Skin and Scales


The Ash & The Heir

AN: This is going to be a beast of a fanfic. It is AU (alternate universe) but doesn't differ too much from what makes Fairy Tail, well, Fairy Tail. It's an epic story of adventure, romance and learning to trust someone. It's set in a world where dragons can shape-shift into humans, magic is outlawed and the world is much darker that the lighthearted manga/anime. This is a story for mature readers and does contain mature content.

This is a massive project I've been working on for six months, and let me tell you that all of those six months went to refining the plot. This story is very long, very well thought out and is going to be, I hope, one of the best things I've ever presented here on . To anyone interested, there are a lot of extras that can be found on my deviantart profile centering around the story. If anyone is a fan of Rhov/WildRhov, you will know that she was inspired by a piece of art I did to write Beastly Possessions. That picture can be found at my deviantart: muninniguh(dot)deviantart(dot)com. This story, Skin and Scales, is the story that inspired me to draw that picture. :D Looks like we've come full circle!
Please read, please enjoy, please have patience and please review.

The sky had been rendered nearly black with thick, rolling clouds of ash and smoke. Cinders glided lightly on the breeze, brightly lulling towards the heavens before blinking out of existence. The warm smoke rose around him, wrapping his small body in its scent, swaddling him in its familiarity. Usually, such a sight would enamor him, make him comfortable and sleepy as though it were a mother's lullaby. This night, however, there would be no sleep. Only nightmares.

He stood on the edge of the cliff. His dirty, lightly torn clothes shifted slightly in the wind. The boy's arm was bent at the elbow, his hand reaching up to keep pressure on his wounded neck. Blood oozed lazily from between his fingers, making his shoulder look black. Tears streamed from his eyes as he gazed down at the burning city. His body shook—adrenaline, fear, anger and exhaustion being only a few of the things he felt. His body was hyper-aware of his surroundings—the events of the night still heavy on his mind.

The screams of the villagers rose from under the cliff. He heard them perfectly, as though the wind and cinders themselves carried every whimper and every plea straight to him.

Something huge moved behind him, and Natsu turned his head downwards. He couldn't take much more of it.

"Are you satisfied?" came the deep, growling voice of his father. The dragon's enormous mouth hovered just to Natsu's left. Its scaled skin curled back away from rows of teeth as large as the boy's entire body. A rasped hiss escaped him as he slightly panted.

"No," Natsu choked. "I didn't want this."

The dragon snorted, and superheated steam escaped his snout. The lingering scent of smoke and fire was powerful on his breath. "It was inevitable," he stated, turning his muzzle just enough so that he pressed his horned snout comfortingly against the boy's small frame. "You're still too young to fully understand how big the world is."

The dragon's words were sorrowful. Not guilty, but sorrowful. Natsu tore his eyes away from the dying town below and helplessly turned towards his father. "Is it so bad to want friends?" he asked quietly.

"No," the dragon said tightly, uttering the single word in such a way that even to his young, naive son, he sounded very old and very tired. "It isn't bad to want friends...but now is not the time to have them. The world has never been so dangerous for us," he said, sighing hot breath onto his son. The boy shifted, taking an instinctual comfort in the heat. "It's best to avoid ties to the humans for now. Otherwise this..." he trailed off, glancing down at the burning village, " going to happen again and again."

Natsu's shoulders shook as he silently fought off sobs. He leaned heavily into his father's face, resting his head against old, hardened, red scales. "I'm sorry," he muttered pitifully, sniffling as finally, horribly, the screaming below started to quiet down.

"No, you have nothing to apologize for," the dragon stated firmly. "The world wasn't always like this. It is sad that this is what it has come to, but we, like the humans, must protect ourselves."

The boy sobbed. "I'll never leave the mountain again!"

"You can't do that, either," Igneel snapped, pulling his face free of the boy and turning to leave. His massive, daunting body stepped over the boy, who stood calmly under him. "You need to live your life while you have it. You need to explore, to figure things out for yourself, to discover things and learn from your mistakes. You're still just a hatchling," the dragon said, lifting his wings and spreading them wide. "You have a lot to learn."

Letting his hand fall away from his neck, Natsu stared at his black, blood covered fingers. The firelight gave it an eerie copper sheen, almost exactly the same as his father's scales at night. " I look like one...?" he asked, turning towards his father. "Why am I able to look like a human?"

Igneel turned his head just the slightest bit, peering at his son through his peripheral. "Like I said, the world wasn't always like it is now."

Natsu's face twisted in angry impatience. "That's not-!"

Igneel flapped his wings, the wind and suddenness of the movement being enough to shock the boy into silence. "That form will serve you no purpose anymore. Cast it off and be done with it!"

The look of muted horror that twisted onto Natsu's face was matched only by the unwavering glare of his father. A wave of fear and guilt washed over the young boy, and he barely managed to keep from crying. He did not fully understand himself, and as the night had proven, he did not understand the world either. He did know that the form he was wearing now, though a part of him, was half of his being that added to the whole that was Natsu. He wasn't ready to cast away such a large part of himself yet, and he didn't know if he ever would. He did understand, however, that his father was old—even for a dragon—and wise. He knew what he was talking about and would not order his own son to do something so drastic unless it was for his own safety.

Some childish, petulant part of Natsu wanted to scream, throw a fit, retaliate and refuse. Doing something so extreme couldn't possibly be right, and he could prove it to Igneel. He wanted to, desperately, but didn't—couldn't—because he had already attempted to.

And Magnolia was burning for it.

So, even if Natsu wasn't ready, wasn't willing to leave all of it behind—he would. He would because he was just a child and his father was right. He'd made enough mistakes ignoring him.

Turning away from the cliff, Natsu nodded his head with sad resignation. He stripped the tattered and stained clothes from his body, letting them drop into a dirty heap to his left. He stood still for a moment, popping sounds exploding from his back and shoulders. He seemed to grow just the slightest bit taller as his spine elongated, before leaning forward and dropping onto all fours. A heavy tail jutted out from the base of his back, slamming onto the dirt and sliding across the ground. He panted heavily over the course of the transformation, keeping the urge to scream as his bones broke and rearranged themselves, his muscles moved and shifted under the surface, as his skin erupted into thick, red scales. He grunted when the horns started to grow. He hissed when his teeth sharpened. He whimpered when his wings tore from his back.

Igneel watched the process quietly, waiting for Natsu to shake his body and take the few short steps until he would be standing next to him. He watched the young dragon fidget around for a moment as its body started to settle, and turned around enough to snort out hot steam at him. The little dragon immediately relaxed at the comfort of the warmth and pressed his smaller, less spiked head into his father's snout.

"Let's go home," Igneel said after a moment.

Natsu nodded, unfurling his wings, and with one last, lamenting glance at what was left of Magnolia, he and his father left.

Well, there's the prologue. I hoped it intrigued you enough to want to read the next installment!

Also, to anyone interested, I AM in sore need of a beta. I need someone who has a decent amount of time, has a very good sense of words, grammar, sentence structure and isn't just looking for an early preview of the plot and chapters. Feel free to PM me if you're interested about talking more about it

Edit: Thank you Rhov for beta-ing the first chapter! :D