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Summoner Aurea

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A silver key gleamed within the display case. A blonde girl looked down at it with a nostalgic smile. She traced a finger delicately over the glass protecting it.

“Interested?” The shop owner said from the counter. “Gate Keys like that one are quite rare, and valuable.”

The girl shook her head, turning her back to the display case and heading towards the counter. “I’m afraid I’m incompatible with Celestial Spirit Magic. Which one would that key summon?” She asked as she set down three books and a magical cleaner in cloth form.

“Canis Minor, the small dog. Nikora.” He informed her absently while jotting down the value of her purchases. “You seem to like to read. How about some Gale-Force Reading Glasses? You can read up to thirty-two times faster! They are very useful and come in a variety of styles.” He retrieved a box to showcase the item.

“Oh. I had a pair but they got broken…” she muttered, taking the box and examining it. But she put it down and slid back towards the merchant. “Thank you, but I’m not interested. I prefer to take my time nowadays.”

He was not deterred, reaching under the counter. This client hadn’t even glanced at the magazine section, despite being a girl, but perhaps this would still interest her. “Then how about this? ColorS! It’s the newest version of this magic. It can change the color of your clothes depending on your mood, see?” He activated the magic with a twirl, changing his shirt into a nice orange. Not bad at all, if he said so himself.

At this the girl leaned forward, inspecting the item. “That is interesting. Can you choose the color?”

“It takes a bit of practice. By default, the color is based on your mood, but it isn’t hard at all. Anyone with some magic of their own can do it.”

“How about patterns?”

“Ah, this version allows for simple two-tone patterns, like stripes. As long as the shapes aren’t too. It takes some practice as well. The instructions are all on the back.” He turned the inlaid mirror around to show her.

“All right. I’ll take it too then.”

“Excellent!” He clapped. “That will be 6 150J… 6 000J for everything with the store discount.”

The girl nodded. “I don’t have enough jewels to pay.”

There was silence. The shop owner stared at the girl’s completely unapologetic face. “Is that so.”

“Yes,” she reaffirmed, and unshouldered her bag onto the counter. “I would trade to make up for the missing amount.”

He leaned back and eyed the girl again, contemplating his options. While he did buy used items to re-sell, either at the store or to his suppliers, the question was, would the girl have anything of true value? He scratched his head. Despite being young, she was polite and appeared very well-traveled… “Well, let’s see what you have then.”

She hauled out a trio of books and several flasks and they set to bargaining. The books were a good enough deal, and spoke of where she’d passed through, as two were in Ca-elan dialect and the third was a well-worn but heavy tome written in Minstreli. Frankly, those would be enough to pay for her purchases, seeing as they were rare books in Fiore, but then there were also the powders. One flask each of sleeping, paralyzing, poison and berserker powder that, she’d explained at his prompting, she’d dusted off the wings of butterflies. And she’d been utterly serious about that, he’d seen it on her face. He’d ended up forking over 10 000J just so he could still call himself an honest merchant.

“So, what brings you to Fiore?” He attempted to make conversation with his newly discovered potential supplier as he wrapped up her purchases.

“Oh,” and notably, she hesitated. “I suppose I’m returning home, in a way.”

“Home?” His eyebrows rose. “You’re Fiorean? I thought your accent was very good but I would have never guessed!”

“Yes, I was born here. Well, much closer to the capital.” She shrugged, but had an air of self-satisfaction. “I’ve been all over the continent in the past years. I thought to travel to Alakitasia next, so returning to Fiore felt like right. It is home…”

“My… that is quite a story. I wish you luck on your journey. The ocean can be treacherous.” He hadn’t lived on a port town for thirty years without learning an ever-deepening and very healthy respect for the sea. And Hargeon sat on the comparatively calm Dragonmaw Gulf. “I don’t suppose you’ll be returning to Hargeon any time soon?”

She shook her head but offered a friendly smile. “Probably not. But I’ll be sure to visit if I do.”

“Well,” he said as he tied over the final knot on the package. “It was a pleasure doing business with you Miss…?”

“Lucy. Just Lucy. Could I just bother you for another moment?” She asked. “Before coming here, I heard a rumor about a salamander? A fire mage of some renown, apparently. And if you could recommend me a nice place to eat, I would be ever so grateful.”

He drummed his fingers on the counter. “Well, to eat, I’d say Miriam and Herb’s place on Dog Lane. Unlike most places on Hargeon, they don’t serve seafood only. But the Salamander…” He waved a hand dismissively. “I’m afraid you just missed him. He was supposed to be in town yesterday, I think. Perhaps he’s still here, but I’d doubt that. Guild mages like that don’t tend to stop for long in one place.” He looked at her disappointed face and decided to throw her a bone. “Errh, if I remember correctly he’s Fairy Tail, so his guild hall is in Magnolia? It’s only about one or two train stations away.”

 


 

Lucy hadn’t stepped foot on a railway station in years. She’d never thought that the first train she’d seriously consider boarding would be in Fiore, on tracks that had to belong to the Heartfilia Group. She sighed and rolled her shoulders.

“What do you think?” She said to her belt. “Skip town right now and hope to meet that Salamander mage you wanted so much to see or…” She twitched as something utterly miserable brushed the edge of her perception. “See what’s darkening this city’s aura?”

Secured to special belt by a mesh pouch, a red sphere with a steely grey stripe bisecting it stared patiently up at her. It had no eyes, but it was looking at her like she had said something childish.

“Yeah, I thought so too.” Time to investigate. She would be a poor Aura Guardian if she just let such worrisome auras roam around.

One or two auras were normal, belonging miserable people found nearly everywhere. But she’d been in the city less than a day and she’d already felt five auras in varying degrees of near panic. Hargeon’s entire aura, the collective feel of its citizens, was itself slowly but steadily growing more nervous and jittery. It was, like they said in Bellum, bad juju. And bad juju was a coin toss away from explosions, emotional or otherwise. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and straightened her spine. She just had to focus, find out what was going on and then she could get out of here as fast as possible. Moving through the station’s all too familiar environment made her skin prickle, but it was easy to figure out where the emotional disturbance came from.

There was a man interrogating a station attendant, dark circles under his eyes and questions growing frantic the longer the attendant failed to give him whatever answers he needed. He was worried and scared, so much that it bled out and made the people around him nervous. Auras were best compared to music, Lucy had learned, and the discordant tone he was broadcasting was so stringent it was affecting people around him.

She moved in. “Excuse me! Can I help?”

Her raised voice caught the two men’s attention. The attendant shot her a grateful look and took the opportunity to make a break for it, his aura subsiding away from the pressure. Lucy’s target didn’t even seem to notice it. He latched on to her presence immediately. “I’m looking for my daughter, please, have you seen her? She’s been missing since last night and- She isn’t a girl that- that would get mixed in a bad crowd. She’s shy, she always tells us where she’s going. And-”

She cut his rambling by grabbing his shoulder firmly. “Calm down.” Her eyes bore into his. “Let’s go sit somewhere and you can tell me everything. Calmly and slowly.”

He closed his eyes and shuddered. “Yes, yes. Right, I’m sorry. I’m just so worried…”

“It’s okay. I’m sure your daughter is fine.” She led him to a bench just outside the small train station and sat him down. The man, a father, buried his head in his hands and took deep breaths. His worry was deep and tinged with sadness rather than anger. Lucy could see him suppressing tears and, unbidden, she felt her fists clench at the memory of another father. She forced herself to relax before sitting beside the man. “Tell me what happened. What’s your name?”

“I’m Marlon.” He said, composing himself the best he could. “My daughter is named Nina. She’s… about your age? I’m sorry, I don’t even know your name…”

She waved it off. “It doesn’t matter. It’s Lucy. Your daughter?”

“Yes, Nina didn’t come home last night. It’s not like her at all and we’re worried.” He rubbed his hands together. “We waited until this morning, even went looking at night, but we couldn’t find her… I already spoke with the guards but all they can do is ‘have an eye out’ for her until more time has passed! I’ve been asking on the docks, the city gates and now the trains, but nobody’s seen my little girl!” He exhaled explosively, but his shoulders slumped. Without the frantic energy, he looked two steps away from collapsing of tiredness. “I just know something must have happened… I’m sorry for bothering you with my problems Miss. I need to keep looking for her.”

Lucy tilted her head. Marlon’s problem seemed rather personal. It didn’t explain the rest of the worried auras around Hargeon. But she had a feeling they were connected, and if there was one thing she knew, it was how to listen to her instincts. And, she glanced at her belt, she did have the ability to solve this quickly. “If you have something with her scent,” she offered cautiously, “we can track her down.”

Marlon blinked, then the words registered and he jumped up. “Really? I- I don’t… No.” He stopped in place, hands flying to the large pockets of his working trousers. “I have her agenda, I picked it up just case. Will that be enough? My home isn’t far.”

“No, that should be enough. Let’s go.” She got up and led them further away from the station. She'd rather not do this here, where all the workers could see her.

It was a matter of finding a relatively isolated place. The streets weren’t crowded at this hour, and they found a fountain with nobody around just a couple of streets away. Lucy took two steps to have space then opened one of the pouches at her belt and grabbed the sphere resting within. This one was beige with a khaki stripe. She prepared it, the sphere growing from a large marble to orange-sized and hesitated, remembering she had an audience.

Well, hopefully Marlon wouldn’t question the exact wording.

Lucy tossed the sphere in the air, calling out with a steady voice. “I choose thee, Poodle Monster: Furfrou!”

The sphere erupted into light that quickly coalesced into, as advertised, a poodle. Or rather, she thought as Marlon’s aura went from tones of bemused to shocked, a fancy dog breed shaped monster. Furfrou was a mass of thick, white fur, his dark undercoat only visible on his face and paws. Intelligent red eyes glared at the two humans. Most notably however, was that his head reached just under her armpit. When Lucy had been a child and he’d permit it, she’d been able to ride on his back. She still could, if very awkwardly.

He was one of her first friends.

To Marlon, however, it was probably the largest dog he’d ever seen.

She closed the distance without a care, knowing how some people reacted to her partners, and gave Furfrou some dignified scratches under his ears. “I’ll be sure to take care of your grooming later.” She murmured to him. “Let’s just take care of this first.” He raised his chin and huffed, but stepped away from her and towards Marlon. Time to get to work.

 


 

Tracking Nina’s scent wasn’t a hard task. Her partner set at it immediately, nose to the ground. They attracted quite a few looks as they zigzagged through town. It made Lucy uneasy, to have so many eyes on her here, but she consoled herself with the fact that she would soon be gone. All she had to do was find a lost girl, then things should fall into place, she just knew it.

That first part, however, turned out to be harder than expected, when Furfrou finally tracked down the scent to its last location. An empty quay. The dog pointed his muzzle out to the sea, barking softly.

“Darn.” Lucy let herself slump down, sitting with her legs dangling over the water.

Nina had probably boarded a ship and there was no way they could track her over the open sea. None of her summons had a nose that powerful. Maybe, if they checked the marina’s records they could narrow down which ship it was and its destination but Lucy didn’t think having that information would help. Something was niggling in the back of her mind.

The pulsating auras of worry in Hargeon and Nina, daughter of Marlon… She needed more clues but…

“This missing girl….” She narrowed her eyes, “I don’t think she’s the only one… right Furfrou?”

Her partner snarled next to her and nodded. He’d caught more than one young female scent.

“Triple darn.” She cursed and got up, a frown now etched on her face. “See if there isn’t anything else you can find, Furfrou. The slightest thing could help.” They would need all the evidence they could get. If the missing girls were on a boat, every moment they got farther away.

He barked in acknowledgement and set his nose to work. It wasn’t the same as tracking one scent. Furfrou was trying to identify several scents and whatever distinguishing qualities they had. He meandered back and forth on the quay nose glued to the ground or high in the air, occasionally grumbling what he’d found at Lucy.

Females and males, fish and perfumes, smoke and something else. Something faint, carried through second-hand. Her partner seemed fixated on that one, his searching pattern growing more spread out as he searched for the mystery scent. She followed closely behind him, taking note of where they passed through. Back up out of the port proper, into the narrow streets, their path twisting over and over, stopping in front of several restaurants then returning down to the docks. Until Furfrou froze on the other end of the docks from where they’d started, nose in the air. Then he shot straight like an arrow north, towards the shoreline, Lucy right on his heels.

Rocks and fishermen’s flat-bottom boats speckled the open sand areas of Hargeon’s beach. The currents swept driftwood and flotsam into rocky corners, but today the sea had brought more than mere debris. Lucy climbed to the top of the boulderstone, gasped, and scrambled down, trying not to slip on the sea-sprayed surface. At the bottom, a blue colored cat creature with a long tail was spread on the fine gravel, unconscious, a green canvas bag somehow still on their back.

Lucy had seen these before. Werekittens. She carefully turned them around and checked for a pulse. His aura was very weak, she thought as she examined him, but his breathing seemed okay. How long had the kitten been here? The exposure he might have suffered worried her. Wet as his fur was, it offered no protection. She threw down her backpack, rooting within for a blanket. Furfrou had the same idea as her, curling around the two of them, blocking the sea breeze and the sun above. He nudged her and Lucy understood. This was the origin of the mysterious scent, maybe even their only witness.

“I got it from here. Thank you, Furfrou. Return.” She commanded. He turned into light and coalesced back into a sphere in her palm.

She picked the bundled form of the kitten, cradling him gently against her, grabbed her things and hurried up the beach. By chance, one of the fishwives along the seawall noticed her running. They helped Lucy climb the sloped wall and directed her to a sheltered corner among the stalls and warehouses along the waterfront. As thanks, and for the kitten, Lucy bought some juicy looking fishes from her baskets.

Setting the kitten carefully on the ground, she summoned another of her friends, one who would help with the cold. “Flame Monster: Charmeleon.” The orange and red sphere she’d grabbed from her belt flashed into a very different creature from Furfrou. A dull red reptile stood on her hind legs, the flaming tip of her tail thumping dangerously against the ground. She was almost as tall as the poodle had been, taller than Lucy kneeling like she was, and stocky in a way that resembled wyverns more than lizards. Just her presence was enough to start warming up the air, the flame on her tail radiating heat. “You can have some fish, this might take a while.” Lucy offered.

Charmeleon huffed and crossed her arms, something she had picked up from Lucy and other humans. Still, she grabbed a pair of fishes with her claws and bit down with a mouth full of fire, charring the flesh just the way she liked.

Lucy set to drying off the kitten, slowly and mindfully, taking note of where he was bruised. On his back was what she assumed was a magic guild mark, the fur dyed green down to the skin. It resembled sort of a bird on a branch. Lucy knew next to nothing about the mage guilds in Fiore, and couldn’t begin to guess which one it represented. Or even if it represented a mage guild in the first place. Charmeleon leaned down to poke at it and she batted her claw away. “I know, I know. I haven’t forgotten. We’ll go to Magnolia next, even if I have to catch a train to do it.”

Charmeleon had been very interested in this so rumored Salamander ever since they’d first heard about him. The flame monster was a salamander in her own right and felt eager to prove herself against his flames. Lucy herself was more inclined to avoid any sort of fight, and subsequent attention, but Charmeleon was growing stronger. Stronger and closer to the edge. Soon, they both felt, she’d be able to fly. And Charmeleon couldn’t wait for it.

“Who knows, maybe this kitty knows Fairy Tail.” Lucy folded the blanket under the kitten and sat down. She pondered whether she should see what his rucksack had but opted not to. She wouldn’t like people to go through her bags. “Or even the Salamander. That would be convenient. But first….”

She’d give the kitten half an hour to wake. After that, they’d better meet up with Marlon again and give him the bad news. Charmeleon started pacing, swishing her tail around methodically. Together, they waited.

 


 

Happy smelled fish. Grilled and burnt and delicious. The magic cat stirred. Everything felt heavy and sore, but nothing could stop the magnificent smell of fishy goodness. And, as his stomach growled, he felt famished.

“Urgh.” He lifted a paw to his head and tried to sit up. What happened? He tried to say, but it went something a little like, “Wa anen.”

“Hey, easy,” a human hand pressed lightly on his shoulder. Happy squinted and saw a blonde girl, kneeling next to him. “We found you passed out on the beach.”

What? “Were?”

“Hargeon’s beach.”

Beach? Hargeon? Then everything rushed in and he jumped up, manifesting his wings in a flash. “Natsu! We gotta go! Urgh!” The adrenaline wasn’t enough, however, and the transformation fizzled out. He fell to his paws, shaking and out of breath. A whole-body shudder ran through him and his fur stood up, but he was just too tired and hurt to move, much less use magic. Tears sprung to his eyes.

The girl hummed and he felt her hand lightly brushing his whiskers before stroking behind his ear. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be fine. Just breathe. Breathe.” The soft stroking had turned into a pleasant scratching, and Happy found himself leaning against her hand with his eyes closed. “Better?”

He sniffed. “Aye. Thank you.” Natsu was strong. Natsu would be fine. He couldn’t help him like this. He sat down properly, smoothing down his fur. Finally noticing the blanket protecting him from the ground’s cobblestones, he turned to her. “Thank you for saving me too.”

“You’re welcome.” She smiled down at him and presented him with a smoking fish. He wasted no time munching on it. “There. Can you tell us what happened now? And eat slowly.”

“Sorry.” He mumbled around an enormous bite of delicious fish. Slightly bland though. “There’s no time. Natsu’s in trouble. I’ve got to call the rest of the guild. Reinforcements.” But Fairy Tail was so far away and he was so tired. Could he really do it? He slowed down and swallowed. “I’ve got to get help.”

The girl tilted her head. “Does this have anything to do with a ship and missing girls?”

He almost jumped up again. “How do you know!?”

“We’re investigating a missing girl and tracked down her scent to the marina.” She explained, the corners of her mouth twisting downwards. “But it was a dead end. Your scent was mixed up in there, so Furfrou thought to track it. We ended up finding you washed ashore on the beach.”

He nodded and took another, better look at his savior. She was around Natsu’s age, dressed in worn but comfortable clothing. She had nice brown eyes and yellow hair that ran down until the middle of her back. He noticed her hands, held loosely in front of her, had very short nails and were calloused. “We got lucky then. Which guild do you belong to?” He couldn’t see her emblem. “Oh, and I’m Happy from Fairy Tail.”

Her smile widened. “Really? Great! But I’m not part of any guild.” She shrugged. “I’m just… Lucy, an Aura Guardian in-training. This city’s aura is bad… and getting worse.” She frowned and looked to her right. Happy followed her gaze to an alley running between two warehouses. Beyond, the top of Hargeon’s houses and buildings could be seen. “More people are getting worried, anxious. Very, very worried. Like Marlon,” she explained and turned to look him in the eyes. “His daughter went missing last night. And you’re our only clue.”

He clenched his paws. “Of course they are. They were kidnapped! They’re going to be sold as slaves!” His voice had risen into a ragged shout. “And Natsu- Natsu’s stuck in that ship with them. We’ve got to save them!”

Lucy let out another hiss. Her teeth were clenched so hard Happy could her them groan. “This is big. Too big.” She closed her eyes and massaged her forehead. “We need to consolidate our information before we go to the guards, or the army. Start from the beginning.”

Happy nodded. “Well, it started when…” he paused, remembering something. “It actually started yesterday morning… Natsu and I came to Hargeon looking for the ‘Salamander’,” his whiskers twitched in disgust and his tail trashed, “we thought it could be Igneel, Natsu’s Dad. But it was just… that guy. A fake with... lots of girls following him around. We didn’t recognize him then but his name is Bora, Bora the Prominence.”

“Who?”

Right, Lucy didn’t belong to a guild so she wouldn’t know. “He was a mage from the guild Titan Nose. He got kicked out for using magic to steal and other crimes.” Guess he got worse. “So we were going to go back to Magnolia since it wasn’t Igneel. But then we heard that Bora wasn’t just calling himself Salamander. He was calling himself Salamander from Fairy Tail!” His tail gained speed. “We didn’t care about a random skeevy guy using Natsu’s name. But using our guild’s name? We couldn’t let that go! So we…” Happy’s ears flattened against his head. “We went after him. To teach him a lesson.” And then… he hung his head, skin flushing under his fur.

Lucy noticed his hesitation. “Something went wrong.”

Happy closed his eyes so that he didn’t have to meet hers. “Sort of.” He cleared his throat. “Natsu’s really a super strong mage. Almost S-Class. He’s not because, well… sometimes he gets in situations like this.” There was a pause as he wondered how to put into words that didn’t, well, completely shred any sort of respect anyone had for Natsu. He could feel Lucy tilting her head, staring at him. Ah, screw it. “Natsu’s bad with transportation!”

“Bad with… transportation? Like…?” To her credit, Lucy sounded puzzled.

From the corner of his eyes, she actually looked sort of confused. Happy curled his tail around himself. “He’s got really bad motion sickness. Cars, trains and especially… boats. As soon as they start moving, he’ll start feeling sick. If he doesn’t get off right then, he becomes completely useless. He can’t even stand up and he has to fight really hard not to puke.” He laughed once, miserably. “Natsu’s so lame...”

He could see Lucy making mental twists, trying to interpret his words in a way that didn’t make them sound like complete idiots. “But…”

“We just charged in and didn’t think about it being on a boat. We just weren’t thinking.” He admitted. “We were just going to kick his ass for using Fairy Tail’s name. And maybe, if the sea wasn’t so bad… and if it was just Bora, we could have, well, not won-won but made it out okay.”

“It wasn’t just Bora.”  Lucy leaned in.

Happy nodded. “Aye.

“When we crashed the party, Bora had girls unconscious and his thugs were there taking them down into the ship. Natsu and I understood pretty quick he was actually up to something bad, so we tried to stop them. Natsu managed to fight, even seasick.” It had been a bad, desperate fight. Every moment they spent on the ship, Natsu got sicker. If only he’d been able to grab him… He pulled his tail closer. “But they got me and took Natsu out.”

Lucy stroked his cheekbone softly. “You made it out.”

“Yes. We were brought downstairs and imprisoned like the girls. They were taking some girls from the party, using charm and sleep magic on them. Bora let slip what he was doing to us. He wanted to know why we’d attacked. He figured we were onto him so he ranted and ended up telling us his whole plan.” Happy hissed. “They’re slave-traders and they’re taking girls who won’t ‘be missed’ to Bosco to be ‘sold immediately’.”

Lucy rubbed a hand down her arm. “Bosco. That’s very bad. People… disappear in Bosco.”

“Aye. And… and they were going to do something bad to Natsu too. When they figured out he was a dragon-slayer…” He shivered, trying not to think about what they’d said. How some people would pay for… things. “They know Natsu’s useless in a boat. At this rate, even when they reach land, he’ll be too weak to fight and get free.”

“And he would be in Bosco.” The girl grimaced.

“Aye. I escaped when we were already at sea. Nobody pays attention to the cat. Natsu distracted them so I could fly back and call for help. They shot at me grazed my wings and my transformation failed.” He rolled his shoulder blades. “I fell down to the water. I managed to grab something… and when I recovered enough I flew maximum speed back.” He rubbed his ear. “I must have fainted in the air. I can’t remember.”

“Lucky.” Said Lucy.

“Aye.” He sniffled, closing his eyes to stop the tears from falling.

Lucy’s arms gathered him up and hugged him gently against her. Fingers worked gently over his nape. “We got lucky too, and the girls. If you hadn’t escaped, nobody would know and they wouldn’t be saved.” She scratched under his chin. “So, chin up.”

He rubbed his eyes and nodded. “Aye. I’m- I’m really fired up!” He looked up at her, paws clenched into tight fists.

“Great. Now let’s go. We need to inform the guard and the army.” She rested a hand against his back. “You’re not well enough to rush there.” He wasn’t, he thought with a bit of a grimace. He was still exhausted, sore all over and his ears itched. “Would you like me to carry you or can Charmeleon do it? She’s warmer.”

“Charmeleon?” Now that he thought about it, Lucy kept saying ‘we’.

“One of my partners.” She grinned and nodded somewhere behind him. “She’s got an interest in this particular issue.”

He twisted his head to see who she was talking about and his jaw fell. “Salamander?!” Crouching down next to their bags and satchels there was small, red lizardman, not much bigger than him. No, something closer to a dragon. The tip of her tail was engulfed in fire, flames red with flickering purple. A true salamander. The comfortable heat in the air came from her, he realized, as she moved and the warmth changed.

“I might be fated.” Lucy chuckled. “We also came to Hargeon to meet this Salamander mage. We met his partner instead and now we’ll save the real Salamander mage from a fake Salamander mage.”

 


 

Lucy had been avoiding interacting with people in any meaningful way more and more the closer she got to Fiore. She’d withdrawn in preparation, maybe even fear. Lucy was, if she had to be completely honest, a travelling hermit. Which suited her just fine. She wasn’t alone by any means.

“-if we send out the boats right now we might still catch them.” “It’ll be dark before we catch them and then what?” “That’s why we need to go now!”

“-do, Titan Nose won’t tell. One of theirs becomes a slaver? That’s killing publicity.” “Look, I have a contact that might-”

“-want every girl and women who could have been on that party. We need to know how-”

“-several routes they can take, and that’s assuming they use the normal path, which they won’t, they-”

“-another confirmed Charmed. They’re too many; we don’t have the space for so many people…” “Just put up some tents, it’s temporary.” “And what about manpower? If any-”

“-already contacted the border patrols. Now it’s up to Crocus, maybe they can get Minstrel to actually do something for once.”

And so, not a full month in the country and here she was. Getting involved with the law enforcement and in the lives of dozens of people.

Sitting on her lap, the kitten Happy watched anxiously as the Rune Knights bustled around, orders and arguments flying. They’d requested him to stay, since he was the key witness, and Lucy wasn’t leaving either. It was bad enough already that Marlon had completely broken down when they’d informed him. It had been well-thought to tell him along with the guards, because neither of them knew what to do with a man hyperventilating. The guards though, were apparently trained for it, and for when that panic turned into impotent fury.

Marlon wouldn’t be the last one on a rampage either. The Rune Knights had been called, but the information was being kept under wraps. When the news of what had happened leaked, the peaceful town would be shocked. There were auras that Lucy had no intention of being in the middle of. Usually, she changed her course before she got too close. Hargeon’s would probably be one of them.

“And here I am, about to get even more involved.”

She sighed.

“Lucy?” Happy looked up at her.

She rolled her shoulders. “Nothing. Just thinking about how lucky everybody got.”

He nodded. “Aye. If Natsu and I hadn’t rushed in, and I hadn’t escaped…” He patted her hand. “And if you hadn’t been in town too! Nobody would know until it was too late. We were all really lucky.”

“You have no idea…” She returned his smile half-heartedly. Happy didn’t know it, but the place where she’d first heard of werekittens was in Bosco. He’d been really lucky none of the slavers had known what he was, or how valuable. “Now hop off. I need to speak with the captain over there.”

The kitten complied, leaping down. Lucy stood, straightened up and prepared what she had to say. She’d thought this through. She didn’t need to have the knight’s cooperation, but it wouldn’t hurt. She approached the cluster of officers hunched over a map. All of them radiated frustration, but also determination.

She touched the captain’s shoulder. “I can help.”

He barely glanced her way “Look Miss, we appreciate it but-”

“We can find the ship.” Lucy interrupted, gaining the table’s entire attention. “That is the main problem, if I understand correctly?”

A bushy mustache twitched as he looked her over again, calculatingly. “I thought you said you couldn’t track them over the sea.”

She nodded. “We can’t track them. But we can find them. We’ll fly and spot the ship by air.” She gestured towards the map. “You mentioned it earlier, your airships are too far away or too slow.”

“That…” he pulled a chair for her. “Could you explain? What exactly is your plan, how are you going to do it?”

Lucy ignored the chair but stepped closer to the table, so all the officers could see her. Half a dozen men and women stared, waiting for her to speak. “I’m a summoner. One of the monsters I can call is capable of flying while carrying a passenger for long periods of time. He also has a magic for improving his vision.” She tapped the gulf’s waters on the map. “If you give me which routes you think they will take, we can reduce the area we have to search, and you can relieve some boat to search in less likely places.”

The officers exchanged looks, questions rising among them. “Can you take another passenger?” “How fast of a flier are we talking here?”

“I wouldn’t risk taking someone else. The more weight, the less time we’ll have to find them.” She turned her head to the other asker. “At the pace we’re setting, here to the capital in an hour average. But we can go much faster in a pinch.”

Excited murmurs erupted among them. The captain was nodding, fingers tracing lines on the map. “We can get you a tracking lacrima. If you can plant and activate it on the ship…” His brow furrowed. “But… that may not be enough. If they cross into Boscan waters by then, we can’t send the army after them. Damn those savages!” His hand closed into a fist and trembled.

“We can also take care of it.” Lucy met his eyes. “The plan would be: I find the ship, board it, activate your lacrima, and dispatch the slavers. Then… well,” she’d reached the part she was doubtful about, “I’d turn the ship around. I’d appreciate help with that. I don’t know how to sail, much less a ship like that.” The sea only looked calm.

The captain stroked his mustache but a younger officer raised her voice. “That’s ambitious. Can you take care of them alone? It’s at least a dozen men and four mages. With the exception of Bora, they’re not strong, but…”

Another woman continued. “They have the numbers, the location and hostages. Not to mention fighting at sea is complicated. The ship can’t be damaged. I doubt there are enough lifeboats. And you’ll be alone.”

“I’m never alone.” She shook her head with a smile and laid a hand on her belt. “I have my friends with me and together we’re more than capable of handling this.”

“You’ve got me too!” Lucy whipped her head down to see Happy right next to her. He raised a small fist. “I know what the ship looks like and I don’t weight much. I’ll go with you. We’ve got to save the girls and Natsu!”

“They won’t fight fair,” rumbled the captain. “It’s not a situation to rush head first like some people do.”

Lucy ignored the noise Happy made, reaching down to pat him on the head. “I don’t plan on fighting fair myself. I’ll be taking monsters good at stealth and control. Along with a powerful water summon against Bora, and a healer for the victims.”

The captain thumped a hand to quiet down the questions that erupted. Guards and knights had formed a loose circle around the table, crowding the space. “Quiet down and back to your tasks!” He roared before turning back to Lucy. “Are you sure it won’t be too much for you? You may be flying for hours before you even find the ship.”

She shuffled on her feet. “The drain isn’t big as long as I only have one of them out. I can do more too, but the plan is to keep the fighting quick and minimal. Even if I just delay them, that’s ok.”

“Plans rarely go like we want them too.” He frowned and said more softly. “And if you fail… you’ll be in a terrible position.”

Lucy swallowed. “I know. But we will do it.” With or without them.

“I see.” He set his jaw and barked at his subordinates. “Alright. Menemo, you’re in charge. Find me those routes and lacrima for this operation. Miss Lucy,” he extended a hand, “we’ll take the help, on the condition you be careful and cooperate in full. If you’ll come with me, you can explain your magic better so we can refine the plan. Before we go, there anything you’ll need?”

Lucy nodded. “Just a thing. I need to set who I’ll summon. I’ll need some time in a peaceful place. Half an hour should do.”

“We don’t have much time. If you don’t find them before dark…”

Lucy smirked. “Noctowl is an owl. He hunts better at night.”

 


 

A dark shape glided high above the waters, feathers silent like the coming of the night. The sun had set, but the sky to their right still glowed purple. It did little to illuminate the waves, black and unfathomable beneath them, but the hunters weren’t worried.

The owl blinked, his eyes turned albino red. When the owl blinked again, they had returned to normal. He hooted, sharp sounds to cut over the winds. His rider patted him and pulled on the harness that kept her from sliding off, signaling for a turn. Then, she directed her attention to the small, bundled up form resting against her front. She shook him until one ear poked out of its covering, quickly retreating with a shiver. “Found something! Might be it!” The ear poked out again. “Going to circle it just to make sure! Should be in range of your eyes in ten minutes!”

A blue-furred hand gave her a feline thumbs up. The werekitten might be able to fly, but he wasn’t made for long periods in the razor winds of high-altitude flight. Not even his fur would protect him completely, and that they’d been essentially sitting still for hours only made it worse. The time passed slowly as they banked, left and down, their trajectory gradually tightening.

Their spiral was in the seventeenth revolution when the kitten finally spoke up. “Yes! That’s the ship.”

She nodded. It was still too far for her own human eyes. She could barely distinguish a shape cutting through the waves. But the aura was unmistakable. No normal ship would be this miserable. She tapped the kitten’s shoulder. “Pass me the first.” He was confused for a couple of moments before his ears perked up. He dug into a satchel tied to the leather straps around the owl’s body and gave her a small lacrima. She took it with her right hand, took a deep breath and crushed it with faintly glowing fingers. The lacrima broke with a sparkle. Kilometers behind them, the garrison at Hargeon would receive their position and start coordinating the response. In the meanwhile, they would stop the slavers from going anywhere.

They landed silently and out of sight on the stern of the ship. She removed the harness connecting her to the Noctowl and jumped down. She whispered a thanks and a command, the great owl flashing into an orb, quickly concealed on her belt. Lucy pulled her goggles up to her forehead and shed the warm outer layers of her flight clothes. Beneath, she had a lighter layer over a wetsuit. She grabbed a second, bigger lacrima from her belt bag, activated it and hid it within the clothes. She passed the bundle to Happy, who hurried to hide it in a nook between crates and ropes.

Now, the hard part.

The kitten padded over to her, fur raised and whiskers alert. “Are you ok, Lucy? It was a long flight….”

She grabbed another sphere from her belt, readying it. “Don’t worry. I still have enough magic.” They spotted a door and, as soon as they were inside and hidden from view, she called out as a whisper, “I choose thee, Candle Monster: Litwick.” A large, blue-flamed candle materialized on her palm, casting an unearthly glow onto the ship’s dark passageway.

“Creepy.” Happy shivered, catching a glance from two fathomless yellow eyes set in wax.

“He’s a good boy.” Lucy smirked as Litwick flapped his tiny arms like an angry bird. “Who’ll get a nice meal tonight if he behaves. Now, Happy?”

“Right.” The kitten nodded and stretched his ears as much as he could. He swiveled them in several directions, and went so far as putting them against the floor and walls. “There’s someone on this floor. Alone. I think… there’s a group somewhere under us. The engines too, they make it hard.” He shook his head. “I can’t hear things above us.”

“Matches the captain’s plans and what I can feel.” She felt her stomach roil again as her awareness brushed the pit of despair and the self-satisfied auras side-by-side at the bottom of the ship. Above and around them she felt some others, but it was hard to focus on anything but the kidnapped girls. “The lower deck must have the engines, crew and… the victims. The helmsman and the captain’s cabin must be on the upper decks.”

“Where do you think they’re keeping Natsu?” Happy asked quietly. “Can you feel him?”

“I’m not sure.” She couldn’t feel any aura that would match Happy’s description. He was probably unconscious and not, well, worse. She put a hand on Happy’s shoulder. “Maybe he’s next to the girls. Point us to the one on this deck. Litwick can ask him.”

Happy assented and wiped at his eyes. He took a deep breath and clenched his paws, before leading them furtively through the ship. The ship wasn’t very big and, even with at their slow pace, they could soon hear the heavy footfalls of one of Bora’s thugs. His aura didn’t sound anything but placid, maybe even bored, and Lucy felt her mouth twist into a snarl. However, now was not the time to cause a scene. Not yet. The man was close enough to be heard, so he would soon be close enough to see Litwick’s light. She placed Litwick on the ground, gave him a permissive nod and pulled Happy with her around a corner and into a grand room. As the footsteps got closer, Litwick dimmed the brightness of his life flame, to the point where he gave off barely more light than an ember. They flattened themselves against the wall and waited.

“What the fuck?” They heard as the yellow light of a lamp bounced off the walls, footsteps pausing before restarting. “Who the fuck did this? If they think it’s a funny prank I’ll tear them a new one.”

Then the yellow light, flickered, wobbled and seemed to move, before disappearing. All sounds stopped and Happy pressed himself against her leg in the dark. She could feel his fear, but also the slaver’s as his lamp’s flame bent towards what seemed like a large, but otherwise normal lamp. And got snuffed out by an otherworldly force. They had used this tactic to scare away bandits in the night, and Litwick had become an expert. Right on cue, a blue light replaced the former illumination, this time casting shadows from below. The man took a single step back, the sound of his boot on the hardwood floor loud even over the sea’s waves outside. Litwick let out a childish and chilling giggle. The blue light flared.

“Hiii!” A high-pitched cry came from the man and they heard them trip, fall, try to shuffle back and, with an admonishment from the ghost, stop. Then came the shuffling noise of wax slowly moving forward, the gradual brightening of the blue light and the panicked breaths of a paralyzed man, watching a monster relentlessly inching towards him.

That was Lucy’s cue. She gave a little shake and Happy undug his claws from her leg. “Lucy…” he whimpered, “you guys are scary.”

She turned the corner, the kitten on her heels, and plucked Litwick from the ground. The ghost warbled as his fun was cut short but she ignored him, keeping her eyes on the man slumped on the floor. She kneeled and deliberately placed down the candle ghost just shy of touching him. She looked him in the eyes, waited as his skin grew paler and her ghost’s flame grew brighter. “Litwick feeds on life force.” She said with all the casualness of someone commenting on the weather. “He uses it as fuel for his flame. When his food sources don’t have enough energy left, he takes their spirits. Burns them last. All that’s left is an empty shell and a soul condemned to wander this world forever.” Litwick giggled.

The slaver’s eyes were so wide that maybe without Litwick’s Imprison they really would pop out.

“You are already weak.” She tilted her head like Noctowl. “If you cooperate and tell me everything, I’ll call him back. The longer you take, the longer he’ll feed on you.”

 


 

The men on the lower deck didn’t have the sliver of a chance. A breeze swept through their quarters, carrying a powder that faintly shimmered in the lamplight. Their bodies fell asleep on the spot before any could do anything but vaguely wonder at what the glint in the air was.

Lucy and Happy hurried inside, mouths covered and carrying heavy coils of rope liberated from the main deck. Floating serenely a couple of paces behind them, a huge butterfly kept compound eyes on the men she’d taken down. A geometric pattern of greens and red vividly marked her wings. The grounded duo started tying up the crew members. It was around a dozen men, which they had to secure separate from each other, and it took several anxious minutes. More than once, one of them stirred and emergency measures had to be taken. Namely, Lucy wacked them over the head with the pommel of her sword, a grinning blade secured to her back by a dark blue sash.

The whole process took little more than five minutes. In that time, they had neutralized most of the target’s forces. But the clock was now ticking.

“Vivillon, hit them with another stun and sleep.” The great butterfly thrilled and beat her wings, sending two waves of scintillating powder into the air before Lucy closed the doors behind them. There was no way to lock it, so they would have to leave it as it was. “That should hold them long enough. I’ll take care of the rest down here.” There were still the kidnapped girls on this deck, guarded by another thug. She turned to Happy. “You can go now.”

“Aye.” The kitten saluted and Vivillon waved one of her tiny arms. “Be careful.”

“You too.” She said to them, watched the pair take to the air, then turned and started in the opposite direction.

Happy was going to rescue his partner Natsu who, it turned out, had been imprisoned inside the ship’s icebox. Vivillon was going with him for protection. There was also the possibility that she could help the afflicted mage with her soothing scents. Lucy would take care of any stragglers on deck, secure the girls and then move to take out Bora.

She was turning the last bend before her objective when she nearly collided against someone else. The man, another thug with tattoos and bad breath, backed away a step and a moment was lost to time as they stared at each other. It was inevitable that she would eventually be found. She’d missed his approach with the girls’ aura messing with her senses. Then he opened his mouth and Lucy moved, scowling fiercely.

A vicious punch struck his solar plexus, taking his breath and doubling him over. She followed by grabbing his head and slamming it down on a rising knee. He went down with a broken nose but victory was short-lived as Lucy barely managed to block a fireball with her arms, hissing as her skin and wetsuit burned.

“Intruder!” Cried the mage responsible, standing by a barred door, another fireball forming in his hands.

She dove under the second spell, unsheathed her sword and stabbed it into the ground. “Shadow Sneak!”

The blade’s shadow extended in a flash, passing between the man’s legs. He screamed as a blade of physical shadow stabbed him from behind. It was enough to disrupt his next spell. Lucy capitalized on it, heaving up her blade. “Aerial Ace!”

She ducked her head and threw it with all her might. The sword flew from her hands, sash pulling the scabbard behind it as the glowing white blade crossed the space between Lucy and the mage. It embedded itself on his shoulder, pinning him to the wall. He howled. The eye on the sword’s crossguard looked at him dispassionately, then the cloth connecting the pommel to the scabbard raised the later and knocked it against his head, silencing him.

Lucy panted, hands hovering over her forearms. She shot a look at the bleeding man. “Maybe that was a bit too much Honedge.”

The sword had no brows to raise, but Lucy understood the message nonetheless.

She sighed and held up her hand. “Return.” The sword coalesced into an orb in her hand, letting the man fall to the floor. She switched it with a pink-colored one from her belt. “I need your help, Fairy Monster: Clefairy!”

A soft, round, pink creature appeared next to her. He had a curled tail, very small wings, dark-tipped ears and barely came above her knees. He stomped the ground and pointed at her arms, shrilly jabbering at her. She pouted. Clefairy grabbed her hand, pulling her down. He shut his eyes, took a deep breath and exhaled. Instead of air, waves of energy washed over Lucy’s arms.

Lucy pulled the wetsuit away from her skin carefully, finding new, pink skin. “Thanks.”

Clefairy thrilled, nodding to himself, then proceeded to wag one finger at her, scolding her for her carelessness. He stopped, looked over his shoulder and growled at the first thug, who had been pulling himself up. The man paused, considering the girl kneeling on the ground next to his colleague and the small pink creature next to her. He bolted. Cleffairy growled louder.

Lucy turned her back and started securing the mage, taking care to at least wrap the wound on his shoulder, lest he bleed to death. The sounds of a well-deserved beating came from behind her. Clefairy was more than capable of handling one punk, as he’d said. As she finished tying the mage’s hands behind him, her partner threw a very unconscious man next to him and rejoined her, dusting off his hands.

She nodded in thanks and moved to stand in front of the barred door.

The aura had changed. There was new fear and trepidation emanating in dizzying waves from beyond the wood and iron barrier but also, buried deep down in that cacophony… hope. Clefairy touched a hand to her knee.

She squeezed the key she’d taken from the mage. “I know.” The bolts clanged loudly as she opened the lock.

It was good that Happy had left before seeing the girls. They huddled together on the floor, on thin mattresses and ragged blankets. Over twenty she counted, all young and pretty and terrified. Chains connected their ankles to rings on the wall, the inside of the manacles carefully padded. But nothing could hide the blistered brands on their bodies.

A whimper broke the silence and Lucy forced herself to take a deep breath. She was angry, but not at them. She was happy that she’d found them and that now they would be safe. She let that happiness form a smile on her face and stepped further inside the room, Clefairy by her side.

“Hi.” She knelt down to their level but didn’t reach out yet. “My name is Lucy. I’m an Aura Guardian. Which one of you is Nina? Your father sent me.”

A curly-haired girl in a corner sobbed, hands flying to her mouth, and hope rose like the sun after a long night.

 


 

There was no more need for great stealth. Lucy ran up the stairs connecting the decks, fury fueling her.

In her mind, she counted. Vivillon and Happy were somewhere under her, next to whom she assumed was Natsu. Clefairy had stayed downstairs, protecting and reassuring the girls. Two summons draining her energy, after hours of keeping Noctowl out and a couple of fights with Litwick and Honedge. She was tired, but she had enough for Bora. He was above, three or four auras with him. Only the helmsman was left beyond them, but Lucy couldn’t care less.

One of the girls was with Bora.

She could feel it, that last pit of fear in this rotten ship.

A bestial growl erupted from her throat as the door hiding them finally came into view. One slaver stood in her way, sword drawn and yelling. She didn’t bother with the command words, grabbing the blue orb from her belt and roaring. “Feraligatr!!”

And there was a monster, hunched over yet towering over her and her foe. The space was almost too small for him. One swipe of his claws and the man was on the floor with broken bones, Lucy jumping over him. A shoulder slam, the door was broken off its hinges, and Lucy and Feraligatr were inside an opulent cabin. The slavers all had their eyes on them and were palling as they beheld the monster and the girl. Their alarm was universal, in the moment not knowing what to be warier of: the monster who stood like the human or the human who snarled like the monster. The trick was, of course, that both was the correct feeling to have.

Lucy positively growled as she took note of their positions and of the girl, arm held tightly by a man who could only be Bora himself. Her hair fluttered in the raging currents of her magic. “Let her go.” She took one step in their direction. “Let her go and surrender, or else….” Behind her, Feraligatr loomed, teeth bared and gleaming, eyes nearly glowing, his face promising nothing but terror and pain.

Bora was the only one who still managed to act fast enough. “Want her?” He rose to his feet with the girl between him and Lucy like a shield. “Go get her!” He yelled and threw the girl bodily through the leisure ship’s large windows.

Lucy was already yelling as the poor girl crashed through the glass. “Feraligatr!”

Her partner had barely needed the prompt. He dove after her and the first barely heard splash against the waves was followed by a deeper plunk as his bulky shape cut through the water. Despite appearances, Feraligatr was an aquatic creature, and the sea was his second home.

Lucy didn’t have any time to think about that. She dove just in time to avoid being burned to a crisp by Bora, and that was all the cue the other pirates needed to grab their weapons and start shooting.

“Crap!” She rolled out of the way again and took the briefest of instants to recall Vivillion. A ray of light shot through the wall’s wooden planks and coalesced back into a ball in her hand, lifting a weight from her reserves and startling the slavers for a crucial second. She moved. The four men had expected a magical attack, flinching back and prepared to dodge, and in turn she jump-kicked the furthest away in the face.

Now, she was in the middle of them, they couldn’t shoot safely without hitting each other, so she just had to watch out for -she ducked, only partially avoiding a fireball- Bora. Lucy yelped, a hand flying up to her now burned ear, thankfully not too much, and cursed the smirking man. Bora chuckled evilly and waged a finger at her. His little friends unsheathed sabers and cracked knuckles.

The subsequent seconds turned into a deadly cat-and-mouse. The four slavers knew how to work together and took turns, swinging swords or trying to catch her in a grapple, keeping her on her toes. If she managed to score a hit against one, another would keep her from finishing it off. And all the while, Bora circled the edges of the melee, waiting for her to tire and give him an opening. The first to make a mistake would lose, and Lucy was at a clear disadvantage, alone and tired from everything until then. She couldn’t win alone. If Feraligatr didn’t return soon, she’d have to risk it and summon Litwick.

She low kicked one into the ground, but had to vault over another one coming from behind her, and then a weak but still dangerous stream of fire had her grounded once again. She rolled out of the way of a sword, eyes glinting, jumped into an elbow strike to the solar plexus of the slaver coming to grab her, followed with an uppercut that made him bite his tongue, but as she twirled out of his reach, the floor shifted with the rolling of the waves. And this time, Lucy slipped.

One knee and one hand touched to the floor. It was all it took. One of the men pounced and she just had time to put up a quick guard, her aura rising into a visible corona. His meaty hands slammed into a barrier. Not a split second later, a sword was pushing against her barrier. She cried out, forcing herself to keep up the protection. The shield rippled, subsections barely visible as she strengthened it. A third slaver slammed his sword against it and a drop of sweat rolled down the back of her neck.

She was pinned.

“Finally!” Bora spat. Purple flames flared to life on his palms and he started approaching slowly, adding a dramatic swagger to his hips. If it wasn’t for the precarious position she was stuck in, she wouldn’t have found it the least bit menacing. Not him or the leering faces of the pirates just an arm’s length away. “Now!” Bora yelled and thrust out his hands. “Prominence Whip!”

The slavers jumped out of the way just in time as the flames in Bora’s hands split into multiple branches and shot towards Lucy. Lines of purple fire slammed into her shield with a constant staccato. The barrier cracked. Lucy howled, glaring at Bora through the flashes of purple. The subsections slipped under the pressure. She just had to hold on for a little longer-

It shattered. Lucy was sent flying, rolling until she hit a couch. Her ears rung, all her muscles cramped and her hands burned. Bora’s high laughter had her fists clenching. He started gathering power for another spell, looking down at her, like she was a bug he was about to squash. Hatred flashed in her heart. Her breaths accelerated.

No. No. She was going to dodge the spell now that she wasn’t surrounded anymore and dive out after Feraligatr. Together they were going to come back and take these despicables out. She tensed, Bora threw his hand forward, and-

“Lucy!”

Just before she could jump out of the way, a shape flew in front of the fire. Lucy stared in horror at the back of a boy as he went up in flames. Then a blue flying kitty tackle hugged her, yelling.

“Happy?” She sputtered.

“Lucy! You’re okay! Your butterfly disappeared, we were so worried!” He cried.

“I’m okay.” She patted his head absently, rising to her feet. All her attention was on the boy in front of her, who had not collapsed in agony, but was instead shoveling the fire into his gullet. “That’s Natsu?”

“Yeah!”

Natsu fell to his knees, coughed flames and vomited liquid fire and bits of coal. “Uuuuh, stupi’boaat… I dun feel s’gooood…”

“I’m sorry. He’s lame.” Happy whimpered.

“No, you saved me.” She hissed as the slavers, recovered from the shock, aimed their pistols at the collapsed mage. “Now grab him!” She threw the werekitten at his companion.

Happy didn’t even hesitated, righting himself in midair and manifesting his wings. He lifted the pink-haired mage by his armpits with surprising strength. Several shots rang in the room, bullets burying themselves in the wood of the floor and walls, sending splinters flying, two of them barely missing Natsu and Lucy. Lucy grabbed Litwick’s sphere, ready to dive deep into the well of her power, as Natsu readied his fists in front of himself, alarmingly pale.

The room shook, the whole ship tilting a couple of degrees.

“What the fuck, now!?” Bora yelled, perfect hair disheveled.

Wood groaned and cracked, once, twice, thrice and more, like somebody was climbing old stairs.

Lucy laughed as the slavers paled. She didn’t have to look to know who it was. A blue-scaled hand grabbed onto the rim of the broken window behind her, the remnants of glass breaking and failing to penetrate the scales. A thick red fin appeared first, just a hint at his size, then a head wider than Lucy’s shoulders, a powerful neck, and the rest of a body that would hit the ceiling were he not permanently hunched over. A monstrous, bipedal crocodile pulled himself up and into the room with no regards to the structural integrity of the window. Reptilian orange eyes swept the room and his maw opened in a silent growl, revealing conical fangs designed to pierce flesh and keep it there.

“Tha’is yours right?” Natsu slurred over his shoulder, eyes wide.

“Feraligatr,” Lucy smiled a crocodile’s smile, “Water Pulse!”

A slaver that had yet to discharge his weapon fired one last desperate time, the bullet striking true and burying itself on the monster’s hide, but Feraligatr didn’t appear to feel it at all. He’d drawn his arm back, streams of water flowing up his body and onto his hand, a sphere of glowing water forming between his claws, and now he threw it like a cannonball. Bora attempted a defense, summoning fire in front of him, but it was worthless. The ball hit his body directly, the fire snuffed into nothing, and exploded into a wave that threw the slavers into the walls and rocked Lucy and Natsu.

She stumbled back and Feraligatr steadied her. Happy had let Natsu down, and all of them were wet. But Bora and his underlings were passed out on the floor, finally out for the count. It was over.

Lucy let her head fall against Feraligatr’s wrist, feeling light-headed. “We did it,” she told him. “Thanks. You were just in time. The girl?”

The crocodile nodded, and the last weight lifted from her shoulders. It was done. They’d saved everybody.

“Can we ged’off this boooat now?” The True Salamander from Fairy Tail whimpered on the ground, looking wet, sick and utterly miserable.

Happy shared a tired look with Lucy, and then they burst out laughing.