It was a week later that found all of Fairy Tail gathered by the river that cut through the middle of Magnolia, dressed in somber colors. It was a dark night, even the stars seemed dim, the moon less radiant. Macao and I led the group of massed guild members to a portrait of the Tenrou Island group, surrounded by candles and flowers. We were quiet, contemplative even, until it came to light our lanterns and set them floating down on little rafts. Then the sniffles and crying began, whispered goodbyes.
And we lifted our hands in the Fairy Tail salute.
I think it speaks volumes, how incredibly somber even the citizens of Magnolia were.
There wasn't too much time to mourn, Macao and I made a point of handing out as many missions as we could, stumbling when we came across the higher ranked missions. And the incredible headache that was being the only S-ranked mage in the guild. Macao and I had poured over plans for days on end, trying our best to arrange the guild affairs, but that one was the biggest pain in the ass.
As a rule, we didn't let anyone go out in groups of more than two, to maximize revenue, or less than two, to reduce potential injuries. And I hazarded a S-rank mission now and then when I found one I triple-checked could be done in a short amount of time.
It was all a blur. A dizzying blur.
"Mistress of Fairy Tail at only eighteen years of age, how does it feel?" the reporter asked. She was a tiny thing, with green horn rimmed glasses hanging on the edge of her nose precariously, in a gator skin jacket and orange pants.
"Unexpected. No one expects to become leader of a guild the way I did," I said slowly, staring absently at my glass of whiskey, the way condensation was beading and rolling down onto the wooden bartop. "Fairy Tail lost many valued members who were also close friends of mine."
"There is a camp of conspiracy theorists who think they have not died at all, do you have any thoughts on this?"
I frowned, sighing through my nose. "It is always—pleasant to see people express hope for the survival of my friends. I admit, I also hang onto a small shred of hope. But hope, as lovely as it is, does nothing for that absence, that terrible feeling of lost. I hope people can respect Fairy Tail's wish to accept what has happened and move on."
From the corner of my eye, I spotted Macao wielding a huge file. I flashed a regretful smile at the reporter, "I'm sorry, could we cut this short? I have some guild matters to take care of."
The reporter blushed and nodded, gathering her pen and supplies and hurriedly stuffing them in her satchel.
"Macao, what's going on?" I asked.
"Ah, Mistress," he said with a wan twitch of his lips. "Just wanted to go over these ideas for scouts, see if there's anything else we need for the Magic Council to approve before they approve our program."
"Ah, jeez, I really hope they don't give me another form to fill out," I pulled a face. "I swear, paperwork will be the death of me."
Macao shook his head, "No, no, I think everything is up to date for your Mentor Program, Lucy. Couldn't have done it better myself."
The Mentor Program was something I had cooked up when I apparently got drunk off my ass one night after a rousing game of "fifty pounds of paperwork." Basically, it would start as a set of cleverly placed Adverts around the continent, offering promising, aspiring mages the opportunity to learn magic in Fairy Tail, under the Stone Maiden. Macao had lectured me nonstop about taking on too many things, but I had waved him off.
"That's cause I came up with it," I flashed a toothy, teasing grin at him.
He patted my head, "Uh-huh, smug kid."
I didn't want to go back to Happy and Natsu's place. I didn't want to walk in there and see all the little trinkets and mementos they had accumulated since joining Fairy Tail, I didn't want to be faced with the reality that I would never see them again.
The first opportunity I got, I rushed in there, got my things, and set up a hammock in my little office. It wasn't uncommon for guild members to come in and see me making breakfast or passed out on the bar top on papers and rings of coffee stains. The Magic Council was giving me hell. Something along the lines of being too young, too brash—so they were inundating me in paperwork. Whenever I had a quick meeting with them over Lacrima, I would point out that Mavis Vermillion had been thirteen when she founded Fairy Tail with Precht, Yury Dreyar and Warrod Sequen.
It was one of those days where I was sitting on a bar stool with my forehead resting on my fists, breathing in the scent of ale and listening to the quiet morning conversations as guild members filtered in.
"Having a hard time?" Wakaba asked, plopping down next to me, a cigar hanging from his mouth, swirling blue plumes of sweet smelling smoke floating up into the rafters.
"Mild headache," I said, rubbing my temples. "Nothing a tonic won't fix. Magic Council finally approved the Mentor Program."
"They did?" Bisca said, appearing at my elbow, her pale green hair spilling onto the bar top. Bisca had always been super pretty, and the gunslinging mage had been all over magazines when I was younger, right along side Erza and Mirajane. And as one of the only other females I talked to, I felt closer to her. "That's great news, Lucy! It'll be nice to get some new blood in here, maybe some students to cheer Romeo up."
"Romeo, yeah," the little boy had taken to trying to imitate anything and everything Natsu. I felt bad for it, but sometimes I would just end up staring at him as he tried to produce a flame, or mimic one of Natsu's iconic moves. Just a wistful stare, where I would get caught up with memories. I tried to avoid him, honestly. It wasn't the healthiest idea, to let the youngest guild members be exposed to the extent of my somber emotions. "We need to help him."
"Everyone needs help right now," Macao said, rubbing his forehead. "He's doing his own thing right now, when we get the new students, he'll cheer up some, I'm sure of it."
"Macao, I have a mission, get your lazy ass up, I need you to man the guild while I'm gone!" I said, banging on the door to his apartment, bits of hazy dust fell from the roof in tune to my fist.
The wooden door flew open, and Macao level a groggy glare at me, a dried track of drool decorating the corner of his mouth. "What mission?"
I held up the flyer for him, "S-class, relatively simple. Find this so-called Time Mage whose been terrorizing Higanbana Town, freezing crops, burglarizing stores. Shouldn't be too hard to get him."
He rubbed his eyes slowly, "Ugh, Lucy, you know if it was that easy, it wouldn't be S-class."
"Ah, yeah," I said sheepishly, rubbing the back of my head. "This Time Mage asshole, he's wanted by the Magic Council for treason, I think. I figured they'd get off my back if I collected him for them, y'know?"
"Lucy," he said warningly. "Don't take on something too difficult. You're our guild Mistress. We can't afford to lose you when the guild is only now getting back on its feet."
I flapped my hand at him dismissively. "It's fine. I have my celestial spirits, if anything I can summon them to help me. Or keep me company. Trust me, this shouldn't be that difficult."
The Time Mage, from the sketches I had seen of him, was a funny man with wild hair, with a suit and suspenders, and a big red bow tie tied around his neck. When I showed it to Loke, he had doubled over laughing, tears rolling down his cheek at how ridiculous he thought this so called "Time Mage" seemed.
"It's no joke," I grumbled. "He pissed off most of the Magic Council and faces lifetime in prison in a magic sealed room."
"He still looks like a damn clown," Loke snickered, lacing his hands behind his neck.
"Agreed," I said, kicking at a stray pebble. "Any ideas on how to get this guy then?"
"Well, you've got a Dragon Slayer nose," he pointed out. "So, you could sniff around places that have been ransacked and find the guy. Should honestly be a quick job."
"That's what I told Macao, but nope, he launched into a huge lecture on keeping safe and not getting my ass killed," I told him.
"He's just trying to look out for you," Loke said, placing a hand on my shoulder. "We all know this hasn't been easy on you Luce—"
"Let's not talk about that, okay?" I interjected, flashing him a warning look. I was in no mood to discuss just how much my life had been messed up in the year since the Tenrou Team had disappeared. "We should focus on the mission and get out."
"Right," he said, putting up his palms in a sign of peace.
Higanbana Town, like the name suggested, was filled to the brim with beautiful, red spider lilies. They covered all the store fronts, lined all the streets and invaded the large fountain in the Town Square. It was beautiful, and also jarring. When I was younger, my mother had tried to teach me about the meanings of flowers and the art of flower arrangement. Honestly, it hadn't really stuck with me, especially considering how I was so enthralled by magic. But I had always been entranced by red spider lilies, their long petals tendrils, their bright color resembling Mama's favorite lipstick, the ghostly way their petals swayed in the wind.
And I remembered their meaning vividly.
Never meeting again.
"This town gives me the creeps," Loke mumbled, rubbing his arms.
"The Magic Council advised the townspeople to stay indoors while Fairy Tail conducted the investigation," I said. Which was odd in itself, the Magic Council hardly ever intervened with investigations conducted by the Light Guilds.
"LUCY WATCH OUT!" Loke yelled, tackling me around the midsection, and skidding across the dirt ground with me. I groaned when my head smacked against the ground, feeling it all the way into my jaw. A huge explosion had rocked the Fountain, a mushroom cloud of dust slowly rolling through the streets like a hazy, autumn fog, in the center, there was the flickering orange light of fire reflecting off the rolling debris like purple lightning on a stormy night.
Loke and I jumped to our feet and ran straight into the thicket, looking around wildly, trying to locate the damn Time Mage.
"Hahaha! Ickle Lucy Heartfilia can't catch me!" came the dark, gravelly laugh.
Loke grabbed my hand and we went sprinting off after a retracting shadow, watching horrified as the damage behind us paused completely, frozen and stiff, only falling in hard sheets after we brushed against it in our chase, shattering on the ground like glass.
What the hell are you doing, I thought to myself. You are a DRAGON SLAYER.
"CELESTIAL DRAGON'S ROAR!" I yelled, pulling Loke behind me as I let lose a ferocious blast of spiraling magic energy at the Time Mage. Loke whooped when it hit and slammed the Time Mage into a wall.
Quickly, we surrounded him, ready to tie him up and call down the Magic Council.
But I was stupid.
He grabbed my ankle right as I was gathering the energy to create a stone barrier to keep him trapped.
And I screamed bloody murder as the most agonizing feeling electrified everything I was, my hair flying straight up and whipping around in the magical blast.
I used to laugh whenever Natsu or Gajeel would end up looking like mummies from injuries. I mean, how much did you have to mess up to get that beaten? How many bones broken? I used to think that you lacked discipline or technique to get that black and blue but lo and behold, my dumb ass ended up in a similar situation. Maybe it was a Dragon Slayer thing, like motion sickness. Or just a curse.
Yeah, probably a curse.
The nurses hated me, that's for sure. The moment I gained consciousness, I was trying to escape. "I have a guild to run!" I would hiss when they'd fuss and try to get me back in bed.
Some were nice to me about it, and assured me that if I stayed in bed I'd get better quicker.
One just snapped at me, "It's not going to topple over without you there, Ms. Heartfilia!" And then made sure to put a guard outside of my room to catch me if I tried crawling out again. Then reprimanded Macao and Wakaba, and just about every guild member I asked to bring me my paperwork. "She needs rest!"
"Listen lady! While I'm sitting here on my butt, reading magazines, that pile of work is growing to monstrous proportions!" I snapped, rubbing my forehead.
From then on, they didn't really bother me about it much.
I spent three weeks confined to a bed, recovering from the magical discharge. Loke, as it was, freaked the hell out when he saw what was happening to me and nearly beat the Time Mage within an inch of his life. The most disturbing thing, he told me though, was that as the Military took him away, he was cackling about how he let himself be caught, how Fairy Tail would one day come to heel.
When I hobbled into the Guild, it was to cheers and radiant smiles, people happy that I was okay and recovering.
Macao and Wakaba were quick to admonish me for not telling them I had been discharged, while Bisca and Alzack honed in on the odd script that ran all the way up my leg in a spiraling black ink.
"It's a spell," I told them, propping my leg up on a chair so that they could see better. "The Magic Council will be sending over some spell breakers and written word mages to try and figure it out, but from the preliminary assessment, it looks to be some sort of Stasis spell."
I curled my hand around the tankard of ale Vijeeter handed me, giving him a gracious smile.
"A stasis spell? Like what we cast on food to keep it from spoiling?" Jet popped in, Droy at his shoulder.
"Something like that, it has the basic structure, I'm told," I poked my leg, tracing an errant coil of ink. "I don't really know much about this type of magic. Time Magic and Dragon Slayer Magic, while both really old, don't really overlap much."
"Well, at least you have experts on the job, right Guild Mistress?" Bisca said with a wicked grin. "Maybe one of them will even be cute enough to snag our Stone Maiden."
"Any put a move on me, and I'll whack 'em," I said, drinking deeply from my ale. "But for now—let's just celebrate being together. To Fairy Tail!"
"TO FAIRY TAIL!"
"Lucy! We have our first hopefuls for the Mentor Program!" Macao said, popping his head into my office.
I flailed my hands about, tumbling out of my hammock into a clumsy heap on the floor. I groaned, hastily wiping away the tears that had apparently been leaking out of my eyes, even as I slept.
"Woah woah, you okay there?" he asked concerned, dropping to his knees to help me up. I waved him away, peering down at the crumpled Grand Magic Games application I had fallen on top of.
"Yeah, just another nightmare about Natsu, it's nothing really. I'm fine," I brushed the imaginary dust off of my skirt. "So, new kids?"
Macao didn't look like he believed me, but seemed to think better of berating me any further. "Yeah, couple of kids by the name of Sting and Rogue, claim to be Dragon Slayers, actually."
My eyebrows flew up in shock, "Oh, really? Well then let's go give them a Fairy Tail welcome!"