AN: Thank you, Rae, for letting me bounce ideas off you; sometimes my mind needs an outlet, or I'd just go crazy. Also, credit goes to Cassie/Yaushibee for the theory behind the origins of the dragonslayers that I've weaved into this story.
Warning: This is an AU, so I will take my share of artistic liberties without shame, regardless of what happens in the manga.
Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail or its characters – Hiro Mashima does. Cover image by Rae.
As if the cavernous palace of dragons hadn't been more than enough, the sight of her guildmaster was almost enough to tip her off the perilous edge she was treading with regards to her sanity. But there was no escaping the sight of him before her; it wasn't an apparition, as far as she could tell, although she couldn't for the life of her believe what her eyes were telling her.
She'd seen him die. She'd watched him fall to one of the attacking dragons in the chaos that had been the capitol city on July 7th. Gajeel had physically hauled her away even while she'd been screaming to be released, because he'd taken the hit for her. It had been like the battle on Tenrou all over again; running away while their Master cleared the way for them.
Except it had been nothing like their encounter with Acnologia, where they had prevailed through sheer belief and will alone. The minute the army of dragons had descended on the city and the celebration of the end of the games, it had become something entirely different. There had been no going back for their Master, because it hadn't been about showing solidarity as a guild. It hadn't been about stubborn children refusing to leave their superior behind. It had been about making it out alive; the ones who could, at least. From the very second the dragons had unleashed their wrath on the city, they had all known. Even Erza, who would in any other situation have remained alongside Makarov, had assumed her new role without even pausing to think, gathering whoever she could and making sure they got away from the crumbling ruins of the burning capitol. Levy had been amongst the fortunate.
Others hadn't been so lucky.
They'd grieved them, in the aftermath. Their Master, their fellow guildmates, and many of the friends they had made during the games. Once the dust had settled and the sun had risen on the following day and they'd tended to their fallen, the casualties had been greater than anyone could have imagined. If Jet and Droy had made it out, she would never know, but their names were carved on the walls of the shelters dedicated to their lost comrades. Gajeel had almost made it onto the list, in his attempt at getting her out of the city. Erza had been rounding up as many as she could, and he'd shoved her into the redhead's arms, kicking and screaming that she wouldn't leave him behind.
But many had been left behind, and now one of them was standing in front of her, alive and breathing when he should rightly be dead.
A weight against her back supported her when she staggered in her step, and she snapped out of her daze. Metalicana's rumbling laughter reached her ears, before he pushed her back into a standing position. "I told you there would only be more discoveries within," he said.
From his place beside the Queen, Makarov's gaze softened. "I know this is a lot to take in, my dear."
A choking sort of laugh cut through the air, and it took her a moment to realize it had come from herself. She shook her head, wondering why she wasn't in hysterics already. "A bit of an understatement," she said, brushing her fringe away from her brow as she drew a deep breath. "Okay. I just need a moment."
The Dragon Queen tilted her head to the side, and Levy felt the scrutiny of the dark eyes watching her, and a shiver raced up her spine. She felt suddenly very exposed. "Our kind has marked you, little one," she spoke then, her low, melodious voice seeming to echo in the very walls of the cavernous chamber.
Levy tentatively touched the jagged scars on her forehead, lips pressed in a tight line. The testament to the single bravest thing she'd ever done, but also, perhaps, the most foolhardy. But she could never make herself regret the choice of running after Gajeel, no matter how mutilated her face was, because in the end, she hadn't had to carve his name onto the Wall amongst the fallen. He'd made it out; she'd dragged him away from the city until she'd collapsed somewhere in the outskirts, sheltered under the smoking ruins of an old building. Someone must have found them, because when she woke up, they were halfway across Fiore in the underground shelter that would become her home in the months to follow. Adapting to their new life had been hard, but they had done it; the few humans still left in Fiore.
And all the while this had existed, just beneath their noses. For centuries, no less.
She had so many questions, she didn't even know where to begin, but her mouth was quicker than her brain, for once, and the words tumbled off her tongue before she could stop them. "You said 'our' kind."
The Queen lowered her head in what Levy assumed was the dragon equivalent of a nod. "I did. Yet they are not of my clan," she said, her voice taking on a sharp edge, like a sleek blade slicing the air.
"Then what–" she stopped the question before it could escape, unable to phrase it to encompass all the questions brimming within her, fighting to reach the surface. "Who are they?" She settled with the question none had been able to answer since the day of the attack. Where had they come from, summoned from the shadows of the world as they appeared to be? There hadn't been time to look for answers, struggling as they were with simply staying alive. But now...now she had the chance. They had to know, these dragons. If the invading dragons were not of their kind–
"A rift in time," Makarov spoke then, and Levy startled, before her eyes were drawn towards her guildmaster. The look on his face was oddly grave, and he seemed to have aged, somehow; not physically, but there were shadows behind his eyes that betrayed a knowledge he had not had the last she had seen him.
Levy shook her head, a frown tugging at her brows. "A rift...?"
"Did Lucy or Gajeel tell you of the discoveries we made during the games?" Makarov asked. "About the war four hundred years ago?"
Levy nodded. "Yes, but...that was four hundred–" she stopped, realization dawning on her like a sharp kick to the solar plexus.
A rift in time.
"No." She shook her head. "That's–"
But it wasn't impossible, was it? She'd been stuck in a time-loop for seven years, and Lucy had come back through the Eclipse. A rift in time, opened to unleash an army of ancient dragons from four hundred years ago.
"The time from which they have been summoned is roughly four centuries ago, during the war. These dragons, ancestors to many of our kin, are still at war. They do not bother overly much when they are fighting; only who they are fighting," the Queen said, tail swishing restlessly against the cavern floor.
"Us," Levy said then, her voice hollow as she met the eyes of the serpentine monarch, who nodded.
Drawing a deep breath, Levy felt her shoulders slump. In the grand scheme of things, it didn't make matters any worse; they still had an army of dragons on their hands, ruling the ravaged ruins of their home, but beneath the facts lurked a darker truth that stuck to the forefront of her mind like a smudge. They had not gotten through a rift in time by themselves. Someone had opened it for them; had rounded them up and unleashed them on the unsuspecting future.
A name came to mind, but she kept it to herself. Voicing it would be redundant, she knew, as by the look on Makarov's face, he was well aware that she had caught on. And one more enemy meant nothing when they could barely stay alive as it was. They didn't have the resources or the people to send someone looking for Zeref. There would have to be another way to stop them.
The full reality of her situation seemed to hit her then, and she was suddenly very much aware of where she was.
"Why did you have me summoned?" she asked then, the question tentative, yet ringing loud and clear in the large chamber.
The low rumble from behind her caused a shiver of annoyance to race up her spine; there was no doubt in her mind now who had raised Gajeel, by his continued amusement on her expense. "Ah. There it is. I was wondering when she would ask that question," Metalicana mused.
Levy ignored him, and kept her eyes on the Queen and Makarov beside her. "Why haven't you summoned the dragonslayers? They're the ones who actually have a chance at defeating the dragons."
The slender dragon shook her great head. "Perhaps, yet it is not as simple as that."
"But you trained them for this...didn't you?" she asked, turning around to regard Metalicana and Grandine as another thought struck her. "Did you know this was going to happen?"
Grandine nodded. "Those of us who go so far back were on the side of the humans during the war. We were there when our adversaries were sent through the rift, so yes, we knew. Many believe the greater bulk of the opposing side was defeated by Acnologia, but it was not so. They were sent here, to fulfil their purpose in a time where dragonslayer-magic was reckoned to be extinct."
Levy frowned, and Metalicana shifted where he sat, straightening his neck. "As things are now, a handful of dragonslayers cannot hope to defeat an army of dragons alone. They are not yet needed, which is why we have not sought them out."
"Okay, but..." Levy shook her head. "What am I doing here then? If they can't make a difference yet, what hope do I have? I'm just a script mage."
"Not 'just'", the Queen said, pulling her attention back to where she was sitting, dark eyes gleaming in the sunlight streaming in from outside. "You know the story of Acnologia's inception."
A shiver ran down her spine just at the thought of it, but she nodded. "Yes."
"Then you know the dangers they face, utilising their powers to their full extent. It is a dangerous venture. Should either of them lose themselves, the consequences will be beyond what you can possibly imagine. Not just for your kind, but for all of us. Although Acnologia did not kill as many dragons as history has led you to believe, the numbers that fell to his evil was staggering. Many of our kin, along with the humans they were protecting."
Levy said nothing to that, but she felt rooted to the spot. The fear was still real in her heart, and the memory of their final moments on Tenrou as sharp as ever. And it was perfectly within the scope of her imagination, the thought of what could happen if one of their dragonslayers followed the path of the dark Dragon King. She'd dreamed of it often enough, in the months alone in Haven, not knowing where Gajeel was or if he was even alive. Or worse yet, if he was still human. It was a cloying fear that had had her in its grip since the day she had discovered the possibility, and she hadn't been able to get it out of her mind since. They were walking a thin line, all of them; Natsu and Gajeel even more so than the others, with their pursuit to always become stronger. It made her sick to her stomach, just imagining the event that one of them should snap–
"Perhaps it is not so far beyond your imagination," the Queen murmured, pulling Levy out of her thoughts. Drawing a deep breath, she tried to calm herself.
"You still haven't answered my question," she said, her voice hoarse. "What do I have to do with all this? Why was I summoned?"
The Queen shared a look with Makarov, before turning her bottomless eyes back to Levy. "Because I believe that if anyone can find a way to save us all, it is you."
Levy blinked, shaking her head, unwilling to believe what she'd just heard. "Come again?"
"We have in our possession centuries worth of knowledge," the Queen said. "Hoarded through the years, more so than ever in the wake of the invasion. You humans may be small of size and bring more damage than you do good, but there is something to be said of your accomplishments." She sounded amused.
Levy didn't bother pointing out that she was being too cryptic to be understood. Knowledge was well enough, but what could she hope to do to make a difference against an army of dragons?
"We cannot hope to defeat them as we are now; the last war taught us as much. Our survival was secured the moment our enemies passed through the rift. That is why we have prevailed, these past centuries," Grandine spoke up from behind her, and Levy turned around to regard the bird-like dragon. "But if we cannot defeat them, our hope lies in changing the basis of their existence."
Levy frowned. "Change the basis...?"
And then it hit her. She sucked in a breath. "Another time rift!"
Metalicana rumbled. "She's finally catching on." She shot him an indignant look, to which he returned a fanged grin.
Grandine rolled her eyes. "I swear, it's like you've just hatched," she muttered with a shake of her great head, before turning her gaze on Levy. "You are correct, little bird. And that is why we need you."
Levy laughed. "Me? Make a rift in time? How?" They needed Ultear for that, but Levy didn't know if she was even alive, let alone capable of making a rift large enough for a horde of dragons.
"With this," Makarov said, drawing her eyes towards him, and a gasp pulled its way past her lips at the sight of the object in his hands.
The book from the Spirit World. The last time she'd seen it, it had been in her room in Honeybone, but with everything that had happened since the end of the games, the thought of it hadn't even crossed her mind.
Makarov smiled. "It was no coincidence that it should come into your possession," he said, holding it out towards her, and for a moment she just stared at him.
Something heavy and scaled nudged her forward, and she yelped as she toppled a few steps, before regaining her balance. Casting a glance back at the chuckling dragon behind her, she took the last few tentative steps towards her guildmaster. Beside him, the Queen regarded her with hooded eyes. The paler row of scales tracing the top of her head glimmered like gems in the filtered sunlight, appearing almost like a crown.
Levy's hands shook as she reached for the tome, and she breathed through her nose when her fingers brushed along the edges, before it was pushed into her grip. "It is yours," Makarov said. "It has been meant to be, for a long time."
She opened her mouth to ask – she didn't even know what. Too much had happened, and her head was still reeling from discovering that he was alive. That he had been alive all along, and now he was standing before her, smiling like he always had.
Tears pressed against the lids of her eyes, and for the first time since everything had happened, a sob tore its way past her lips, and she curled in on herself, sagging to her knees with the tome clutched close to her chest. And without another word, Makarov had crossed the last step between them and enveloped her in a hug.
"My brave girl," he murmured against her hair as she sobbed, hugging the tome like a lifeline, and all at once everything seemed to come crashing down around her. The devastation of the past few months; all the hurt and the longing and the fear. Emotions so overwhelming her body shook with the force of it, but the most prominent by far was something she hadn't felt in months; something she hadn't imagined she would ever feel again after the disaster of July 7th.
And suddenly, all that had seemed so dark – their existence that had so long been about simply surviving, making it from day to day – was replaced by a reality in which the control was back in their hands, however tentatively. They weren't alone anymore, fighting for their meagre existence with no hope of victory. She had been given hope. It was in her hands, nestled against her chest. Knowledge.
And all she had to do was utilise it.
Pulling away from Makarov, she wiped the tears from her eyes, and when the old guildmaster smiled at her, Levy returned a wavering one. Pulling her to her feet, Makarov turned her towards the Queen, who was watching their interaction intently. She smiled. "Will you join us, Levy McGarden?"
Levy nodded, and squared her shoulders as she wiped the last of her tears away resolutely. "Yeah."
"Good," the Queen said, before nodding towards Metalicana and Grandine. "And who will be her wings? She cannot traverse the mountainsides without them."
Metalicana smirked. "She is of my kin. I will take her."
The Queen did not look surprised, only amused. "Is this acceptable to you, Levy McGarden?"
Levy regarded Metalicana with a surprised look, but nodded her head absent-mindedly. "Uh...yeah. Sure." She felt heat creep into her cheeks, but wouldn't admit that his declaration of her as his 'kin' had affected her. It felt important, somehow. It was more than just acceptance, she knew, although she couldn't for the life of her begin to imagine what a dragon would put into such an admission.
"Very well," the Queen said then, with a nod that seemed to seal it, somehow. "Metalicana will be responsible for you while you are with us."
Levy nodded again, although it felt a bit excessive, but she couldn't figure out what else to do. Hugging the tome to her chest, she regarded the two dragons before her, watching her with curious expressions. She still had more questions to ask them – one more so than any other, and it pushed its way past her lips before she was able to stop it.
"Why haven't you been to see them?"
They didn't need her to specify who she was talking about, but neither Grandine nor Metalicana seemed eager to answer. Levy frowned. "They've been looking for you for years. And you've been here all along. Why haven't you at least told them you were alive? When you disappeared–"
"It was not us that disappeared on July 7th," Metalicana said, cutting her off, and Levy frowned, before a thought struck her. It leaped out towards her; a possibility she hadn't thought about before. Hadn't considered, because it hadn't seemed plausible. But with all the talk of rifts in time...
"What are you saying?" her voice sounded hoarse to her own ears.
Grandine was the one who answered her, although Levy had already anticipated what she would say. "We could not foresee the future clear enough to know whether or not our magic would prevail, so we did the only thing we could think of to ensure that there would be dragonslayers ready for the fate that awaited the world. We have been here all along, little one; we have not disappeared."
She met Levy's gaze, and pieces of a puzzle she hadn't realized she'd been keeping in her heart seemed to fall into place with enough force to knock the breath from her lungs.
"The ones who appeared on July 7th were our children."
The sun dipping down behind the mountaintops signalled the end of the day, and for the first time since arriving, Levy felt the sheer extent of her new reality, and just how far she was from home, however tentative that label was. The wind cut against her face, sharp and cold, yet it all felt so unreal, still. Like a dream from which she couldn't seem to rouse herself. All around her, the deep vales were quiet, save a lone call in the night from the shadows moving below. Nothing gave her comfort, not even knowing that Makarov was inside the Aerie at her back. It didn't drive out the feeling of loneliness that had taken root in her heart, stranded as she was in another world than the one she knew still existed somewhere below.
She wondered what they others were doing. Had they gone back to Haven after she'd been taken? Had they gone after her? Erza had given them strict orders not to, but it was always hard to tell how people would react beforehand. No one had actually gone and been snatched away by a dragon before, either. Killed, yes. But never kidnapped. Of course, she had no way of knowing if they had taken it as that; for all they knew, Metalicana had taken her away to maul her. To them it had just been a dragon amongst many.
"What heavy thoughts are weighing on you now, little one?"
Levy looked over her shoulder at Metalicana, who'd been sitting behind her since she'd come out of the great chamber earlier. Grandine had left some time ago, but as he'd claimed responsibility for her, the great dragon hadn't moved an inch. There, at least, he deviated somewhat from his son; he was a good deal more patient, but that might just be his species. Humans were famous for their impatience, after all.
She didn't know how to answer him at first, because she couldn't seem to organize her thoughts enough to pick out a question that would give her an answer to explain what was going on. It was just too much. Disregarding the existence of the dragon kingdom, and the origins of the invading dragons – which she had come to terms with, somewhat – she was still left with the fact that the dragonslayers were born four hundred years ago. And she didn't know what to think about that, because it was just so unbelievable, at the same time that it explained so many things: why they thought their dragons were gone, and why Gajeel and Natsu had been unable to escape Fried's rune barrier that time. They weren't of this time.
Gajeel wasn't of her time.
And somehow, with everything else – the distance already between them – it was almost enough to break the fragile grip she had on her heart. Would they have to go back, if they succeeded in what they had been sent here to do? She couldn't bear the thought of that happening, and felt sick to her stomach just imagining it. Everywhere she looked there seemed to be new ways to lose him; if not to the claws of a dragon, then to the fact that they were born centuries apart. If the dragons hadn't been sent the future, neither would Gajeel have been. He would have lived his life four hundred years ago, and only ages later would she be born. She'd never have met him, if not for the invasion of the dragons. The worst thing to have happened to her had also inadvertently resulted in the best thing that had ever happened to her.
The irony was a sharp taste on her tongue, and she didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"You worry about my son."
She laughed, and wiped away a tear that had somehow escaped the tight reign she was trying to keep on her emotions. She shook her head. "I don't even know what I'm feeling anymore," she said, as she turned away from the haunting scenery before her to regard the dragon at her back.
"How did you know?" she asked then, because it was the first thing that came to mind in the jumbled mess that was her thoughts.
He tilted his head to the side. "You must be more specific that that," he rumbled.
She rolled her eyes, but a small smile tugged at her lips despite herself. "How did you know I...that I was involved with Gajeel?"
He smirked. "Just because I have not yet stepped back into his life, does not mean my son's activities have eluded me these past years. And Makarov has been most helpful in 'filling in the blanks', as you humans would say."
Levy shook her head. "I don't even want to know what he's been telling you," she muttered, as she turned back to look at the slowly setting sun.
"I am glad," Metalicana said then. "That he found you. He does not have the most...sociable attitude. I worried he would be quite without companions, in the new world to which I was sending him."
Levy snorted a laugh. "'Not the most sociable attitude' is putting it lightly, I think," she murmured, but a fond smile tugged at her lips regardless. "He is something else."
"He has not always been kind to you."
She startled, but her gaze softened as she met his searching eyes. "No," she admitted. "But I have forgiven him for that. We didn't start off on the best of terms, is all. Now...I don't know what I'd do without him."
Metalicana rumbled a laugh. "You are every bit as intriguing as Makarov made you out to be," he mused. "There are not many who would blindly put their trust in someone who has once broken it."
Levy smiled a little as she looked back out towards the darkening horizon. "Yeah, well...someone had to trust him."
"No. No one had to, but you did, regardless. The old man said you were good with that – trust. And likewise, I ask you to trust me now."
She turned to regard him, one brow raised. "Trust you? I've just put myself into your care; I'd call that trusting, wouldn't you?"
By the smug look on his scaled face, she didn't think he did, and her brows furrowed as he continued to regard her. "What?" she asked.
"You are wary around me, and I suppose part of that is of my own making." He didn't apologise, and Levy wasn't in the slightest surprised, but refrained from rolling her eyes. He was too much like his son, she decided. It was eerie.
"But I consider you as part of my kin," he continued. "And though that might not mean much to your human conception of family, it is quite important. And so I need you to trust me completely, like you once placed your trust in Gajeel."
She looked up at him towering above her, suspicion crawling along the edges of her mind. The first time she had met him, he'd pulled her away from everything she'd known without so much as a thought to the consequences of his actions, and it was still fresh in her mind; discovering his presence in the library, and the hazardous flight that had followed. Gajeel's father or not, there wasn't anything remotely safe about the creature before her.
"What would you have me do?" she asked then, crossing her arms over her chest as she met his gaze with her own, challenge swimming in her eyes. Metalicana grinned, the gleaming fangs catching the last light of the setting sun behind her, and something in her stomach dropped.
Her fears were confirmed when he nodded towards the drop behind her. "Jump."
She didn't think she'd heard him right at first, but when he made no move to call his bluff, Levy felt some sort of hysteric humour bubble up within her. "You're not serious."
He gave her a look, and she shook her head. "No. No – you're joking. I'm not stupid, see? I'm a smart human." She tapped her temple to emphasise her point.
Still he said nothing; only continued to regard her with that amused glint to his cunning eyes, and Levy looked back over her shoulder to the cliff's edge and the valley far below, and then back to Metalicana. "You're serious. Heavens, you're actually serious."
Still he said nothing, and Levy felt her jaw slacken as the full implication of his command settled, along with the fact that he wasn't joking.
Then she exploded. "You're actually asking me to throw myself off a cliff?" She couldn't keep the note of hysteria from slipping into her tone, and her eyes darted back towards the cliff edge and the perilous drop towards the valley below.
Metalicana chuckled. "Little one, I am asking you to trust me to catch you."
She rounded on him at that, the words hitting their mark, and there was a strange look in his eyes – as though challenging and curious at the same time. He'd put the choice into her hands, and now awaited her decision.
And she was reminded, as she met his searching gaze squarely with her own, of a time when another pair of eyes had looked at her like that, and a similar decision had had to be made. Granted, the decision hadn't required jumping off a cliff to certain death, but finally placing her trust in Gajeel had been no less challenging, after all he had done. It had not been unlike balancing on a cliff's edge, hovering between the choices laid out before her. To forgive and to trust...or to exclude and to fear. And when she had finally made her choice, he'd looked at her with the same gaze his father now wore – challenging, to see if she was serious, but also curious, for her choice had been unexpected, the circumstances taken into consideration.
The old man said you were good with that – trust.
Tearing her eyes away from the dark gaze holding hers, Levy drew a deep breath, and without another glance at the dragon beside her made three determined steps towards the cliff edge...
AN: In my mind Metalicana is such a troll, he'd wait until the last possible moment to catch her, fufu. And for those interested in Cassie's full theory about the origins of the dragonslayers, it's on her tumblr (she's yaushie, and she also does some very snazzy artwork – go check her out!)