Okay so let me first apologize for this taking me so long. I swear, I never intended for my hiatus on this story to last for such a long time. But I did tell you guys that I'd never give up on my stories, and I won't. I can't. They're entirely too special to me to let go. And so, I offer to you with my sincerest apologies the next chapter of Shattered. I hope it's everything you were hoping for.
Big shoutout to my dear Triplet, who has pushed and encouraged me to keep fighting with my muse. Without her, I can promise you that this story wouldn't have a new chapter. LittlePrincessNana, I couldn't have done this without you. Thank you for believing in me.
Once more, I'll remind you that Hiro Mashima owns all things Fairy Tail. As if you didn't know.
CHAPTER 45: GONE
The job had been too easy. Honestly, it was one I never would have taken if it hadn't been for this shit with Rogue. I knew he wouldn't agree to leave his little Fairy for very long, and this seemed like the best option. Now though, with the job complete and Rogue on his way back to Fairy Tail, I was back at loose ends. Normally, I did everything with Rogue, Lector, and Frosch, so with him gone, I wasn't sure what to do with myself.
At least I still had our Exceeds. Looking down at my feet, I had to smile. With them, I'd never had to worry about things getting too quiet.
"Sting-kun is the best!" Lector crooned loudly, clearly trying to make a point to Frosch.
The tiny female nodded her head sagely, then argued, "Fro thinks Rogue is the best!"
Lector frowned. "No, Sting-kun is the best!"
Once more Frosch nodded. "Rogue!"
I couldn't help but laugh at their conversation and the confusion on my Exceed's face. Even though Frosch was one of his closest friends, she was always contradicting herself - and him - by appearing to agree with him and then saying something else. And the poor little guy fell into it every single time. I was beginning to wonder if she was doing it on purpose. Looking at her sweet grin, it was hard to imagine her being so devious. Then again, she was female.
Chuckling softly, I bent down and picked them up. "What's all the fuss about guys?"
Pouting, Lector pointed to his left. "Frosch is doing that thing again!"
I pressed my lips together to hide my amusement. "What's she doing?"
Shifting my gaze to my other arm, I nearly burst out laughing. Frosch looked up with the most innocent looking expression, but her eyes couldn't hide the truth. She knew exactly what she was doing.
"Fro didn't do anything!" she answered brightly.
Lector's eyes narrowed, but before he could get any further with his accusations, a loud chirp sounded from the vicinity of my pants. I sent them gently down and reached into my pocket. Pushing a measure of magic into the orb, I watched as the haze cleared, revealing someone I hadn't actually expected. I'd figured it was Rogue calling to let me know he'd reached Fairy Tail, so when the screen filled with a wide-brimmed red hat, I was shocked.
"Rufus?" His head tipped up, and my instincts instantly went crazy. "What's wrong?"
He eyed me for a moment before sighing. "I am unsure, but Minerva has been behaving strangely. I believe something big is going on, and I thought you should know."
"Something big? Like what?"
This made me nervous, for Rogue, for me. Hell even for Fairy Tail and that blonde Rogue was so attached to.
Rufus pursed his lips, tossing a nervous glance around as he lowered his voice. "I don't know, but the guild has all but emptied over the last couple hours. And none of the people missing chose jobs before leaving. They were called up to Minerva's office in small groups, and then they were gone."
My mind stalled with his words, fear flaring inside me. Could this have something to do with Rogue? Had Minerva figured everything out? She was always so arrogant, so sure nothing could escape her sight, so when she'd questioned me, I'd assumed it was the same thing. That she was suspicious about what Rogue was up to, but I hadn't actually believed she'd figured everything out.
And then there was Rufus. I wasn't sure why he'd be calling me. It felt like a warning, like he knew Rogue needed protecting and he was giving me a heads up. But what I couldn't decide was why. He and Rogue had never been close. Hell, I wasn't even that close to him. So why would he feel the need to help us?
Studying the man waiting for my response, I frowned. "And you called me...why?"
I couldn't help being skeptical. I'd never been good at trusting people, and Rufus had never given me any reason to trust him. Granted, the same was probably true for him about me. Still, I needed to know why he was trying to do this. Because if Minerva was after Rogue, I needed to know who was in our corner.
Rufus arched a blonde eyebrow at my obvious wariness. "Because you needed to know. For Rogue."
How the hell did he know? How the fuck could he have figured out what Rogue had been up to? "What the fuck is that supposed to mean?!"
"Sting," he hummed patronizingly, and in spite of the arrogance his voice always carried, there was no real animosity. "It's unwise to waste time. We both know Rogue has been...unavailable of late, and the Lady has obviously decided to do something about it. I simply called to give you time to help your friend."
With that, he was gone, leaving the orb in my hand to dim with his absence. I stood there for all of five seconds before reaching down and scooping both worried-looking Exceeds in my arms. We had to get back to Fairy Tail, to Rogue. I had to see for myself that he was okay. To hell with this job and pathetic amount of jewels I'd earned. They could keep the money.
Anxious, I broke into a run, faster than I'd ever had before. I headed straight for Fairy Tail, following the same path I knew Rogue had gone before, and hoped like hell I'd find him safe and sound, sitting entirely too close to his favorite Fairy.
I'd convinced myself I was just being paranoid, that Minerva couldn't possibly know what was going on. And that was stupid. That brass bitch wasn't an idiot. She was evil as hell, but not dumb. And I should have realized she'd figure it all out.
Especially considering all the little pets she had spying for her. Like Baden. Fucking prick, always watching everything with his beady eyes.
"Where's Rogue?" Frosch suddenly asked, the nervous squeak of her voice breaking into my thoughts and reminding me I wasn't the only one who'd heard that call.
I hadn't thought much about her and Lector other than keeping them close, but I knew they had to be scared. Hell, I was scared, but I didn't want them to worry. At least not until we knew if there was anything to worry about. I shot her what I hoped was a reassuring smile and assured, "He's probably just so busy with Lucy that he forgot to call us."
Both felines looked up at me, their faces showing doubt. They knew me too well, knew Rogue too well. He wasn't the type to forget, and with Rufus calling us out of the blue, they knew something was up. "I'm sure he's fine," I repeated.
Frosch sniffled. "Fro wants Rogue."
God, I was doing such a shit job of keeping my fears to myself. I should be able to calm her down, but if the trembling in her lips was any indication, it wasn't working and she was gonna cry. I could already see her eyes watering. And it pissed me off because there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. Because when she got like this, the only thing she wanted was Rogue. He was the only thing that stop her tears. "I know you do," I hummed, giving her small body a light squeeze. "We'll find him."
"Of course we will!" Lector nodded emphatically, reaching a paw out to pat his little friend's head. "Sting's the best at finding stuff!"
Grinning down at my own Exceed, I agreed, "You got that right!"
It wasn't until we were only a short distance from Fairy Tail that I noticed it. It was strange, almost like a complete lack of...anything. Well, not anything really. There was just what you'd expect in this section of town - abandoned buildings, debris. And yet something was missing - smells. There wasn't a place on earth that was a total blank in the scent department. Even new stuff had an odor, so when I came upon this place with not even a single scent, I knew this was it. The 'something' that had my instincts going nuts.
I slowed to a walk, taking my time as I ventured down one alley after another. I wasn't sure what I was looking for - confirmation maybe?
It didn't take long to find, and when I saw it, the knot that had been growing steadily in my stomach for the last half an hour tightened into a hard ball. All around this area were signs of a fight. Windows broken, scorch marks on the walls, crates and barrels smashed to bits. And yet there wasn't a single solitary smell to be a found.
"Sting?" Lector whispered, his eyes wide. "W-What happened?"
Brow pinching in concern, I shook my head. "I don't know buddy. But we're gonna find out."
Frosch began crying in earnest, her frail body quaking in my arms. "Fro wants Rogue!"
"I know," I hummed, trying to keep her as calm as I could while still doing my best to find the answers we needed. "I know, Frosch. We'll be there soon."
Following the path of destruction, I weaved between the buildings, finding even more evidence of a chase, and then, I saw it. A mark high up on the side of a building, a mark I'd seen more times than I cared to admit. It was her. Minerva. She was here.
Suddenly everything made sense. The blitz attack, the damage, and the lack of scent. There was only one mage I'd ever met who could do something like that, and I hoped to heaven I was wrong. Because Baden wasn't a good guy. He was crazy, and worse than that, he was Minerva's favorite pet. If he was here, then so was she.
I didn't want to believe it, didn't want to believe that she'd gone after Rogue, because if I accepted that she'd done this, I'd have to accept that there was a chance Rogue was already gone. And I couldn't do that. Not yet. I refused to lose him like I'd lost everyone else.
But what the hell could I do? I was one man against who knew how many of her fellow psychopaths?
Biting my lip on a sudden wave of uncertainty, I came to a stop. What was I supposed to do now? I couldn't leave Rogue with her, and I couldn't just bust up in there with a wing and a prayer, hoping I could stop them all. No, I couldn't do this alone. For the first time in more years than I could count, I realized I needed help.
And now, thanks to Rogue, I knew exactly who to call.
It was minutes into dinner, and I was diving happily into a plate of Mira's famous pot roast tonight. My mouth burst with flavor from the first bite, and I barely bit back a groan of contentment as I swallowed it down. There was nothing better than this, especially since Mira had done all this for Lucy. Mira had felt Lucy needed a little something to celebrate her progress. It was pretty perfect as far as ideas went, and I wasn't just saying that because it was one of my favorites as well. No, this was so much more - a reminder for Lucy about how special she was...to all of us.
It was a simple thing, something that most people wouldn't ordinarily put much stock in, but Lucy would recognize it for the loving gesture it was. And that's all that mattered. After the scare we'd had with Lucy trying to end her life, I think we were all trying to find ways of making sure she knew just how much she mattered.
Thankfully, it seemed like things were beginning to look up. For the first time since Lucy's attack, it felt like everyone was finally starting to heal. It had been difficult, but we were all finally putting ourselves back together, including Lucy. And I couldn't help but lay much of that at Rogue's feet. I'd never seen anyone more dedicated to another person, and it didn't take a genius to see that the boy cared a great deal for her. He'd helped her so much, stayed with her every step of the way, and I knew as long as he was there for her, Lucy would be okay.
I'd gone to check on her about an hour ago, and it had brought tears to my eyes to see her sitting up in her bed with her old smile shining brilliantly on her face. And then she'd laughed, and my breath caught. I wasn't sure I'd ever hear that again. And yet, there it was, like music to my ears.
There was no way I could ever repay Rogue for what he'd done for her. There simply weren't enough words or actions to ever fully express my gratitude for not only bringing Lucy back to us after her attack, but for continuing to bring her back every single day since. Because of him, Lucy now seemed to be finding her way, and it meant the world to me.
Looking out over the guild, I could see my other kids were feeling it too. They seemed lighter, as if the unease that had plagued us since Lucy's attack was finally starting to fade, and I couldn't stop my eyes from filling.
It felt more like home seeing them like this - huddled up in groups across the room, voices calling out to others, laughter. It was beautiful to see them all leaning on each other, supporting one another like this. Made an old man happy.
Sighing contentedly, I scanned the guild and caught Cana heading back upstairs with a tray, and I had to smile. The girl just couldn't seem to stay away from Lucy for long. Even without the food, she'd have been back up there in no time. Ever since Lucy'd gotten hurt, Cana had been adamant about staying close, which was probably a good thing. The brunette had a way of lightening burdens and easing fears. And considering that Tatankan had yet to be found, those things were worth my own weight in gold.
A smile touched my lips as I considered her. She'd barely finished her own food before the separation had been too much. I couldn't help wondering if at just this minute, it had more to do with Gray than Lucy though. I'd seen enough of Cana and Gray together lately to notice a change, and if I had to bet, I'd say Fairy Tail had another couple in the making.
Honestly, it was one I probably should have considered long before now. But throughout the years, Gray and Cana had only ever been friends. Really close friends granted, but that was all. Until now. Now, the two were all but inseparable, especially after Cana herself had been attacked. Maybe it had taken the experience to open their eyes to their true feelings for one another.
It certainly wouldn't be the first time such a thing had happened. Before a life altering event, people tended to think they had all the time in the world to get it together, to figure things out, and that simply wasn't true. Life was short, and at times frightening, and the only way to combat that was to go together with the ones you loved.
And it looked like Gray and Cana were figuring that out, and I couldn't be prouder of them. Or happier.
I watched as Cana pushed through the door, and I had to smile. Everything was falling into place.
In the next instant however, my smile was falling away when all four of Fairy Tail's resident dragon slayers spun in their seats, their eyes shooting straight to the second floor and then meeting as one before they too jumped from their chairs. The solid oak seats fell to the floor unnoticed as the entire guild went silent, startled. Natsu, Laxus, Gajeel, and Wendy raced up the stairs, leaving not even a moment for anyone to ask what had happened.
Fear pulsed in my chest as I rose from my seat and hurried after them. I was afraid of what I might find because for the life of me, I couldn't think of anything that would have them acting so strangely. Nothing good anyway.
Worried, I reached for the ajar door and nearly fell backwards when the door flew past my outstretched hand and clattered into the wall. "Oh sweet Mavis, Laxus. You scared the hell out of me! Do you have any idea-"
"They're gone," Laxus interrupted, voice low and troubled. "They're gone."
"What do you mean they're gone?" I asked. How could they have left? They'd have had to walk downstairs and through the entire guild to leave. "They were just in there, and there's no way out-"
Laxus cut in again, "I know, but they're just..." He paused, struggling for a way to explain it. "Gramps, it's like they were never even in there."
"What do you mean? All of their stuff is gone?" I tried again.
Natsu shook his head, frustrated. "No! Their scents are gone! Erased! There's nothing in that room of them - of anyone - anymore!"
My eyes went wide. "How is that possible?"
"Magic," Gajeel growled, face contorting with anger. "I don't know how, but somehow, somebody got up there without us seeing or hearing a fucking thing and took them!"
My gut clenched at his explanation. I could find no flaw to his logic, though I wanted to. I didn't want that to be the truth, because if that was what had happened, it meant things had gotten much much worse. Because I didn't know of a single mage from any of the legal guilds with those particular abilities, and that would put us even further behind, which we didn't need. Already, we had no idea how long Gray and Lucy had been gone.
Just then, my communications lacrima went off. My first instinct was to ignore the call. Clearly, we had more pressing things to worry about, but considering what had been happening recently, I didn't want to take any chances. What if this was somehow related to my children's disappearances? Holding up a hand to the group of frantic mages, I pulled the lacrima from my pocket and sent a pulse of magic into it. Instantly, Sting's face filled the screen, and I could tell from the hard set of his jaw that something more had happened.
I listened as he explained what he'd found on his way back to Fairy Tail and felt my stomach drop when he suggested it was his own guild master. My first reaction was to reject his suspicion, because surely the guild master of a legal guild wouldn't be foolish enough to harm the members of another legal guild. But the longer Sting talked, the more the idea took root. As much as I'd have liked to dismiss it, I couldn't. Because what if I was wrong? What if I doubted Sting, and Lucy and Gray paid the price?
Calling out to the mage at the other end of the conversation, I asked, "Sting...does Minerva have a mage with the ability to erase scents?"
Sting's eyes narrowed. "Yeah, why do you ask?"
"Lucy and Gray have disappeared without a trace. No scents or anything. They were right upstairs, and we never heard or saw a thing."
Stricken, Sting shook his head. "Son of a bitch! She's got 'em all!"
I watched as he began running, his arm tightening around the two Exceeds in his hold. "I'm on my way! Wait for me! I'll be there in five minutes!"
It had taken some doing to keep the entire guild from coming with us. No one had wanted to stay behind, and I couldn't blame them. The last time I'd been forced to stay behind had nearly killed me. We were Fairy Tail. If one of us was in trouble, we all wanted to be there for them. We were a family, no matter what.
I was afraid Gramps would tell me I couldn't go with the rest of them to rescue Lucy and Gray. It wasn't like I didn't deserve it. I'd screwed everything up with Lucy, not that I'd meant to. And I didn't have any way of explaining it. Hell, nothing could explain how stupid I'd been. For years, people had called me immature, impulsive, but I never really got. Not like I did now. I guess looking back made it easier to see what they meant. I lived my life the way I fought - rushing in without a single thought about what happened next.
And because of that, I'd hurt Lucy. I'd hurt her so much that she'd run, and now there was nothing I could do to take it all back. The scars she'd gotten, both inside and out, were there for the rest of her life. And mine. And I would never be able to forgive myself for that.
Or for letting someone get into the guild and steal her and Gray away from us.
All I could do was help find her and Gray, if Gramps would let me. I prayed he would because I wasn't sure I'd be able to follow any order he gave involving me staying behind. They were both out there because of me. I had to get them back.
We fanned out in groups of four from the area where Rogue had been ambushed. Gramps had assigned each team a dragon slayer, obviously hoping with our enhanced senses we would find something quicker. But even with the heightened senses, it still took nearly 3 hours to find anything resembling a trail.
It was Wendy that broke the silence, her voice pitched with hope. "Guys! I think I have something!"
I was afraid to get my hopes up. We'd already been looking for so long. Still, I headed toward Wendy with Erza and Cana following behind men. It took a couple minutes to reach her from our position on the opposite side of the grid, and by then, both Sting and Gajeel were already there with their own teams, checking out what she'd found. And judging by the two dragon slayers' faces, she'd found what we were looking for.
"That's Akito," Sting snarled, then catching our questioning looks, added, "Another of Minerva's pets!"
I walked toward them, drawing in the scents they'd found and committing them to memory. "So they were here."
"And now, we can find 'em," Gajeel growled, his head already turned in the direction we would be going.
Erza drew herself up, gaze firming into a hard line. "And crush them."
I nodded once, already preparing myself for what was coming. It wouldn't be easy considering some of the magical abilities Sting had told us Minerva had at her disposal, but that wouldn't matter. We were going after them, and we were gonna win.
Makarov moved toward Wendy, reaching out to pat her back. "Well done, child." He then turned to Mira, his face folding into one of determination. "Contact the guild. Let them know we're going after them."
Mirajane nodded before reaching into her pocket and pulling out a communications lacrima. It was quiet for a time as she conversed with Macao, who Gramps had put in charge of the guild in our absence. We were all tense, ready to fight, and waiting was becoming tedious. I didn't have much experience with waiting and planning, but I'd nearly decided it wasn't for me when I remembered what had happened the last time I acted without thought.
Moments later, she put the lacrima away, and I watched as her own expression morphed into one of fury. "Let's go."
Makarov sighed, looking over the group of us, meeting each set of eyes. I shifted anxiously, wondering if he was deciding who to send back. I didn't want to consider the fact that I'd been his first pick to stay behind the last time, because I didn't think I could do it again.
I must had made some sort of noise because the next thing I knew, Laxus was shooting me another look, clearly unimpressed with my contribution. At this point, I couldn't care less what he thought about me going with them. There was only one thing on my mind - Lucy, Gray, and Rogue. Still, I froze when the little man's eyes caught mine. His brow furrowed like he was considering ordering me back to the guild, but then he tipped his head just the smallest bit, forcing the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding shooting out of my mouth.
He was letting me go. I swore right then and there that I wouldn't let him down. I would find our friends and bring them back or I wouldn't come back at all. Not until we could all come back together.
We set off, following the trail Wendy had found. Still, my determination couldn't stop me from imagining the worst. If Minerva really did have Lucy and Gray, there was no telling what she'd do to them. We'd all seen her cruelty at the Grand Magic Games when she'd fought Lucy, and back then, she didn't even know Lucy. Now, the evil woman had a reason to hate her, and the thought of what she'd do with that hate scared me.
Sting fully believed she had Rogue too, and it made sense. She'd want to punish him for breaking her rules, and that pissed me off. He'd saved Lucy's life; he'd saved her and brought her back to us. And Minerva wanted to punish him for it.
That was bad enough but what really worried me was how she would do it. Would she use Lucy? Would Minerva hurt Lucy more than she'd already been hurt just to get back at Rogue. I could see her doing that, taking pleasure in hurting Lucy just to see what it would do to Rogue.
I wasn't a fool. I'd already figured out what Lucy meant to him. He loved her. Like really loved her.
I wasn't sure he'd worked it all out yet, but it was there. The night she'd tried to kill herself, I saw it.
"Lucy please...you can't do this to me."
"No, I won't let you do this. I'd rather die than see you hurt yourself like this."
"...killing yourself won't save anyone, Lucy. That would have destroyed them. It would have destroyed me."
I'd watched Rogue with Lucy before all that, but it wasn't until that night that I understood what I'd been seeing. He loved her, and she loved him just as much. At first, I'd thought it was because he'd saved her. He was her hero, but it was more than that. She looked at him like he was the center of her entire world, something she'd never done with me.
I couldn't even be jealous of that, because he'd earned it. He deserved it. And honestly, Lucy deserved someone like him, someone who put her first. Someone who looked at her the same way she looked at him.
But right now, that put them in even more danger, because it gave Minerva more ammunition against them. And she'd use that ammunition, their love for each other, to rip them to pieces.
And if that wasn't bad enough, there was also Gray. The one person outside of Rogue closest to Lucy. And that meant he'd be another weapon against them. Minerva would see him as another way to get to Rogue. Because hurting Gray would hurt Lucy, and that would destroy Rogue.
But it wouldn't be just Rogue. Minerva would hurt them all, just because she could. Just because she liked it. And I couldn't imagine what that would do to Gray. He loved Lucy, as if she really was his sister, and I knew it would kill something inside him to see her hurt again. To be forced to watch it happen with no way to stop it. To be the one Minerva used to go after Lucy again.
My eyes burned, my throat suddenly feeling to full to swallow, and I shook my head, pushing it all to the back of my mind. I couldn't think about that now. So I put my head down and let my senses and my dragon instincts tell me where to go.
And I reminded myself that we were gonna find them. All of them. And when we did, we'd make Minerva pay.