We have made it to Chapter Eighteen without injury!… except to my brother, who broke his ankle. But I still maintain that it WAS NOT because of and/or related to this story, so it's all good… except for my bro who, well, you know. Still, how awesome is it that the story has made it this far? I for one am ecstatic.

S/O to Deathweaponscarlet26- I totally agree with you. Levy is indeed a work of awesomeness.

Now without any more stories of injuries unrelated to this plot and/or chapter, here it is, number eighteen!

(And you might want to read the A/N at the end, it contains important things such as spoiler alerts and wonderful sneak peak opportunities for you wonderful reviewers… just sayin'. *insert winking emoji here*)

Lucy stopped petting Happy for a moment and looked over to where Natsu was studying a letter intently. He'd been that way for several minutes now, standing still as a rock and reading fixedly, as if there was nothing more important in the entire world.

"Natsu?" She questioned hesitantly. "What's wrong? What does the letter say?"

"Huh?" He looked surprised, like he'd forgotten she was there. "It's just this letter from Gray. And Juvia, I guess. They're, uh, going away."

"Away? What do you mean, 'away'? Where could they possibly be going at a time like this?" Juvia hadn't mentioned anything to her about any plans, and certainly not any last-minute trips! Besides, where would be Juvia be going that she couldn't take her, or at least tell her about?

"I dunno." He shrugged and walked over to her, holding out the letter. "Here. You can read it for yourself, but it's not very detailed. They just… left."

She swapped Happy for the letter and read it as Natsu stroked Happy.

'Dear Natsu (and also Lucy, most likely),

Juvia and I have to leave to take care of some urgent business. Sorry for the short notice, but the information has only just been made available to us. Gajeel should be arriving soon, along with a new friend, and we'll be back as soon as possible. Don't worry, focus on the wedding preparations, and take care of Lucy.

Signed, your awesome brother (and Juvia)'

"That's it?" She looked up disbelievingly at Natsu. "That's all they wrote?"

He nodded morosely and buried his face into Happy's fur. What she assumed was 'That's all' emerged as garbled mumbles from where Natsu was currently hiding his face in Happy's stomach.

"Well… okay. So they just up and left all of a sudden on-," She looked down and scanned the short letter. "'Urgent business' apparently. Obviously it was really important and so pressing that they had to leave right away, and that was the reason they couldn't tell us in person."

More mumbling came from the area around Happy's stomach and she sighed.

"Natsu, I can't understand you this time. Please come up before you inhale all of his chest fur."

"It wasn't that important!" He looked up with a pouty face and distraught eyes. She would feel sorry except for the tuft of blue hair stuck to his cheek that ruined the picture.

She twitched her finger towards it and brushed it off. "What are you talking about?"

"Gray wrote a letter and ditched so he wouldn't have to answer any questioned about this 'mission' he and Juvia went on. I mean, seriously, when was the last time something was so important that Juvia couldn't even inform you about it, she just wrote a note and left?"

"Technically never, but," She raised her voice before Natsu could protest again. "But I'm sure there was a reason for this. How about we just take their advice for now, and give them hell about it when they get home, yeah?" This time, it was she who wore a pouty lip and puppy eyes.

It took a few moments, but eventually Natsu rolled his eyes and smiled. "Yeah, alright. So whaddaya wanna do until they get home and we can interrogate them?"

"I don't really know. Are there any more preparations we have to do?" Everything on her checklist was done, but she could have missed something.

"Nope. Food, seating, outfits, and decorations are all taken care of. The music was already arranged, and the press release has been carefully scheduled and planned out. There's nothing left to do."

"Um," She bit her lip in concentration. "We could dress Happy up and talk him for a walk."

A yowl came from the aforementioned cat and Lucy nixed that idea.

"You could study up on foreign customs for the wedding."

The yowl Natsu gave was almost as impressive as Happy's, but not quite. Still, Lucy threw that idea out too.

"Ahem," A polite cough came from Natsu's doorway and they both looked over. "Excuse me, First Prince Dragneel and… Miss." There was an older man standing at the door decked out in finery and a powdered wig. He bowed respectfully to both of them and grandly gestured towards the door.

"My Mistress is in your sitting room, awaiting your presence. I do so humbly apologize for this intrusion, and also for the potent impropriety of this meeting. However, it cannot be helped, and both I and the young Miss," He gestured deferentially towards Lucy, "Will be there to chaperone. Of course, there's also the matter of-"

"What are you talking about?" Natsu interrupted. "I didn't have any meeting scheduled for today." He leaned towards Lucy and whispered hurriedly, "I didn't have any meetings today right?"

She rolled her eyes and looked to the man in the doorway. "There were no meetings today that we were made aware of. Perhaps you can come back another time and…" Uncertainty colored the end of her sentence and she trailed off.

"Yes, I realize that, and again I humbly beg forgiveness for this breach of protocol. However, this is of the utmost importance and must be addressed immediately and with the highest amount of secrecy. That is why we came here directly and with such haste."

"What is this about?" Lucy interrupted this time, but the man still showed no emotion. "I'm sorry if this sounds rude, but unless you come up with a very good explanation very quickly, I'm calling for the guards."

At that, the man started a bit and stared more interestedly at her. "I see. We have come to introduce you to your fiancé."

Oliver ducked a flying mace and cringed when he heard it hit something, followed by a wet scream. He looked quickly over the table he and his men were taking cover behind and cursed. There were ridiculously outnumbered, at least five to one. Those weren't good odds any way you looked at it. Even squinting wouldn't help in this case.

"Sir, what do we do?" One of the soldiers asked him, panicked.

A man on the other side of the room saw him and raised him arm, a knife poised on his fingertips and ready to fly. Oliver reached for something, anything, and snatched the first thing that he came in contact with. Without checking to see what it was, he threw it just as the man released the knife. Both objects flew through the air, barely missing one another. The knife barely missed Oliver, cutting a shallow slice on his cheek. His object had a little more accuracy, and stabbed the man in the eye. The man cupped his face and squealed as Oliver finally saw what it was- a fork.

Another knife flew through the air and Oliver ducked back behind their temporary shelter and looked around. Soldiers and bodyguards alike took turns throwing weapons and taking enemy fire. Bodies were scattered about, though there were less than two dozen men dead so far. A steady thunk-thunk came from the table as it was battered. Battle yells and screams of pain sounded sporadically. Small pools of blood formed and made the floor slippery. Almost every man had at least two minor injuries, though there were few serious wounds yet.

That wouldn't be the case for long, though, that much he was sure of. Even now the volume of the fighting was increasing, the injuries becoming more frequent.

"Sir, what do you want us to do?" The soldier repeated, more frantic this time.

"Cover me."


"There's only two people they could be here for, maybe three. Lord Heartfilia, Commander Jellal, and Erza are the only people here who are even remotely important." A man screamed beside him and fell, desperately grabbing at the knife sticking out of his abdomen.

He sent up a quick prayer for the man and turned back to the soldier, rushing on. "Lord Heartfilia has most likely been taken to a secure room by now and is under lock down with a protection detail. We have to assume that he'll be fine." The man stopped jerking at the knife and lay there, still except for the occasional spasm.

"Commander Jellal and Erza are in the medical bay, but they're not safe enough. That room was meant to keep people in, not out. I need to get to them, protect them! Can you give cover long enough for me to reach the back doors?"

It wasn't the best plan, but it wasn't impossible either. They'd been in the dining area when suddenly men had burst through the door and started killing indiscriminately. Male waiters, serving women, even children had been slaughtered in the first wave. Fortunately the soldiers had had the sense to flip the tables and use them as barriers, but the other side had followed suit soon after.

There were a limited number of weapons and usable silverware- it was bad manners to bring your sword to the table after all. They were holding out, but wouldn't last too much longer.

"I- I don't-" The soldier stuttered and looked around dazedly.

"Can you do it?" Oliver grabbed the man's shirt and yanked the soldier near him. "Either you can or you can't, for god's sake man, which is it?" He was screaming above the noise now, spitting in the man's face.

"I- yes sir." He nodded resolutely. "I'll gather as many men as I can and provide you with cover as long as we're able." Immediately he turned and started grabbing men around them.

While the soldier- Oliver made a mental note to get his name later on, the man might die in service to him after all- gathered reinforcements, he tried to scope the area and plan the best way out. Preferably that way would involve him and the other soldiers not dying.

The man came back with six others, all a bit battered but not too worse for wear. He nodded at them and they huddled behind the table, waiting for order.

"Alright. Me and-" He turned to the soldier who'd helped him in the first place- "I'm sorry, what's your name?"

"Anthony, sir." The soldier looked confused but answered all the same.

"Oh, nice name. Very strong and solid and all that. Okay." The other soldiers looked back to him and waited. "With the aid of your cover fire, hopefully Anthony and I will be able to reach those doors and then continue on to the medical wing in order to protect Erza and Commander Jellal. Under no circumstances is anyone to follow us, understand? I need you here, on the front lines." The soldiers nodded seriously and shuffled nervously.

He faced the table again and grabbed a fork from the ground. There were two knives strapped to his thighs, but those were for emergencies only. Besides that, he might very well need them soon if he was entangled in any hand-to-hand combat on the way to Erza and Commander Jellal.

"Is everyone ready?" They nodded and he readied himself. He could get through this. He and Anthony would find and protect their leaders. They could do it.

Another man screamed and he flinched. He couldn't do it. He couldn't do it, oh god, he had to pee he was going to piss himself.

No, he told himself. He had to do this. He had a debt to settle, and this was his chance.

"Hold on, Erza," He whispered to himself. "I'm coming."

"Now!" Anthony yelled, and they took off under a hail of forks, swords, and knives.

"Hold on."

"I still feel bad." Gray crossed his arms and slumped against the carriage cushions. What they did was wrong, so wrong, he had a right to feel bad.

Juvia sighed and rolled her eyes. "Gray-sama has no need to feel bad. Technically, everything in the letter was true."

"'Technically' is not very reassuring. The only time I ever write notes and leave is when I don't want to be asked questions about me leaving, and Natsu knows this! He's pulled the same thing on me! Even Gajeel has done it, and he barely knows how to spell his own name." He groaned and knocked his head against the wall. "He's so gonna kill me when I get back. He'll stab with me questions. I'll be eviscerated with words."

"Juvia will be glad to pull out the sword-words. She will staunch the bleeding." There was no emotion in her voice.

He stared at her flatly. "You're not helping. Now I feel worse. This is awful. I'm awful. No, scratch that- we're awful, because it was your idea to write the letter in the first place, and I actually went along with it. Oh god, what have we done?"

"Gray-sama needs to calm down. Juvia will protect him when we free Erza and Jellal, and Juvia will try to protect him when we face Prince Natsu and Lucy."

"Try?" He yelped.

"Juvia makes no promises. This is Prince Natsu and Lucy we're talking about, after all, and Juvia is not perfect." She smiled and preened. "Though she can understand if Gray-sama thought otherwise."

The carriage jostled and he yelped as his head bumped into the ceiling. Juvia remained where she was, looking pristine without a hair in place. She didn't even move when the carriage bumped along. She may not be perfect, but he had his suspicions about her and witchcraft. It wouldn't surprise him.

"We seriously need new drivers. There absolutely cannot be this many potholes in the road, it's impossible." His shoulder bumped into the wall and he winced. "This is retribution for that letter we wrote."

"Perhaps this is retribution for Gray-sama doubting Juvia and the letter." She sniffed at him and examined her nails.

His fingernail bent back when he slammed against the cushions and he squealed. Oh, that one definitely hurt the worst. This was ridiculous. He'd nearly gotten frostbite by placing his hands in an ice bucket for hours, his fingernails should be tougher! The nail throbbed and tears formed. Worst. Feeling. Ever.

"Ugh, I can't take much more!" He looked desperately at Juvia. "Are we there yet?"

A nail file slammed into the wall beside his head and he froze. "Juvia tolerated this with Lucy, she refuses to do so with Gray-sama." Her eyes narrowed. "Do not ask again."

"Yes ma'am." Came the automatic response. Juvia was seriously scary when she wanted to be.

"…So do you want to play 'I Spy?'"

The nail file was brandished and he shut up.

They continued on in the same fashion for a while, she cleaning her already-impeccable nails and he playing 'I Spy' with himself. It wasn't very fun. He kept losing to himself.

After several more potholes (and a sore elbow, rib, knee, ankle, and two more bent fingernails) they finally stopped.

"Oh thank the God of Solid Roads, we're here! No more potholes or-"

"No." Juvia cut his relief speech off suddenly. "Something is wrong. We shouldn't have arrived until later on, at least dusk. The sun hasn't even gotten near the horizon. Why have we stopped?"

"I dunno, maybe we got there sooner than planned, maybe the driver was going faster than you expected. It would certainly explain the force with which we hit the potholes. My entire body is throbbing in sync." Gray shrugged and reached for the door handle.

Juvia's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. "Don't. When we stop the footman opens the door. Why has he not done that yet?"

"Look Juvia, I don't know. Maybe we stopped so he can take a leak. Speaking of which, I wouldn't mind relieving myself a little. So if you'll excuse me…" He tried to shake her hand and frowned. Woman had a grip like a vice.

"Juvia forbids Gray-sama from leaving this carriage." She glared at him and tightened her grip. The nail file glinted in her other hand and he gulped before replying.

"I am… I am a Royal Prince, and I refuse to be intimidated by a woman with ridiculously-manicured cuticles."

She smiled suddenly and let go of his hand, leaning back against the seat and looking serenely at him. "Juvia dares Gray-sama to try and leave this carriage." Her eyes gleamed like the nail file twirling between her perfect fingers. It was one of the scariest sights he'd ever witnessed.

"Yeah, well," He sputtered and blustered for a few seconds before giving up and sitting back. "This is ridiculous. I should at least be able to get out and ask what's taking so long."

There was no answer from her side of the carriage and he reluctantly decided to wait it out. Stupid woman with her perfect nails and scary file and glinty eyes.

After a few more minutes he sighed again and looked at her pleadingly. "Are you sure we shouldn't just pop our heads out and ask what the hold-up is?"

"Don't bother." The door was yanked open harshly and three swords entered. Men, all scruffy and filthier than the pigs the castle kept, stood at the end of them. One grinned and he winced at the missing teeth. "It would seem you've already figured it out yourself."

They withdrew their swords and parted for an entirely different person altogether. This one was impeccably dressed and seemed to have astounding hygiene in comparison with the other three… not to mention 'it' was a 'she'. She actually looked kind of familiar, though he couldn't place the face.

"The hold-up is," She shrugged and monotoned seriously. "This is a hold-up." The corners of her mouth twitched briefly in what one could perhaps take as a smile before turning back down and, if possible, she became even more serious. "Put down the nail file and place your hands behind your head."

That took quite a bit out of me, to be honest. But there it is, it's done, and my brother's ankle is none the more broken. (Knock on wood)

Review, review, REVIEW or I'll go insert myself into some random action sequence and botch it all up. To entice you a bit more and sweeten the deal, when you review just put the name of the character you want to know about the most and I'll send you a sneak peak POV from them from the next chapter. Have I sufficiently bribed you?

Some things from this chapter:

#1. Are you thoroughly confused about the surprise fiancé that entered while Natsu and Lucy were so wonderfully alone? So many possibilities, all ruined by one stuffy servant. How annoying. Hm, I wonder what shall happen next, and why some Sabertooth floozy is showing up all of a sudden. (Pssst, spoiler alert!)

#2. What in the world is going on at Heartfilia manor? A battle, a small skirmish, other random words that are just synonyms for battle and skirmish? Oliver does reach Erza and Jellal (psst, spoiler alert!) but I cannot say whether Anthony does. What think you about Oliver's intentions? Also, I do sincerely apologize for that crappy action scene. I suck at action. :( Sad face.

#3. Gray is afraid of Juvia, no one is surprised. How about that hold up though? Is hold up the correct terminology? I'm not sure. Whatever. This is my fanfic and I can write whatever I want (within the scope of the law… and FFN regulations). Who do you think these new players are, and what are their devious little plans?

Characters we've met so far:

Lucy Heartfilia- Daughter of Jude and Layla Heartfilia, only child. Lady of Magnolia. Engaged to Natsu Dragneel, First Crown Prince of Fiore. Assistant/ wedding planner to Natsu Dragneel, First Crown Prince of Fiore. Living.

Levy McGarden- Orphaned only child. Employed by Jude Heartfilia. Companion to Lady Lucy Heartfilia. Living.

Juvia Lockser- Orphaned only child of Jose Porla and OC. Employed by Jude Heartfilia. Companion to Lady Lucy Heartfilia. Assistant/wedding preparations fetcher to Gray Fullbuster- Dragneel, Third Crown Prince of Fiore. Living.

Jude Heartfilia- Husband to Layla Heartfilia, father to Lucy Heartfilia. Lord of Magnolia. Living.

Layla Heartfilia- Wife to Jude Heartfilia, mother to Lucy Heartfilia. Lady of Magnolia. Deceased.

Jose Porla- Father to Juvia Lockser. Deceased.

Erza Scarlet- Orphaned adopted only child of Grandpa Rob. Former Royal Army soldier. First Bodyguard to Lady Lucy Heartfilia. Living.

Natsu Dragneel- Second son of Igneel Dragneel, King of Fiore, and OC. First Crown Prince of Fiore. Engaged to Lucy Heartfilia, Lady of Magnolia. Living.

Gajeel Redfox-Dragneel- First son of Igneel Dragneel, King of Fiore, and OC. Second Crown Prince of Fiore. Escort to the Royal Search Party. Living.

Gray Fullbuster-Dragneel- Third son of Igneel Dragneel, King of Fiore, and OC. Third Crown Prince of Fiore. Assistant/ wedding preparations fetcher to Natsu Dragneel, First Crown Prince of Fiore. Living.

Jellal Fernandes- Supreme Commander of the Royal Army of Fiore. Head of the Royal Search Party. Living.

Happy- Pet to Natsu Dragneel, First Crown Prince of Fiore. Breed: Exceed. Color: Blue. Living.

Jet- Castle runner/messenger. Living.

Droy- Castle runner/messenger. Living.

Mr. Sakinawa- Husband to OC. Owner of a flower shop in Fiore. Living.

Wendy- Assistant at a fabric shop in Fiore. Employed by Lacy. Living.

Lacy- Owner of a fabric shop in Fiore. Living.

The Lookalike Leader- Owner of a glass shop in Fiore. Supposedly living. Undetermined if she and her employees are actually robots.

The Cleaning Clones- Employees of the Lookalike Leader. Employed at a glass shop in Fiore. Supposedly living. Undetermined if they and their boss are actually robots.

Oliver Cottonwood- Right hand man to Erza Scarlet. Bodyguard to Lady Lucy Heartfilia. Living.

The Belkbroth family- Two men and one woman that have some medical association and are employed occasionally by the royal family. Living.

Nurse Welde- a nurse in the Royal Infirmary.

Lily- Pet to Gajeel Redfox-Dragneel, Second Crown Prince of Fiore. Breed: Exceed. Color: Black and white. Living.

Marie- Servant in the Dragneel Royal Castle. Best friends with Katie. Dislikes Jessica. Living.

Katie- Servant in the Dragneel Royal Castle. Best friends with Marie. Got her job by sleeping with Henry. Dislikes Jessica. Living.

Jessica- Servant in the Dragneel Royal Castle. Unknown: background, history, family, friends, past jobs, how she gained her current position of employment. Living.

Henry- Head of the kitchen staff in the Dragneel Royal Castle. Is known to give positions to those who sleep with him (Katie is included in that not-very-exclusive list). Living.

Anthony- Soldier employed by the Royal Army of Fiore. Living.