Chapter 45

Aggressive Negotiations

Natsu and Igneel returned to the town square where the young teen saw that Gajeel, Rogue and Sting were sitting at a table in the center. Most of the dragons had already left except for three; Metalicana, a black dragon and a white dragon who's scales glistened in the afternoon sun. Each dragon stood behind a specific young man, and Natsu could only guess that these dragons must be the parents of Rogue and Sting. Natsu and Igneel wandered over to see what matters the six of them were discussing.

"Oh, Natsu you're just in time," Gajeel said as he held up his arm beckoning his companion to join them. "Sting and Rogue managed to catch quite a few fish, and guess what?" Natsu shrugged. "They found some spices when they first arrived here. Can you believe it? How long has it been since we had a meal that had some kind of spices?"

"So, this is Natsu son of Igneel," the white dragon said. He leaned down and examined the pink haired teen closely with a skeptical eye. "I had expected him to be a bit taller."

"Hey!" Natsu grumbled as he folded his arms across his chest.

"Easy boy he meant nothing by it," the black dragon intervened. "But it is a treat for all of us to be reunited with out families once again."

"That it is Skiadrum," Igneel said, "but for we do have things we must discuss that are of the most importance."

"Gajeel already informed us," Metalicana said. "About the war and how an old friend of Natsu's needs our boys to go fight in the conflict. We don't think that our boys should be getting involved in these manners."

"I refuse to allow my son to participate in a war that would help the very people who betrayed us and destroyed our culture and society," the white dragon barked. "I refuse to allow Sting to put their lives at risk for these people. I refuse to let them die for a cause that has nothing to do with them."

"Weisslogia, I understand your concern and I agree with you, but this is a decision that our boys must make for themselves," Igneel stated.

"You cannot ask us to stand by and do nothing as we watch our children we haven't seen in years and watch them leave," Weisslogia growled.

"Like I said Weisslogia," Igneel said annoyed, "I understand your concern, but this is not our decision to make. Let's let the boys talk about this amongst themselves."

"Very well, let's go Skiadrum," Weisslogia grumbled as the two of them took off in flight. The young men grasped their plates and food as the gusts of wind nearly hurled them away.

"We shall be taking our leave as well," Igneel said. "Come Metalicana, let us find our own lunch."

Once more the young men grabbed their food and plates as another gust of wind had blown up. This time a few of the fish had been hurdled away, flying out of sight. Gajeel cursed and whined about how the dragons kept disturbing their meal. If this kept up there wouldn't be any fish for them to eat. Sting and Rogue laughed and mocked him.

Natsu sat down at the table, happy to see his old acquaintances once more. They looked healthy and he had many questions to ask them. He wondered where they had been, what their travels had been like and how they survived in Draconia all this time. He plucked a fish from the center plate and placed one on his plate, as he could smell the slat that laced its fine scales.

"Where did you get that scarf?" Gajeel asked as he took a large bite of his fish.

"My father gave it to me," Natsu said as he took a bite of his own. "Speaking of which, Sting, Rogue, what have you two been doing all this time?"

"We've been exploring the country, hunting and trying to rebuild part of the city," Rogue answered.


"Just some homes for shelter and storage," Sting answered. "Nothing big. It would be impossible for us to rebuild an entire city."

"We plan on staying here until the end of the war and all this blows over," Sting continued. "We have no idea how the war is going, but we get our news by traveling to an inn just outside the borders of Konvern. Most of the travelers that go by provide some new information and to trade with."

"What do you trade?" Natsu asked.

"Items and other objects we find around the city," Sting told him. "There is a great deal of things that are just lying here; blankets, pillows, silverware," he shrugged. "We don't make that much with what we got, but it's enough to buy some supplies and goods like wine and beer."

"Beer?" Gajeel said eagerly as he got interested.

"Don't get too excited, we already drank it all already," Sting chuckled.

"Damn," Gajeel grumbled.

Natsu and the others ate their meals as they told one another of their adventures. Natsu explained what he and Gajeel hd been doing since the revolution in Konvern. Each one interchanged, and often found themselves arguing over how the events transpired. Sting and Rogue watched in amusement as they waited for an exchange of blows to come of the young men's quarrel. It almost came occasionally but usually ended with one of them grunting and admitting that (though they were right) the other could tell what happened.

Sting and Rogue had traveled out west initially when they escaped from Konvern. Sting admitted that it was to hunt down one of the slave drivers that had bought and sold them. They hadn't journeyed far and they did not admit to anything that they did apart from traveling and searching. Natsu could tell that they were holding something back and there was far more to their story than they were letting on. They had arrived in Draconia a while ago, but they would go and trade at nearby villages, even though those journeys would be gone for days if not a couple weeks. There wasn't much else for them to tell apart from that.

"And what about the war?" Natsu said as soon as the boys had finished eating. "We should discuss what we plan on doing."

"We don't plan on anything," Rogue interjected as he sat back in his seat. "We have nothing to gain from getting involved in this war, and neither do you. We were already slaves to these people once, I'm not about to go out and die fighting for them either."

"We will be fighting against the people that enslaved us," Natsu retorted. "Think about it. We could get our revenge against them and bring down the slave trade once and for all."

Sting and Rogue exchanged glances of uncertainty. Natsu could see that Sting was a bit more intrigued by the offer than Sting. The black haired one wasn't as convinced, nor did he appear as interested in getting involved in a conflict. Sting on the other hand seemed more eager to get involved in a fight, if just to get the chance to fight. Though he wasn't easily persuaded simply by the idea of conflict, this was a war after all.

"You're saying we should fight with Magnolia?" Rogue asked a bit skeptical.

"And her allies," Natsu persisted. "There are several countries that are fighting alongside Magnolia."

"Either way," Rogue continued, "we still have no connections nor any reason to fight along these countries. "We haven't even visited these countries, nor have we engaged with any people from the north. Now you want us to go and fight a war for them on their behalf?"

"Actually, Natsu wants you two to help us fight for Ivan from Konvern," Gajeel told them as he sucked the last bit of meat from the bones. He was very close to eating the bones themselves if he hadn't already sucked in most of them.

"You must be joking," Rogue said perplexed. "Ivan? Wasn't he one of the men that locked us in that tower? And you want us to fight for him?"

"Ivan is the reason we managed to escape from our prisons in the first place," Natsu told them. The other two glared at him with disdain and disbelief. They couldn't believe that that a noble of such high ranking as Ivan would have done anything to help them, and Natsu could see it in their eyes. There was distaste for all nobility in the glimmer of his counterpart's eyes, but he needed their help, and he had traveled through half the continent to get it from them. He wasn't going to turn back now, not after everything that he and Gajeel had gone through.

"This conversation is done," Rogue said standing up. "Sting and I will discuss this amongst ourselves but for now neither of us will be leaving Draconia unless we want too. I'm sorry Natsu, but this is not our fight and we will have no part in it."

The two of them turned to leave, as Natsu watched them, feeling anger boil up inside of him. Gajeel threw threw the last bit of bones he hadn't accidentally eaten back on his plate as he rubbed his hands clean. Unlike his pink haired companion, he did not care as much about convincing the other two to join them. In fact, he would rather skip the entire war himself, but on the other hand he would like to return to Magnolia. He had certain interests that he left behind there, and he knew that if he did not go through with this, and if Magnolia did not win the war, he could never reclaim that which he wanted most.

"So what really is your plan?" Natsu growled as he stood up, nearly knocking over the entire table. "Just stay out here like hermits for the rest of your lives while the rest of the country burns? Do you plan to hull yourselves up from any danger or conflict like a bunch of cowards?"

Natsu thought of Lucy and the others. What would happen to them if they were unable to convince Sting and Rogue to help? Maybe he and Gajeel would be enough, but he wanted more than anything to get a guarantee that they would be all right. Thoughts of Duke taking Magnolia and Lucy swarmed in his mind as he could feel himself falling into that pain and anger. He would not lose her again. He was already torn away from her in Konvern, and again when they had met with one another in Magnolia. He would not allow himself to be separated from her any longer. He would find a way to end this war even if that meant dragging Sting and Rogue with him to the battlefield.

Sting and Rogue stopped dead in their footsteps as they turned around to glare at Natsu. Gajeel's eyes wandered from one to the other as he began to grow a lot more interested in the turn of events. He knew that stare in Natsu's eyes, and it was the same glare that he had when he was ready for a fight. Interestingly enough, that same glare was found in the eyes of Rogue and Sting as well. The black haired teen stood up and cracked his neck, rolling his shoulders. He could feel the wave of scales take over his skin as his eyes began to slant. He hadn't felt this good in a long time. He was growing more excited by the minute.

Natsu could feel his stomach boil as the rage began to overtake him. His skin molded into scales and his eyes began to slant. His fingers transforming into talons as he seemed to have lost all control of himself.

"I've come too far," Natsu growled. "You're going to help us even if I have to drag you back to Magnolia myself!"

"You want a fight?" Sting said as he began to transform as well. Rogue stood behind him folding his arms across his chest, but slowly his eyes slanted and his skin morphed into scales like the others. "Fine."

Natsu grabbed the end of the table and threw it asides, causing it to shatter against a wall. He bolted straight for Sting as the white haired Draconian lunged for him in return. Sting soared towards Natsu with his fist raised high, but the pink haired Draconian swung his fist and struck Sting right in the gut causing him to topple over onto the ground. Natsu reached down to pick grab him by the throat but Sting swung his legs around to trip him. Natsu could sense the movement coming as it felt like everything just slowed and became more fluid.

Natsu jumped in the air, narrowly avoiding Sting's legs, but Sting continued his motion and rolled flat on his chest. He arched up and belched fire at Natsu, and though the boy could sense it coming it was too swift for him to dodge as he found himself consumed by the flames. He stumbled backwards, feeling Sting's presence in front of him, but before he could put his arms up to block any oncoming attack, Sting struck him across the cheeks with his talons. Natsu hurled to the ground as he say little specs of blood squirt from the wound.

He caught himself amidst his fall with his hand, spinning in place as he swung his leg up and kicked Sting in the thigh. The white let out a wail of pain as he fell to his knee. Natsu jumped back to his feet and breathed his own roaring fire directly in Sting's face. The white haired teen raised his hands to shield himself as best he could from the fire giving Natsu the opportunity to swing his fist for a shot just below Sting's ribs. Though he did not anticipate that Sting would sense the blow coming as he brought his elbow down and knocking Natsu's fist away.

Once he had knocked Natsu's fist away Sting took the change to strike Natsu in the jaw with his own punch. However, Natsu was not unguarded by the blow and he could sense Sting's fist coming for him, like he was traveling through water. Natsu grabbed Sting's wrist, and in one fluid motion he rolled his back as he brought Sting with him. The white haired teen went legs first into the air as Natsu brought him down hard onto the brick street.

As Natsu and Sting lunged at one another as they collided in the air, Natsu wrapping his arm around Sting's neck as he threw into the street.. Meanwhile Gajeel and Rogue exchanged their own glances.

"Do you really want to do this?" Rogue asked. "Are you as convinced to have us go fight in a war that is not our own? I thought you were a bandit; sworn loyalties to none."

"I'm not doing this for Natsu or for the cause," Gajeel chuckled as he shook his head. "It's been a long time since I ha a good fight."

"Very well," Rogue sighed. He ran towards Gajeel as the other black haired Draconian ran towards him in turn.

Gajeel grinned a wide smirk as he swung his fist up for an uppercut. Rogue jumped into and did a flying kick, striking Gajeel against the jaw. Rogue landed on his feet but was stunned when he saw Gajeel standing there with the same wide grin. A bit of blood oozed from the corner of his mouth as he wiped it away with the back of his hand. Rogue brought his leg up for another kick, but Gajeel could sense the other Draconian's actions as he swiftly brought his elbow down, striking Rogue against the knee. Rogue flinched as Gajeel slammed his foot just below the knee causing the other Draconanian to fall down to the other as Gajeel jabbed him with his right fist and then proceeded to uppercut him with the left just under Rogue's chin.

Rogue soared into the air as Gajeel jumped up with him and with a spinning kick he struck Rogue in the stomach causing him to skid across the ground. Rogue rolled himself up to his knees, but Gajeel was already fast on him. Rogue managed to lift his arms just in time as Gajeel barreled in on him, striking with his knee. The force of the blow was enough to cause Rogue to slide backwards but he used the momentum to lift himself back to his feet.

Gajeel kept charging at him as he attempted to soar in with a kick, but Rogue managed to parry the blow as he took the chance to exhaled fire at Gajeel, but Gajeel brought his fist barreling down and stuck Rogue on the cheek. The force of the blow was powerful enough to hurl Rogue to ground. Gajeel went to kick him, but Rogue managed to knock Gajeel's foot away as he shuffled away. Rogue was slow to pick himself as Gajeel smirked. An overwhelming thrill filled the long, black haired teen as he glared down at Rogue.

Natsu faced Sting as the white haired teen was slow to pick himself up from the ground. Natsu glared down panting heavily as Sting tried to regain his composure.

"Are you done yet?" Nasu said through heavy breaths. "Or do you need anymore convincing?"

"I think I might need a little more convincing," Sting said as he spat onto the ground.

Sting bolted towards him as he swung his arm as Natsu ducked, jabbing Sting in the gut then threw an uppercut as he did a spinning heel kick and struck Sting in the chest. Sting stumbled backwards as Natsu he could sense Natsu coming closer to him. He swung his fist forward attempting to hit Natsu as he was charging in, but Natsu deflected it with his elbow as he jabbed Sting in the gut, then again in the face before he swung in with a hammer fist and knocked Sting over with the blow. As Sting fell towards the ground Natsu quickly kneed him in the gut and clutching his fist together and slammed them hard against his back.

Sting landed hard against the street as his body thumped hard along the now shattered cobblestone. Natsu and stomped his foot down, driving his heel into the small of Sting's back. Sting managed to throw his hand up, grabbing Natsu by the ankle. He threw Natsu back as he gradually tried to pick himself up but Natsu jumped into the air with his fist raised above his head. Sting could sense the blow coming, and though he tried to get his hands up to shield himself he was unable to deflect Natsu's blow as he was struck right in his right eye and knocked back down again.

Natsu was winded as he stood over Sting as the white haired boy twitched. Natsu could see that Sting was still attempting to get up but he was too fatigued. Natsu could feel the transformation began to flow away as his eyesight returned to normal and his skin was restored to its regular flesh. He took a deep breath as he thought that it was finally over. He forgot exactly why they had been fighting, but it felt as though a large weight was lifted from his gut. There was something more refreshing about the air besides his tired body craved it.

Rogue threw his arm in for a punch, but Gajeel ducked as Rogue's arm flew over him as he jabbed Rogue in the chest before repeatedly striking him with several more blows before ending the combo a hard punch to Rogue's left cheek that caused him to stumble over. Gajeel laughed as he watched Rogue wipe away the blood that was now gushing from his lips.

"Had enough?" Gajeel taunted.

"This isn't even close to being over," Rogue growled as he jumped up to his feet and swung a fist at Gajeel who grabbed him by the wrist and used it to fling Rogue into a nearby wall. The boy coughed hard as he struggled for air as he laid on the ground panting. The wall behind him was now cracked as Gajeel walked towards him, that same sly grin on his lips. He rather enjoyed this, but he had hoped that Rogue would have put up a better fight.

"I guess you did," Gajeel sighed.

Rogue stood back up with a scowl on his face. He lunged at Gajeel, though Gajeel thought that this would have turned out the same he was caught by surprise that Rogue slid in and slammed him hard in the chest with a kick. Gajeel hunched over as Rogue retracted his foot to reveal that he had placed a large dent in Gajeel's armor. Gajeel felt as though the wind was knocked out of him, but he did not have the chance to inhale a single breath before Rogue slashed him across the face. Gajeel toppled over as blood spluttered from his wounds. Gajeel managed to catch himself with one hand before he hit the ground. He didn't even have the chance to look up as Rogue struck Gajeel's face with the bottom of his foot.

Rogue closed in, ready to deliver another blow but felt his hand grabbed from behind. He turned to see Natsu standing behind him with Rogue's wrist in hand. Natsu pulled Rogue's wrist forward as he swung his other fist in for a powerful blow that sent Rogue crashing down into the street. That was all it took as Natsu could see that Rogue had become incapacitated.

"I had him," Gajeel grumbled as he lifted himself back up to one knee.

"Sure you did," Natsu taunted with a smug grin. He walked over and extended his hand to helped Gajeel up.

"So, what now?" Gajeel asked as he could see that both of their fellow Draconians were now lying in the street unconscious.

"I think we might have convinced them into our way of thinking," Natsu sighed as a wide grin crossed his lips.

It had been a day since Lucy recovered from her supposed ailment and yet she was still confined to her bed. She thought that Levy and Erza worried too about her, and though she told them she was fine they insisted that she continue to rest. She spent most of her time reading and often had Wendy with her to keep her company as the other two did errands. They were still worried that Lucy had not remembered anything that happened to her, and the girl had to admit that it worried her too. But then again she spent most of it asleep, so maybe it felt like it was all just one long nap.

She heard Jellal writing off in the living room. She wondered to whom he was writing as well as why, but he never said but she could guess that it had to be to Makarov. His time was occupied with political matters dealing with the state these days since he wasn't allowed to return to the home front. She sat in her bed, Wendy rested her head on the blonde's shoulders as Lucy read to her. She wanted nothing more than escape that bed and walk around the town to stretch out her legs.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door as Lucy could hear the sound of Jellal's chair grind across the tile floor as he moved to answer it. Lucy continued reading the story as she heard Jellal answer it.

"Of course, right away," Jellal said as he slammed the door and rushed over to Lucy's room.

Lucy looked up as she saw Jellal storm in with a concerned stare in his eyes. Both Lucy and Wendy were worried as they looked up at him.

"I'm sorry but I'm needed at Master Makarov's request," he said hurriedly. "It is of the most urgent matter. It has to do with the war."

"Is Natsu okay?"

"They did not tell me," Jellal replied shaking his head. He bit his lip as he could see that only made the girl worry even more. "But I will ask Master Makarov when I see him. Tell Erza where I've gone and don't worry about me. I should return home shortly." He tried to offer the girl a reassuring smile.

With that he left. He swiftly made his way from the house over to the fortress. When he arrived he was guided by a guard to a large chamber where he saw Makarov sitting at a large table with several other old men around him.

"Oh, Jellal!" Makarov said excitedly as he stood up to greet the young noble. "Thank you for coming on such short notice."

"Of course," Jellal said as he took a seat at the far end of the table. "If you don't mind me asking, why did you call on me?"

"Jellal we just received word from the front that there has been a terrible incident," Makarov began. Jellal felt unsettled as he leaned forward. A icy chill filled the pit of his gut. "There was an explosion, a sneak attack by the enemy we believe, that has left most of our commanders and officers either dead or incapacitated."

"In the name of the gods."

"As of right now Gildarts is in command, but the entire army is in disarray. Many of them have no idea what they are to do, and at the moment Junelle and her allies are marching north with true garrison to stop them. The Mila Navy has also joined them and we suspect that they will be sailing north. We have no means of repelling them now."

"My Lord, if I may," Jellal said hesitantly. "What do you plan on doing? Do you think Gildarts is capable of leading Magnolia's forces against Duke's?"

"No," Makarov shook his head. "Gildarts is a great fighter, he's a great teacher and he's great in the field of battle, but he knows, and I know, that he is not suitable of upholding such a charge. He was never one to be too serious and hold high positions of rank. I wanted him too, many times I have looked to him to be that man, but he never wanted it. That is why we turn to you now Jellal to lead our allied forces against Duke and bring an end to this war. You must defeat Duke and his armies before Mila's Navy begins to attack our coastal villages."

"Me?" Jellal uttered in shock. "I'm not Magnolian, nor am I from any of the allied nations. I cannot lead the armies. I'm too young, I have little to no experience in combat."

"Gildarts will help you there," Makarov informed him. "He can oversee the battle operations, but we need to you serve as the forefront of the army."

"But why me? Wouldn't Laxus be better suited for the role?"

"Laxus was hurt during the incident," Makarov answered. Jellal could see that this news had struck the old man the hardest. "He is currently unable to perform any kind of duties that require him to take command. Until he recovers he is unable to do anything. That is why it must be you."

"I still don't know why you would choose me," Jellal said shaking his head. "I am sure that the are far better suited men for the task."

"You know Duke, better than any other man that is on our side," Makarov said. "But more than that, the armies need a leader, someone who they can look up to and respect. I would not put this burden on you, but unfortunately I am too old, too short and I'm needed here in Magnolia. But I believe that you can be that leader our people need, that all our people need. You are just like your father, both in charisma and honor. And your father once helped bring about peace to the continent when it was torn by war so many years ago. What I saw in him back then I see in you now. That is how I know you are the one who should be leading this army, now in our hour of need. I could entrust this task to no other man."

"I see," Jellal sighed. "Thank you, my Lord, it is with great honor that I accept this position with the upmost gratitude. But may I ask when you need me to leave for the front?"

"Immediately," Makarov told him. "Head down to the barracks, they will equip you with armor and supplies. There is a company of young soldiers that will guide you to the battlefield and serve as your personal guard. They may be young, and they may still be in the midst of their training, but they are fine young gentlemen that will serve you well."

"I will go as soon as I am ready, but there is something that I must do before I go."

"Do not fret," Makarov said smiling. "We will inform your lover of what has happened."

Jellal chuckled to himself as he stood up from his chair. "She will worry about me. I fear that it if I return home, that is when I shall encounter the more frightening experience."

"That is trial that most of us must endure in times of war. But now please, it is time for you to go. There is no more time to waste," Makarov said as he ushered the young noble away. "I am sorry about the suddenness of the situation, but we only just found about this no more than an hour ago."

"Thank you, sir," Jellal said as he stood up and bowed his head. "I promise I will do my best."

"I know you will."

Jellal bowed his head one last time before he exited the chamber and left for the barracks. Makarov flopped down in his chair as he rubbed his forehead. He was getting too old for this, and he wished that Gildarts would have taken on the responsibility, but like usual he turned it down. The whole thing was chaos and he hoped that the stress of it all would not be the end of him. He worried for his city, his people, and more than anything his grandson. He had heard that Laxus was injured in the explosion but very much alive. He was in no condition to fight at the current moment, but Makarov hoped that he and Jellal could work together to lead the armies. They were all that the allies had now.

A/N: School is a pain. Sorry it's taking so long guys. I have hundreds of pages to read ever week, and this Wednesday I had to write a short story for a class. So I spent much of my time doing that when I was hoping to get this done a week ago. I will try and have the next chapter up next week.