwich he was eating. "It's just watching the entries to a few old dusty rooms. Don't worry about anything." He waved it off while Lahar nodded. "Go check the exterior walk, will you?"

"Right!" Lahar took off with a nod, proud of his new sentry duty. But as he reached the exterior walk he saw a shadow run past him, darting in through the windows near seamlessly. Horrified, and wondering if eyes were playing tricks on him in the night, he followed up and found the windows unlocked. He hollered for backup, running inside and chasing the footsteps he could hear in the dark archival room. "You! Show yourself!" Maybe it was just another vagrant trying to sleep inside a cozy niche. That's probably all it was. But yet this shadow would not answer him. He turned corner after corner, seeking out the culprit –

A light erupted, blinding his vision as heard the rustling of the archives around him. Opening his eyes, he was startled to see … the room empty. A full room of stores … completely empty. No vagrant – no normal thief even had this power.

Lahar stood there dumbfounded. The room, after aglow for only a few seconds … was suddenly barren and freed of its treasures. The dust resettled in clouds, one of the rotten old bookcases taking a tumble in the back and smacking against its neighbors as it was free of the burdens that kept it upright.

Yet even in the dark, in his shock, he caught a glimpse of the face that caused the disappearance of all the records within. He saw the shadow dart off again as other soldiers busted into the room after seeing the light and hearing the commotion, each one in the state of shock he was in.

"W-what happened?" The commander stuttered, looking to Lahar for answers.

He had none.

"… The Archives XI Thief." Lahar gritted his teeth, his voice spoken so low as his men looked at him hoping for a repeat of the words. We never got a name. We never got a face. It was only a few months ago too. "Sir?"

"Men!" Lahar ordered the flanks behind him, "Spread out and find them! Immediately!"

"Yes sir!" They chorused and took off into the forest, the alliance not following as they too were stunned at the events. Though she did not hear the voice she had seen his face, caught the image within the blurs that her fake eye allowed her to see. Natsu …

"… We will send representatives to each of your guilds for interviews concerning what has happened here." Lahar replied stiffly, his face hardening as he called attention to the alliance members.

"Sir, shouldn't we interview them here -?" One of the guards spoke, but was cut off by Lahar's gaze.

Lahar began to send off his troops, much to the confusion of the alliance. There's no way a guild would ally themselves with such a skilled thief. Not one on that level. He did not believe it a good idea to interview them here, with Jellal still out in the forest and with an apparent accomplice. "For tonight we ask you stay at the nearby guild – our guards will ensure you don't leave there tonight while we conduct our search."

*
«Stay here for now.» Natsu answered, looking around the small cave as he set the squirming Jellal down.

"W-why did you -?" Jellal stuttered. Still stunned from the abrupt kidnapping, he didn't know what to say. "I thought you – you wanted to leave – why -?"

Natsu held up a hand while walking to the front of the cave. «I witnessed you and some of your 'crimes' – you were being possessed at the time, though by what I am not certain.»

Jellal's mouth opened a little, but he couldn't find anything to say.

«I am inclined to keep you away from jail. There, you might be a sitting duck for whoever possessed you again.»

Jellal looked back down the cave, growing nervous. "But isn't the dragon back in there -?"

«He's not going to come out when there's a chance of daylight. He hates it. So just stay here, don't go outside.» Natsu stressed again. «These caves are far enough away from their search area. I'll be back before nightfall, and with food.»

Natsu reached out, breaking the lacrima cuffs with a quick burst of the fiery energy from his hands. Jellal stared down blankly, recalling the reasons he had decided to trust the previously unknown man. Jellal found no reason to doubt him again.

"Natsu … thank you."

Natsu nodded, flashing one of those cheesy grins before crawling his way back out and slipping away, unnoticed by all. Though Jellal had to wonder as he started dusting himself off, the soot from Natsu's clothes and skin having rubbed off onto him everywhere … when did he get covered in soot?

*
Cait Shelter was in a whirl of celebrations inside their main tent; the members drank and ate and danced, laughing happily with one another as their Master sat still and contemplative at his carpeted seat.

"We no longer need worry about Nirvana!" "It has not only been stopped, but destroyed!" "This is worth a celebration!" They danced and feasted, a festival of a long-term duty now brought to its end.

"What's troubling you, Master?" A man with a tall tree-like ponytail asked, red dot tattoos on his face that diverted attention from his insanely round eyes. "Shouldn't you be celebrating with us? Wendy and the others of the alliance did it!"

"Hmm … you go celebrate. I am happy here." Robaul answered. The man took nothing more of it as he went back to his ring of friends, laughing off what could have been their doom. Today would be the final celebration before the curtains closed.

But it all raised a good worry and yet tranquility in Robaul's heart. Perhaps these shadows of the Nirvit could not recognize it but he could … a former priest of the Nirvit elite he knew of the threats that had been carried to the Nirvit for generations.

Dragons are said to be extinct now … and yet, two roars of Dragons, several Dragon Slayers … it seems that though they are thought extinct, they still made sure to destroy us first. Robaul took another swig of alcohol from the jar, not even scolded once by his guild members for drinking from the bottle when he had a full glass of ale before him. The troubled memories in his mind remained. Dragons ultimately took it out – though I could not see them from here, the screams were familiar enough.

*
Nearly Four Thousand Years Ago …

*
Robaul, a young man in his mid twenties, was on a hunt. Not too literally, but finding anyone in the great city could be considered such a hunt. He was asked to locate their visitor and he had been at that task for hours. He might have a great sense of smell, but I sure don't.

But when a rock was chucked right before his feet he had to jump, glancing around and up to a public balcony overlooking one of the streets.

"Don't be scared of an old man, brat!" The white haired old man chuckled, waving down to Robaul and catching him off guard. "I'm used to the new priests trying to spy on me! Get up here and have a proper conversation!"

That's him alright. The younger complied, moving his way up to the balcony to see the city below. The old man had a bemused expression, his eyes twinkling at the sight of so many people staring back at him. The old man was a sight – both he and his personality stood out from the typical Nirvit way of life.

"You are Kalusa?"

"Correct." The old man confirmed with a grin. He had lost a few teeth in his time. "New priest are you? Your face looks familiar …"

"I am one of the King's sons – a younger one though, so the priesthood is my path."

"Aah, thought I recognized you – you were the little one clingin' to his mother last time."

Robaul blanched. "Please, I'd rather not be remembered like that."

The older let out a robust laugh, surprising the young priest. "Fair enough, though it's an olders' duty to make fun of the younger. You'll get your chance later!"

Robaul looked the old man up and down. He truly did seem like a real old man … for a Dragon Hide, he really seemed so real, so humanly emotional. Before long they found themselves discussing the matters that all priests press the old man for – the matter of the darkness, the promises, the curses.

"The hurt the Nirvit cast on one another now has grown. We've taken on enough of the darkness to see a few radical changes in some."

Kalusa remained quiet so Robaul would continue.

"A few of the men are volunteering to have the totality of the darkness concentrated on them … mostly our elders, the older men and women, who know they won't be able to run or defend once it has occurred." Robaul shook his head. "If we begin to accept their sacrifices then the older generations would be lost. We shouldn't have to – no, we shouldn't be doing this at all."

"Aren't you, a priest dedicated to your people, afraid of what would happen if you took pity on your own?" Kalusa raised an eyebrow curiously, looking to the young man next to him.

Robaul leaned against the balcony edge with his back facing the view, arms slung over the sides rather haphazardly – particularly so for one aspiring to be a priestly magician of the Nirvit. His eyes met with the blue sky above, watching the clouds pass them on by. He already knew the painted colors of the homes around him, but the sky always changed, whether they stood still or walked halfway around the world. "I see no reason to be bothered by an alliance, or a threat – a threat that had good reason to be given. Some of the elders still do but there haven't been any raids since it formed. Only the men that we take the darkness from ever attempt to destroy us, kidnap or pillage."

Kalusa snorted, scratching at his great fuzzy white eyebrows. The wrinkles under his eyes scrunched upward with his smile, the liver spots gaining more character as they were pushed to cluster together on his cheeks. "We're still doing the 'raids' brat. But now that we, the 'Dragon Hide' as you call us, are allowed in your city we can find what we need and be done with it."

Frowning, Robaul sent a curious glance to Kalusa. "… Have there been more raids on the Nirvit without the Nirvits' knowledge?"

"Only one. And it was a bust – he didn't want to come with us. It's a whole lot easier to refuse a Dragon Hide than a Dragon grabbing you from the skies."

Robaul couldn't argue with that, though he couldn't fathom the purpose. Perhaps the man was in an illegal trade. "There are still too many mysteries around your kind … what exactly are you?"

Stare. "That's too broad of a question. Let's start with what you think I am." The old man beamed, cracking his knuckles as he waited for the story. "None of you Nirvit have ever told me, nor did I ever hear about it when I was little."

Robaul arched an eyebrow. "Are you sure you want to hear it?"

"Only if you really want to hear if it's the answer or not."

Fair enough. "The Nirvit believe that 'Dragon Hide' are simply Dragons in a human form, a way to lure in prey or scout out the villages worth raiding."

For a moment there was silence, but then Kalusa let out a loud, old mans' bellow, laughing from his gut as he scratched at his beard. Several people passing below turned their heads up in awkward curiosity, but moved along when Robaul sheepishly waved them back. "That's rich it is – I should've guessed it, that humans thought that way, but you really think that Dragons would want to disguise their young as humans? For your King's sake, humans are too fleshy and weak!"

"I'm just telling you what we've thought of you, old man." Robaul answered calmly. "Dragons and the 'humans' with them are still a complete mystery to us, even if we've been in good contact with them these past sixty years."

"If I were a Dragon I'd be aging a whole lot slower. I'm just as mortal as you here."

"So that means you're human."

Stare. "Look at you here, trying to weasel all the age-old secrets out of me … even if you are a priest with badly placed curiosity I can't tell you a whole lot more."

Robaul grew impatient, typical of a young man near an elder in which teasing was the main form of communication. "Can you not tell us something about your race? We're the first civilization to even attempt an alliance with your species – whatever you are, and the Dragons."

"No." Was his firm, solid answer. "When a Dragon decides to find or have – or whatever you want to think – a Dragon Hide, the bond between a Dragon and a Dragon Hide far surpasses any known bonds between humans in any of their societies, and because the bond is so strong it also makes the whole weak. I cannot tell you or anyone else what we are to them and what they are to us." Kalusa beamed, his browning teeth not an attractive sight. "It'd be a lot like if you revealed your city's weak points to all of your enemies before challenging them."

"That strong, huh?"

"Of course. It's a secret that all of us will do anything to ensure it goes with us to the grave. A secret that many of us wish we never had to hear – it's that devastating in the grand scheme of all things."

Robaul sighed, scratching the back of his neck. "I guess that's all I'll ever get out of you then. Just one more curiosity then?"

"What?"

"How did the Dragons learn the Nirvit language?"

Kalusa raised a fuzzy white eyebrow. "Sorry, brat?"

Robaul frowned further. "The Nirvit language … my teacher informed me of the first visit you and two others had made to our walking capital. Two of you could speak our tongue fluently yet there have never been records of Dragons or 'Dragon Hide' coming to learn the language or the culture or the people. And you were ten. For all I know maybe the Dragons do try to wear human skin to blend in with humans, to learn about them—"

He was cut off short when he received a whack! from the elderly man who stared him down, eyes to eyes. It felt good to finally be the one whacking people and not receiving the whacks or the scolding himself. "I already told you brat, we're not the same. At the very least you have to be able to see that, secrets or not, alliances or not. You really think a Dragon would be comfortable walking around in my old sack of bones for as many years as your people's known me?"

"The King only meets with you – the alliance – once every five to ten years." Robaul noted, grinning back slyly. "If you are a Dragon you wouldn't be wearing that skin all the time."

"You just won't drop it, will you?" Kalusa rolled his eyes, continuing his hobble down the stairs. "Fine, believe whatever you want brat – we've got more pressing matters anyway. You're only going to end up with a heap of questions that won't ever lend you answers! In truth there is only one thing you ever need to remember about me, my kind, the Dragons, however you see us as a whole: should Nirvana ever attempt to unleash evil on the world beyond this tragedy, we will destroy it and its people so it can never rise again."

*
Back to the Future …

*
The alliance grudgingly trekked back with army guards flanking all sides, back along the path to Cait Shelter which only Wendy seemed enthusiastic about. The mood changed however as they were greeted by a great celebration from the Cait Shelter mages. Even in the morning they threw a great party, with traditional music, food – everything to create an atmosphere they could enjoy. Wendy and a guildswoman offered changes of clothing, and several of the mages chose to sleep off the exhaustion from the past thirty six hours or so.

Erza was one of the ones to excuse herself. She had trudged her way back in a thoughtless argument, too confused and too alienated to try to understand anything. She felt too emotionally jumbled as she set up the bedding, tuning out the enthusiastic chatter and festivities that Cait Shelter offered the alliance. The moment I think I understand something, something else happens to disprove it all. It irked her. She was a woman used to knowing everything about her nakama, her friends, the world around her … and yet she couldn't understand the reasoning behind two young men that seemed to pop up in her life again and again. I thought I understood Jellal, then he became possessed … I thought I understood Natsu, he destroyed the tower after all … but then he helped Jellal … and then when I think I understand why he helped Jellal, but then he goes and helps him again in a way I don't understand … what is going on?!

Gritting her teeth and clenching her fist, she barely realized she had raised her arm and didn't register she had slammed her fist down on the nearby nightstand as the tension increased in her body. She heard a resounding CRRAAACK! Form the nightstand, startling herself. The manifested anger was gone but it was quickly replaced by embarrassment as she caught the nightstands' leg, keeping the table from falling over.

She would spend about an hour trying to fix the nightstand before calling it quits and allowing herself to fall into a slumber.

*
"Heh, look at these," Gray grinned almost child-like at the new set of clothes in the Nirvit style, having returned from one of the satellite tents. "Not exactly Fiore style but not a faux-pas either! Where is everyone?"

Since when did you care about fashion? Lucy had to wonder if the Ice Mage was right in the head. "Oh, Erza, Lyon and the Trimens all went to go rest – separately, of course!" Lucy added quickly. She could still see Sherry attempting an argument with Ichiya and several Cait Shelter members across the room. Gray either ignored or missed that last part of Lucy's comment.

"Hmm … looks like Gajeel and Jura are here again too." Gray noted. "When did that happen?"

"The army dragged them here about half an hour ago." Lucy sighed, scratching her head.

"That is correct." Jura spoke, coming up to the other two mages and startling them both . "I am glad that everyone is alive and safe. It has certainly been quite the experience working with mages from Fairy Tail."

"What happened to you two?" Happy flew over, landing on Gray's head. "You look exhausted!"

"I am fine, Happy-dono." Jura bowed his head. "We merely had some difficulties when Nirvana fell."

"Were you still on that when it toppled over?" The blonde blanched.

Jura nodded with a firm grin. "Yes. But Gajeel-dono and I both have excellent command of the earths around us. It took a while but we dug ourselves out safely."

"So that's what happened." Happy frowned, his wings drooping a little. "Then what was that screaming thing from before?"

By now Gajeel had wandered over, his hands jammed in his pockets, appearing disgruntled. He hadn't been too happy about digging his way out only to have some military morons try to pull him out and question him. "What's that?"

"The screams from earlier … did we ever figure out what they were from?" Lucy asked while scratching her head. "Maybe it was just Nirvana?"

Jura and Gajeel exchanged glances, confusing the others. "So they didn't see it?" Jura mumbled.

"Apparently not." Gajeel grunted. "None of them have good eyesight."

"Sorry?" Gray didn't like all this secret-keeping. Come on, I didn't even get to do anything on Nirvana!

"This is probably not the location to discuss it." Jura worded his answer cautiously. "I would rather discuss it with our masters first."

Natsu nodded in agreement. He had to agree that it was best not to talk about it here.

"I see …" Lucy sighed in relief. "Then it's probably not too bad."

"Huh? Something doesn't seem right …" Happy noted as the others reached that slow realization with the clueless looks, but as the bell rang in their heads they all suddenly all eyes turned to Natsu – Natsu, who just seemingly and seamlessly appeared out of nowhere.

"What are you doing here? H-how did you get past the guards?!" Lucy stuttered, pointing at Natsu with wide eyes.

"Ooh, I'm impressed." Gajeel grinned, chuckling as he at the metal rod in his hand (and stunning many of the Cait Shelter party-ers while at it). "They didn't even notice, right? I heard you distracted 'em earlier."

[It doesn't matter. They're not looking for me here.] Natsu answered using his notebook, glancing around. Okay, he had found one Dragon Slayer … now to ensure that the other one was here.

"It is you that carried the other man off before." Jura stated as fact, his eyes glaring back at Natsu's. Though everyone around them felt intimidated, neither felt intimidated of the other. "I would like to know why."

[He tried to self-destruct Nirvana before it ever rose and take himself along with it. He's also the one that warned everyone of the approaching creature. Do you think he deserves execution for that?]

Well, Natsu wasn't sure if Jellal actually managed to warn everyone in time, but it was a good and correct bluff to make.

Jura nodded, accepting this explanation with a smile. "Then I presume you will be taking care of the consequences later."

[You can say that, but for now he's hidden in a safe enough place. I couldn't sneak him through here with me.]

"By the way, what happened to you?" Gray snorted. "You're covered in dirt."

It's ash. And it's normal for me. Natsu glared back. Ah, the resumption of the silent comebacks. For some reason he missed this.

"Says the one who lost his clothes." Lucy griped, while Gray did his little dance of searching for the top he had lost at some point during the conversation.

Wendy recognized and approached Natsu, stuttering. He's the one who took Jellal to a safer place. She wasn't sure how he had gotten here but she didn't want to question it either. "Natsu-san … right?" She remembered his name that the others had used for him. "I – I can get you some new clothes if you want."

*
"T-thank you … for helping Jellal …" Wendy spoke shyly while digging around the chests for an appropriate fit in one of the nearby tents. "Even though it meant jumping in front of the military … I – I'm sure no one wants to become a criminal like that, but …"

Natsu raised his hand as he sat down on a nearby stool, grinning. It's fine. I technically have a criminal record anyway. In Fiore that was mostly for two things: breaking and entering, and theft. About time he added kidnapping to the list.

"I guess you s-see he's not that bad … I know he did some bad things in the council, but he really isn't that kind of person …"

[He was possessed by some external force at the time.] Natsu answered, showing her the pages as she turned around with a folded outfit in her arms. [He's not to blame.]

Wendy nodded eagerly, happy to hear kind words about Jellal. She wasn't the only one who recognized him as evil. It's a relief. "Umm, I'm not sure if these will fit, but please try them!" Wendy offered out a set of clothes in her arms, walking around to where he sat. "C-can I make sure they're the right size? I – I'm not sure if the neckline will fall over … well …" She didn't want to point out his obvious missing-arm issue, but he understood well enough what she meant, nodding.

Wendy quickly checked the size of the neckline on the set of clothes she had, holding it up to compare to Natsu's own. She couldn't see under the scarf so she moved her fingers along the edge underneath it, but stopped.

She ran her fingers back along the ridge of his neck – the portion the scarf tended to hide. She felt several unnatural protrusions, her wind magic enhancing her abilities to feel their peculiar forms. But she must have become too distracted, for Natsu had started writing without her noticing.

[Sometimes it's better not to ask.] Natsu wrote, allowing her to peer over to see the scribbles. She fretted, blushing at her faults. "I'm s-sorry, I … I … I'll let you get changed!" Natsu blinked as he watched the embarrassed Dragon Slayer hurry out of the tent room and presumably back to the celebrations her guild was holding for the lot of them.

It didn't surprise him that she reacted the way she did. Wind, Earth, Water and Bio magics had the ability to sense inconsistencies in living creatures – though the degree to which they could sense it depended on the skill of the user, and the magic's fine-tuned qualities. It doesn't matter. I think the better question is getting changed right now. It's always nice to get a new set of clothes.

As Wendy walked from the one tent back to the celebrations, she cast her gaze downward a little and bit her bottom lip. There are bones there that shouldn't be there. Wendy frowned, gazing down at her fingers. She felt the unnatural ridges and her wind magic allowed her to see some medical inconsistencies. Bones that I've never seen … but she shook her head, erasing the thoughts. It was clear Natsu was fine, right? And he knew about the oddities. So she decided to put it aside – how bad could it be? One of the first rules Grandine taught her was unnatural didn't mean wrong. He's fine – he's definitely fine. Wendy reassured herself, willing herself to forget the unnatural oddities. Natsu was a nice person – that's what mattered, right?

*
Meanwhile, two mages finally got around to clarifying their situation.

"… Can we just never bring that up again?"

"Agreed." Gray gave an exaggerated nod while folding his arms, Lucy noticing he had lost the brand new top the Nirvit made for him. That's Gray alright.

"Bring up what?"

The momentary relief was shot to hell when they heard Gajeel's voice loom behind them, both Gray and Lucy jumping and spinning around to glare at him accusingly.

"N-nothing!" Lucy stuttered, quickly realizing her glare was no match for his own.

"You're acting weird, Bunny Girl."

"Will you stop calling me that?! Shouldn't you have forgotten that nickname by now?!" The topic changed but not to a topic she cared to discuss.

"Hell no," Gajeel snickered. "Bickslow's nicknames are great."

"For your information, he doesn't call me 'Bunny Gir—no, I'm not even going to tell you because Bickslow's nicknames are worse!"

"I'm glad everyone's having fun." Wendy nodded enthusiastically while holding her hands behind her back, walking over to the members of Fairy Tail after speaking with Jura for a while. "Without e-everyone, Cait Shelter wouldn't be here now … thank you!"

"Heheh," Lucy reveled in the glory despite the fact she believed she hadn't done all that much.

"Oh yes, Lucy-san –"

"It's Lucy."

"A-ah, Lucy … you got two new keys from Angel-san, right?"

Lucy's eyes grew wide, little noticing that one set of ears grew anxious at what he was hearing. "Ah, that's right! I still have to make a contract with them!" She grinned like a childish girl while thinking of her two newest acquisitions.

"I've never met a Celestial Mage before you … how do you contract them?"

"I have to call them forth and make an agreement about when is appropriate to summon them. It's a vocal agreement." Lucy beamed.

"That's lame." Gajeel snorted. "You should have to fight them."

"Err, it's not about proving strength, Gajeel … it's about proving loyalty to them." Lucy deadpanned. The Iron Dragon Slayer responded with a grunt.

"Come to think of it, I've never seen you make a contract with a spirit before." Gray noted, thinking back on all the different times he'd seen Lucy with spirits. "I think you showed Mirajane and Happy."

"Yeah … do you guys want to see it? I can do one now." She started to fish around in her new side pouch that the Nirvit had given her, rummaging for the correct ones. But she noticed that Wendy and Gajeel had vanished from the room entirely when she looked up from pulling out her two new acquisitions from her pouch. "… Eh? Where did they …?"

"I think Natsu needed to speak with them." A bemused Gray jerked his thumb to where the doorway stood, the tent flaps still settling from an abrupt exit. "I tell you though, that's the fastest I've ever seen him move."

*
"Hey, what was that for?" Gajeel growled darkly, rubbing the back of his head after having been dropped – or thrown, he wasn't sure – unceremoniously onto the ground outside the tent. He lifted his head to note that he, the pink haired boy and the Cait Shelter girl were all outside, Natsu glowering down at him as if taunting him to defy. Natsu released a stunned Wendy under his arm far more gentle than he had Gajeel, allowing her to stand on her feet.

"N-Natsu-san …?" Wendy stuttered nervously, questioning why she'd been removed at such a speed. She noticed he was wearing the new clothes, though had kept his cloak and his scarf on. Charle came out of the tent moments later, distressed and snapping at Natsu.

Natsu dug around for the notebook, his eyebrow twitching as he knew he had an ever increasingly feral Dragon Slayer – as well as an increasingly worried Wind Dragon Slayer and a lecturing cat – before him. Damn, it's so much slower writing …

[You can't be in the presence of any spirits.] Natsu warned, hoping they would pick up the seriousness he wished he could express better. [Neither of you can allow her to summon spirits while you are around.]

Wendy didn't understand though she picked up on the vibes. "Th-that doesn't make any sense … why would it be bad? Lucy wouldn't hurt us."

Natsu started to scribble something down again, Gajeel waiting impatiently for a response.

[Spirit energy clashes with the Dragon Slayer magic. It disrupts their magic and causes them to attack us, whether we're the enemy or not.] [The best thing to do is to avoid Celestial Mages – though you can be around Lucy otherwise.]

"Oh yeah, like that horse guy from then. Heh, he was behaving a bit weird." Gajeel recalled the Sagittarius Celestial Spirit summoned in front of them during their first fight. That horse had more fear in him than I thought spirits could.

"S-so, all we have to do is ask Lucy-san not to summon any in front of us …" Wendy concluded, her hands folded behind her back as she chuckled nervously. "That's not so much a pr-problem for me, since I'm sure everyone will leave back for their own homes tomorrow …"

"Damn, so it's gonna be on me … whatever, I'll tell her I'll just beat the cr*p out of them if any of them go haywire on me." Gajeel grinned darkly, turning around to head back to the party while Wendy jumped a little, following after him.

"Gajeel-san, I don't think that's a good idea …!"

Natsu just watched them retreat, his mind left reeling in contemplation. He had just told a lie full of bull … and they accepted it without any problems. Grandine and Metallicana, they never got around to telling these two anythingLike most of others he found, whether a Dragon Slayer, a normal human mage or an enemy, they were deep inside of ignorant bliss.

They wouldn't be alright if he let them stay the way they were. Even if the Celestial Mage Lucy and the rest of the guild – he was sure there would be more enemies if he looked - were just as ignorant as they, an outside influence would come sooner or later and turn the tables. He needed to make sure that he would be the one to prepare them, to ensure that in the end the Dragon Slayers would be the ones able to defend themselves.

"Hey you!" Charle huffed, clearly frustrated with him. "Don't go grabbing Wendy like that!"

Natsu nodded, doing his best to look as sorry as possible in order to avoid the rant from the cat. First, he had a few final things to take care of. [Sorry, but where is Erza Scarlet staying?]

"Why do you need to know?"

Well, I'm not getting the answer I need. [It's alright, I can smell her anyway.] Natsu shoved the journal under his armpit and tapped his nose with a grin, baffling Charle as she watched him walk off to the tent Erza was indeed staying in.

"Too brazen if you ask me …" Charle turned her nose up and walked back to the main tent. It wasn't her concern if a humans' version of courting appeared highly inappropriate.

*
He snuck into the tent as quietly as he could, easily finding the bed where Erza was sleeping. He averted his eyes – he didn't really want to know the state she slept in. But as his eyes wandered he couldn't help but notice the broken nightstand.

She broke the table. He was definitely not waking her up. She had a crazy affinity for knives. Especially since he knew she had to be confused about why he'd gone and helped Jellal escape.

Natsu scribbled something down at a sloppy speed, tearing the pages from the notebook as quietly as he could. He left it by the sleeping pad and quietly made his way out of the tent, sneaking back into the other where the party rambled on. But not without Ichiya noticing the apparent "courtship" as he saw Natsu sneak from the tent and wailing to the Trimens, waking them up from their slumber.

Back in the main tent … "Awww, you're always leaving!" Happy complained, pouting as his wings drooped. "Why not stay with Fairy Tail for a while? I'm sure Master wouldn't mind!" He chirped.

"He's already made it clear he doesn't like to stay in any one place too long." Gray folded his arms, sitting down in a nearby stool and leaning backwards while somehow obtaining a mug of local ale. "Judging from the way the military reacted to him, he's got enough reasons why."

"But it's no fun with just Luuucy!"

Lucy twitched. "Happy, why are you always so mean to me? I'm fun! I'm nice!"

"You're boring~ Always trying to write about romances," Happy snickered, a paw covering his mouth as Lucy's jaw dropped and she began to stutter.

"Hey, what are you trying to imply?!" Lucy hollered, blushing. "If I'm that boring, go back to staying with Gray!"

"But he strips all the time." Happy deadpanned, walking along the counter. "That gets boring too. Maybe he could be inspiration for your romance Lucy!"

Lucy blushed more, Gray coughing on his drink. "Y-Y-Y-!" Lucy stuttered, stamping her foot. "That's it! You're staying with him!"

Natsu might have a stone face as he watched the argument, but he was inwardly snickering. The cat had the ability to manipulate others; that was for sure.

"So, Natsu," Gray tried to awkwardly change the conversation as Lucy and Happy continued to argue. "I presume you'll be popping back up again. Any idea where?"

No answer.

Gray rolled his eyes with a snort. "You've got to lighten up a little … you always leave before anyone gets a chance to know you."

Natsu shot a glare back. There's a reason for that.

"But, knowing you, you're going to be back again soon," The Ice Mage shrugged as the two watched the celebrations.

Natsu nodded. [I'll be visiting Fairy Tail again in a few weeks.]

"What? Really?" Happy beamed, turning from his argument with Lucy. "But why in a few weeks?"

Because the Dragon Slayers here are idiots. Well, he didn't want to be that mean to Wendy. [I have a few tricks I'd like to show Gajeel before leaving Fiore. He could use them.]

"Good luck with that. Gajeel doesn't seem like the type to accept help."

He will once he sees what it can do. Natsu shrugged, the meaning apparently conveyed well enough.

"So you'll be back! Too bad Lucy'll be boring." Happy sighed.

Apparently that struck the final nerve in Lucy. "Hey, I know – why don't you take Happy with you?" Lucy chuckled darkly, grabbing the cat off the counter and holding him out to Natsu, who blinked a few times. "You'll be back in a few weeks anyway, right? And you two get along splendidly."

"Gaaah! Lucy's trying to give me away!" Happy cried, pawing his way out of her stronghold.

"What the hell do you mean?! This is the kind of thing you'd love!" Lucy snapped.

Gray rolled his eyes, discreetly drinking his ale again. Maybe he'd get intoxicated enough not to care about anything around him. As Cana liked to tell him, forgiveness often came while drunk.

Natsu didn't know how to respond at first. He had Jellal to take care of. Not to mention the various contacts he needed to meet, places he needed to go … Yet, a crazy thought popped into his head. A flying cat equaled less mechanical transportation. Maybe that wasn't such a bad proposition after all. What harm could a cat understand or do?

[I don't see why not.]

"Really?!" Happy cheered, plopping himself down on Natsu's head with a grin after escaping Lucy's arms of doom. "I get to spend a few weeks with you! Yay! You've got fish though, right?"

"Take care of him." Gray offered a light warning, though he felt that Natsu wouldn't let them down in that regards. That jerk's already taken care of Fairy Tail before … even if Loke doesn't like him.

Natsu nodded, deciding it was time to leave and writing a few notes to Happy before walking away from them with a small wave. Lucy waved back almost too overenthusiastically, several guild members laughing at the lot of them. They had made a commotion after all.

"… How are you going to explain this to Erza?" Gray asked hollowly as he watched Happy wave a few "romantic" goodbyes to a huffy Charle before departing with Natsu.

"Heheh, don't worry! I'll tell her Happy's training with Natsu!" Lucy replied nervously, almost unsure if she could pull it off.

You're becoming a cunning woman. I think Erza and Mirajane been too much of an influence on you.

Smart Gray kept his thoughts to himself.

*
As the day passed into the early evening, Wendy led the girls back to the dressing room. She wanted to offer her friends another set of clothes, to show her own appreciation for all that they had done.

"These clothes are amazing!" Lucy beamed in awe as she tried on an outfit she adored, pink with white wrappings, fringe trim and flowers. It was a style she couldn't recognize but, with some help from Wendy, she deduced how it was to be worn. "So cute!"

Sherry resisted the temptation to snort at Lucy's remarks while gazing at herself in the mirror. "Oh? I'm far cuter," she teased, admiring the red and violet dyed garments with the golden fringes and the feathery sleeves.

Wendy felt the pride swell up in her chest. "The entire village here is part of the guild, so clothing production is a thriving business!"

"Mmm … so this must be traditional Nirvit sewing, right?" Lucy asked, looking at the stitch work; it was in knots and patterns somewhat unfamiliar to her.

"Now that I think about it … maybe it is?" Wendy contemplated.

Sherry turned from the mirror to face the young girl, temporarily distracted from her appearance. Though in reality she was just glad to have shoes again. "You didn't realize that the guild was all descendants of the Nirvit, did you?"

"Well, I'm the only one who joined afterwards."

"Speaking of which, Wendy," Sherry continued, "when did Cait Shelter join the League of Guilds? I apologize for being blunt but before this mission I had never heard of your guild."

"Now that you mention it, neither have I." Lucy scanned her brains for any mention of the Cait Shelter guild but nothing came to her mind.

"Is that so?" Wendy chuckled nervously, trying to hide her embarrassment. "My guild must be one of the more obscure ones …"

"Who cares?" Charle spoke with a huff as she walked into the tent the girls were in, catching all of their attention. "The military said it is fine for them to leave to their guilds now. Everyone is waiting."

"Ah!" Lucy clapped her hands together. "Hang on, I have to go get Erza!"

Wendy jumped. "Ah, I-I have to get the Blue Pegasus members and Lyon-san too!"

*
"Erza!" Lucy called, opening the tent flap and peering in as cautiously as she could. "Erza, are you awake?" She heard a grumble in response. "Everyone's meeting outside; Cait Shelter would like to say a thank you to everyone. Come out soon, okay?"

Erza turned over at hearing Lucy's voice, blinking. I slept the entire day. How exhausted had she been? She should have at least gotten back up to celebrate with the others …

It was then Erza noticed several sheets of paper on the broken nightstand. Momentarily confused she took them to read, but growled at the familiar handwriting.

[If a clueless, stranded puppy started to follow you around, would you abandon it as well?]

Erza felt her teeth grind in mild irritation, insulted by his insinuations. She flipped through the two pages, seeing more hastily scribbled words across it.

[I am off to get him out of here before the pound catches him. I'm going to lead him somewhere safe – they'll be able to ensure he can't run off again but they won't lock him in the room all day either. They might figure out his behavioral problems too. However I will return for a while in about two week's time. If you can, keep an eye on my two pups – they need some work on their behavioral problems too.]

Her gaze softened as she read through the words, unable to retain the tense expression she held in the beginning. The more she read his words, the more she listened to him explain himself, the less it tasted of a bitter poison. Though she had just read an entire metaphor for Jellal (and even the other two Dragon Slayers), she understood why Natsu wrote it the way he did. To keep it between them. No one other than the three of them would be able to understand what he eluded to … it was a code that he wanted to keep it quiet and settled until a time they were ready to bring it back out into the open.

I still don't fully understand why you decided to help him, but …

She clenched the notes in her fists, deciding it would be best to just accept what happened and move on. Jellal – a good, non-possessed Jellal – would have a better chance of recovery if with Natsu for unknown reasons than he would locked away in a jail cell.

Once she accepted that, she had to smile bitterly. He left a note again to explain himself, huh? Though she spoke to no one in particular, she had to shake her head. "Natsu, you need to stop leaving me notes like this."

*
Stay here, keep a lookout. Natsu motioned with his fingers, first pointing to the cats, then to his eyes, and then around them. Happy nodded with a silent Aye sir! and hovered, keeping the best lookout he could while Natsu slid down into the cave entrance. He got a good foothold before advancing inside, letting his eyes adjust to the dark. He soon saw the sleeping form of Jellal against one of the cave walls.

Sleeping? Then again they were up the entire night and day before. And it was better than having the amnesiac decide to go exploring and end up with several military men chasing them down. I should stop thinking like that – he's more mature than I want to make him out to be. At least he hoped so.

«Jellal, wake up.» Natsu reached out, placing a hand on the other's shoulder only to have him jump, startled and half-awake . The blank look disappeared after a few moments as he rubbed at his eyes, but he remained confused about the world around him, allowing Natsu to help him out of the caves after vigilantly inspecting the area for any military men.

«We're going East. Past the borders that Fiore's men will look. I know of some people who can help you but I won't inform you of the specifics of where until we're far enough away. »

"I don't have another choice, do I?" Jellal grinned weakly. No memory, no past, nothing to want to hold onto or claim another path.

« There are always enough options.» Natsu answered, digging around in a newly summoned pack restocked with supplies to ensure he had everything they would need– especially considering since Gajeel had insisted on eating his cooking utensils. «If this isn't the one you want you'd best decide that now

Natsu allowed Jellal to think for a moment. Surprisingly Jellal seemed to be the opposite of Natsu's thinking expressions. When Jellal had a blank expression usually something brewed behind the scenes; Natsu's expression always looked painfully thoughtful, though most of the time it was a thoughtless concentration.

«Changed your mind?»

"No …" He responded with certainty, perhaps the surest certainty since he had woken from the Etherion induced slumber. "I'll go with you."

Natsu nodded, taking off a Nirvit woven side pouch and handing it to Jellal. The smell of food hit them both. «Eat quickly. We have another companion on this journey.»

"… Who?"

«Happy. The small flying blue cat from Fairy Tail. He doesn't know about my telepathy and he can't hear me naturally, so I won't use it as often.»

Happy … the name was unfamiliar, but he did remember the blue cat with wings who had escorted him off of Nirvana.

«Alright, let's go.»

"Right."

*
Robaul thanks the various guilds for stopping Nirvana. "As a representative for the local League of Guilds, I, Robaul, say job well done. Thank you. Nabula! Thank you!"

Blue Pegasus took the praise egotistically well while the other two guilds beamed in the praise. They began to offer their own thanks and joys as well. Yet those in Cait Shelter remained stoic and downcast, as if something in their eyes clouded their ability to celebrate as they had during the morning before. The mood wasn't of an angered nature but rather a nature of nothingness – in which they all shared the same thoughtless thought.

"Everyone, I am truly sorry about hiding our legacy as the Nirvit." Robaul apologized.

We don't mind at all." Gray shrugged, grinning back at them. "It's an understandable secret."

"Says the one who didn't hear any of it until afterwards." Lyon joked, earning a frown from Ul's younger pupil.

Wendy held her hands behind her back. "I don't mind at all either, Master."

Robaul shook his head. "I still owe you an explanation. Everyone, please listen carefully to what I must say. To stat, we are not the descendants of the Nirvit. We are the Nirvit themselves."

What? The confusion echoed around in everyone's mind at that point.

"Nirvana had been created to uproot the city from the wastelands of its homeland. The Nirvit wanted to prevent what happened in its homeland to the other countries, and created Nirvana to be capable of reversing damage already done to societies. It travelled nearly half around the world to get this far, seeing several generations of Nirvit rise and fall."

"But we began to absorb the darkness around us and the darkness began to swallow the people. The King and his court decided to release the darkness into a single creature in hopes of being able to sacrifice it instead of the entire city. But in doing so they had created a far worse situation in which we were nearly dragged into war, unable to retain neutrality. But with sacrifice on both sides, we persevered yet with warning to never do so again. We were too afraid of the threat from the first mishap that we refused to release any darkness. We accumulated too much of it and so we ourselves succumbed to the darkness we swapped from those around us." Robaul answered solemnly.

"It was to maintain the balance. It was impossible to change people's personalities to light without limit. As light rises to oppose the darkness so does darkness rise to oppose the light. The darkness lost from the various peoples came back upon us Nirvit."

"N-no …" Wendy trembled at hearing the truth from the Master, recognizing that the guild she had cherished was not as she believed it to be.

"We did not want to cause the disaster we had the first time, so we allowed the darkness to consume us all. It was hell. We killed each other until no one was left."

The alliance too felt frozen in shock at hearing the truth, unable and unsure of how to respond to the revelations. It was comparatively easy to accept Cait Shelter as descendants of the Nirvit than to accept this tail as he told it, yet they knew from his solemn words he spoke the truth that only he could remember.

Then, as yet another stab to their disbelief: "Because of my later apprenticeship that took me off the city when it turned to its worst, I am the only survivor. Well, at this point, that's not exactly right. My physical body has long since perished … I am what you might call a spectral form now."

Wendy couldn't believe it; her eyes turned haunted as the revelations echoed in her mind. The Master isn't real … though I've known him for years, he isn't real … a spectral form … Cait Shelter … was never real?

"Or rather, a weak ghost trying to atone for the sins of the past. I watched over Nirvana for thousands of years, only to see it attempt revival during the chaos four hundred years ago. I waited for someone to come and destroy it, for at that time I no longer had a form to do so, nor the know how to ensure it would never rise again. And now … it seems my role is finally over."

No one of the alliance could comprehend the length of the tale he knew. No one could amount to the thousands of years this man had endured, the emotions and the people and the lives he had known, the knowledge of the many years that he witnessed firsthand. No matter how powerful, how strong, how intelligent or old, they were but saplings to his aged tree of life. All they could do was accept his words, unable to question the wisdom behind them.

But Wendy, having known the Master for so long, felt suddenly lost, alone, and in despair. She fought not to clench her fists as her jaw tightened, fighting back any tears as Charle worriedly watched on. Only she had the words and the right to speak back. "W-what are you saying …?"

Robaul bowed his head, a quick gust of a magical light running through the people behind him, erasing them, their images fading as they accepted it with the blank smiles that dolls wore while sitting on their shelves.

"W-what's going on here?" Hibiki's astonishment finally came to his words. "They're all … vanishing!"

"N-no, everyone! I don't want you to disappear!" Wendy hollered, her voice shrill and panicked as she helplessly watched the ones she had loved for years vanish in seconds.

Robaul remained downcast, knowing he had hurt the young girl. "I apologize for deceiving you … all the members of the guild are illusions created by me."

The power of his magic! Jura felt the uttermost respect for Robaul. Having met and spoken with the guild members – or phantoms – at the party the night before, he could recognize the immense scale of ability this required. "They all had their own distinctive personalities, and yet you had created them all. What incredible magic power!"

As the last member behind Robaul vanished, Wendy unable to fight back crying now, Robaul continued his sad tale. "I lived alone in these ruins, protecting Nirvana the best I could. Seven years ago a single boy came here, asking me to take care of you, Wendy. Though I had not allowed myself to intertwine with the times that were not my own, I couldn't turn down the request of that boy and his fierce, honest eyes. Even though I had promised myself I would stay alone … I created an illusory family in the images of the friends and family I once knew."

Wendy continued to cry, remembering the memories of meeting the old man and the guild members … he created them all … for my sake …

Lucy held her hand to her mouth, unable to take in the shock. "The guild was created all for Wendy?"

"I don't want to hear it!" Wendy screamed, holding her hands to her ears as she shouted at the Master. "This can't be the truth! It can't be!" The feelings she felt now were far worse than she had ever thought during the mission, even during her brief phase of evil. Nothing could compare to the sadness and the betrayal screaming in her heart and in her mind.

"Wendy, you no longer need a foster family … you have real friends now … I'll admit I was surprised when you joined our guild; a Dragon Slayer and a skilled one at that." Robaul smiled warmly but with a hint of sadness, a hint of his aging memories.

"Wh-what are you saying, I'm n-not that skilled …" Wendy sniffed, wiping her arm on her eyes to try to stop the tears from flowing.

"You've very skilled, child … you simply don't have the stories yet." He chuckled while placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "We were the first known human society to ally with Dragon Slayers – we called them Dragon Hide in our time … and even a few Dragons, well over four thousand years ago. Though it was from a grave mistake of ours during the last leg of our civilization's life, and no doubt left its scars on the future, I'm proud to know that you and your comrades can live peacefully with each other now. To have known you at the end of this shadow of a life is an illumination to the lasting impact and heart of the Nirvit. I thank you for it."

Wendy continued to cry, wracked with sadness as Robaul began to fade into the illusory light that had taken the others from around him. Robaul turned to look at the mountains where Nirvana had fallen, smiling oh so faintly with relief.

"They always did say they would obliterate Nirvana the moment evil escaped it … it seems, even after nearly four thousand years, their promise was carried out." Robaul spoke, fondly even, as the rest of the group remained confused as to what he alluded to. But he began to burst into the light.

"MASTER!" Wendy screamed, falling to her knees as she reached out to grab him but it was too late; he faded away, the last remnant of a four thousand year drama came to a close. The Cait Shelter tattoo vanished from Wendy's shoulder and Charle's back.

The others watched her mourn, silent and unsure of how to comfort her. But Erza knew too well as she felt her heartstrings pulled once more, seeing Wendy break down as her family vanished before her. Erza knew that feeling too well … the familiarity of seeing all she knew fall apart before her called for her to become stronger, to help others so that no one need ever feel the despair she knew.

It was an unspoken sorrow but one they both understood, so she walked forward, kneeling behind her and placing a reassuring hand on Wendy's shoulder, saying nothing at all.

Nothing needed to be said … and they were fine with that.

They would be okay.

Next Arc: Heartcruz Armor