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umbra is the darkest part of the shadow - or: the x791 grand magic games

Chapter Text

Zilla Claramond did not spend too much time in the more public part of the Raven Tail building. In fact, whenever she returned from a mission she traveled straight to her private rooms and normally dropped off whatever personal affects she carried with her and made her way straight to Master Ivan’s office. The first part of her normal schedule was what happened today when she returned from Era. Setting the guild up to be an official one rather than dark one was hard work and took a mixture of meetings she hated and blackmail which she also wasn’t a fan of. All because Fairy Tail returned. Well, more important to Master Ivan, that Makarov Dreyar returned.

A sigh escaped her lips as she sat down on her bed. She stretched her arms and back as a yawn escaped her lips. She sent news to Master Ivan earlier that day and he was probably alerted officially from Era as well. She did not need to go to his office just yet. Decision made, she laid down and felt comfortable for the first time in months. It was a long travel and looked forward to being by herself in a place where her skin didn’t crawl.

But she waited before sleeping, however, since her life was never so easy and soon enough; the communication Lacrima in her room lit up and on it she saw Ivan Dreyar.

“Zilla—how nice to see you back and alive. I got the news this morning that Raven Tail was official.” He drawled on.

“Master Ivan, it is good to be back.” She sat up on her bed and looked at him. “I was going to nap before I went to your office.”

“You can nap after—I have some others in here, key players in our move forward.” Ivan told her and Zilla bit back a sigh. She nodded.

“I’ll be right over.” She told him. He vanished from the lacrima and the light dulled. Zilla rubbed at her eyes and picked herself up out of bed. She debated on bringing her sword before she decided to leave it. There was no need to bring with her inside the guild. Her jacket, however, was a needed one. No one needed to see the dark purple marks on her arms.

In almost no time at all, Zilla was in Ivan’s office where he sat in his desk. Standing next to him was Rabastan Grund, a former mage of Fairy Tail and well, former mage in general. Zilla felt herself get tense at the sight of him and his cold eyes were on her as well. She took note of the four others in the room, other Raven Tail members. Kurohebi, who smiled as much as she frowned, and both said very little. Flare Corona was there as well—she was always eye catching in her red. Obra was there with his puppet resting on his shoulders and he said even less than she did. And, last was Nullpudding who made up for all the quiet people with his loudmouth. Her fellow Ravens.

“Rab, Zilla, if you both could stop glaring at each other.” Master Ivan sighed and Zilla shifted her eyes back to Ivan immediately. “Thank you. Now, to catch Zilla up to speed. We are going to enter the Grand Magic Games. Our team set up will be Kurohebi, Obra, Nullpudding, Rabastan and you, Zilla with Flare as reserve.”

Zilla blinked at him. The Grand Magic Games? Why were they going to go so public? Panic flashed in her mind at the idea of partaking in such an event. But also—Grund? In a game for mages? She wanted to laugh at that but there was nothing funny about this. Something must have shown on her face to Ivan because he raised an eyebrow at her as if to say get on out with it then. So she asked “How is Grund going to compete?”

“Always right to the chase, Zilla.” Nullpudding said with a smile. Grund was smiling too, but there was no mirth or sarcasm in it like Nullpudding’s. No. His smile was the same as his eyes—cold.

“Surely, you’ve heard of magical items, Zilla? Or are you too simple minded?” Grund asked her.

Zilla glared. “I am more shocked you are going to do more than just be a plain sadist for fun, Grund.”

“Now, now, children.” Ivan said, he cut a glance at Grund which silenced the man. “No need for infighting. Focus all of that on the Games and getting back at Fairy Tail. We are going to go there and defeat them once and for all.”

Zilla looked around the room and did a tally on the team. They all had their uses, and no one here could ever be considered weak. No matter what Grund did or said to any of them, but she noted, he always had an eye on Corona for some reason. Zilla suspected it was because she was not like a lot of the others and it showed. She frowned at Grund's direction once more. She would play interference with that at Crocus if she was forced to go. Turning back to Master Ivan, she let her displeasure known.

“I do not want to take place in the Games. Put Corona on the team and leave me out of it—give me a different assignment.”

“Zilla.” Master Ivan began. He said her name with a trickle of disappointment that made Zilla look down at her boots. “We need you on the team. You are by far Raven Tail’s strongest and most skilled mage.”

“You already have a tactfully strong team, Master Ivan. I would only be overkill.” Zilla told him, her eyes looked up again. She did not want to do the Games. Please.

“Zilla, you are instrumental in these plans.” Master Ivan told her and then he went for the killing blow which was, “and I trust you to do what needs to be done.”

And just like that, in three months, Zilla Claramond would be on the Raven Tail team for the x791 Grand Magic Games. Not that she was thrilled about this.

When the others were dismissed, when the plans were laid out, Zilla stayed back. She waited for the door to close behind Grund before she spoke to Master Ivan. “I cannot do these games.”

“Zilla…” Master Ivan sighed and Zilla stepped forward in front of his desk.

“I cannot. I—I told you about. The arena. The monthly death matches, I. I do not think I can handle it.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. It was hard to talk about, but she had known this man since he saved her. Since he found her half dead at the edge of Fiore and he—he saved her life a decade ago.

“Zilla, these are different. No one will be killed for losing or winning.” Master Ivan’s voice took that rare soft tone that it did sometimes. She almost recoiled at the way he did it all so easily, the way he could shift from Guild Master to—to whatever this was. “This is more to show who the strongest is and win some money while you’re at it. As long as we defeat Fairy Tail, that will be it. No one will die.”

Zilla found herself nodding. But she was not comforted in the least. She despaired slightly because she knew that she was not going to sleep any time soon. No matter how tired she was.

 

CROCUS

For an underground tunnel, it worked out quite well and you wouldn’t even be able to tell it was underground. Which was planned, naturally, but also the feat involved some incredible magic. The operation was seven years in the making and running along quite well.

A man walked through the tunnel, deeper and deeper into the earth as he did. He wore a long white jacket that had dark red trimmings with a black shirt and black pants. On a pin on his left jacket lapel was a strange symbol, a jagged-looking H with a circle around it. On the back of his jacket showed off a well-known brand for fashion and armor alike—Heart Kruz. This man was the founder of such a company, Gaël Cœucruz. Little was known about him in the public, just that he was as the founder of the famed brand and had quite the eye for fashion and dramatic appearance. Nobody knew his true job. Nor the fact that he was a mage.

He got the to the end of the tunnel and opened his palm to a scanner, which then opened a heavy metal door before him. He walked in and ignored the faint screaming coming from somewhere the back of what looked to be a massive warehouse. Sitting in the front of it was a young man. He had dark skin and shaved hair, though some of it was growing back. On his scalp was the same crude H symbol that adorned the pin of Mr. Cœucruz. He was a tall young man and was currently leaning against a desk with his arms crossed.

“I take it preparations for the Games are underway?” Mr. Cœucruz asked. His voice was thin and silky.

“Yes—Master would be happy of the upgrades.” The young man replied; his tone was emotionless.

Mr. Cœucruz smiled. “Good, good. We have three months. The return of Fairy Tail…hm, the stocks in my company went up with the return of Erza Scarlet.”

The young man nodded. He did not know business much. “Congratulations, Mr. Cœucruz.”

“Thank you, Bo.” Mr. Cœucruz said. “I do hope they plan to enter the Games. Their magical energy … yes, it can only benefit us, no?”

They both didn’t flinch when they heard sobbing, nor when there was screaming. Not even when a small explosion seemed to go off. The young man called Bo just nodded. “I believe so, too.”

 

Chapter Text

A sigh escaped her mouth when they entered the arena, the grip on her sword tightened as she stood behind Rabastan Grund—aka Alexei for now—she wondered what trick he had up that armor to convince an entire stadium of real mages he was one. What kind of fake magic he had. Though she privately wished he was caught and then torn to pieces but that’s just her. It wouldn’t look good for Raven Tail, though. Not that since their last night’s performance they did much that made them look good.

 Zilla did her best to keep her glare down but found herself with a heavy frown right at Grund’s back. The cheering from the crowd only served to sour her mood even more. Zilla lamented on not being able to avoid coming here and doing...this.

But she made sure to stay impassive as possible as she stood there, and she shifted her glance to instead stare at nothing. She willed the memories away. They could bother her later, when she was alone and not facing a giant crowd.

It was only when Obra’s puppet made a noise at her did she realize the team was walking away, and she followed them. She knew she missed some…action with the Fairy Tail mages because there were, apparently, two teams.

She could do this. She has to do this. Master Ivan believed in her.

Her neck prickled and she felt a gaze on her, and she turned around, walking backwards with her team  in order to look for who it was. There, at the top of the stands she saw a figure wearing a hood. She narrowed her eyes at the person and watched as they waved at her. She felt something strange in the air then. Something that made her skin crawl and all her instincts on alert.

“Never thought I’d see you on edge, Zilla.” Nullpudding said next to her. Zilla didn’t respond but she turned on her heel and walked ahead, the person and feeling noted in her mind.

How suspicious, to zero in on her and wave. She was arguably one of the least interesting people in the arena, let alone within the group she was with. Zilla did not like that feeling. She ignored her team’s words and comments for now. She even ignored Grund’s words. She didn’t care much for them under any circumstance.

She kept her mind on that person—looking where they were sitting. Even as the first task began and Nullpudding was going in. It was called Hidden and truthfully, she should have been the one to go for this round. She cursed the fact that Grund sent Nullpudding. She could have avoided a battle. 

With Nullpudding gone, the team was rather silent where they stood in the arena. She was unsurprised that he chose to target the two Fairy Tail members but wondered at Sabertooth’s Rufus not moving. She did not know what his magic was. There was snickering from Alexei as Nullpudding went after Fullbuster and Lockser repeatedly. Silently, Zilla wondered if it would not have been wise to leave the Sabertooth one to his own devices.

She felt another prickling and looked to her left where one of the Fairies was glaring at her. Zilla kept her face blank as she stared, and she noted this was the Celestial spirit mage. She must be angry at Nullpudding’s tactics. Zilla blinked at her and then looked away. She did not have time for some pettiness.

“Got a fan, Zilla?” Alexei asked her.

Zilla glared at him but did not speak a word. Her eyes went back to the screen where Nullpudding was. How curious, though. That not only should Fairy Tail have two teams, but that one of them had a member that Master Ivan and she knew to be in the land called Edolas. A thought occurred to her then and she clenched her fist. Jellal Fernandes using a disguise as his Edolan counterpart would only be too perfect for them. It was good for Fairy Tail because he was once a Wizard Saint. But what could that slaver have to gain in Crocus?

 Her attention was caught again by the games. It was as if a light went out—Rufus Lore of Sabertooth finally made his move and Zilla found herself surprised like the rest of the crowd. Memory make magic. That was incredible. Her surprise turned into bitterness as she saw Nullpudding go right for the man. Tactless. This was Master Ivan’s team?

“He should have waited.” Zilla said calmly.

“Don’t be so rude to your teammates, Zilla.” Alexei told her.

“You should have sent me in.” Zilla replied.

“And have you miss out on the possibility of a battle? Don’t be so transparent, Zilla. We both know the first day those who participate in the event don’t go into the battle.” They both glared at each and only looked away when the event ended. Nullpudding was returning to them and at the very least, he got second place. And a plus was that Fairy Tail seemed to be getting booed.

Not that their Dragon Slayer was handling that little bit well. She watched as he yelled at the crowd which only made them snicker.  Zilla shook her head. Must they be so loud?

“And now the announcement of today’s matches!” the Pumpkin went on to announce. “For the first battle will be Fairy Tail team A’s Lucy Heartfilia versus Raven Tail’s Zilla Claramond!”

Zilla did not groan. She did not even flinch when Nullpudding slapped her arm and said, “Show those fairies who’s boss, shadow queen.”

Zilla took her steps forward as the arena shifted to benefit battles more. There was cheering everywhere and once more, Zilla could feel them penetrating her being with their eyes. When she looked to place before, she saw that same hooded figure. She frowned at that direction during the rule portion.

30-minute time limit. Whoever was left standing by then would win, unless the battle was shorter. Zilla uncrossed her arms from her chest and looked back towards Heartfilia. This match would be shorter.

The cheers of the crowd and the presence of the hooded person put her on edge. She blinked as the blonde woman glared at her. No doubt, Fairy Tail was bitter about Obra’s interference as well as Nullpudding’s targeting of them.

 Naturally, Zilla would have to pay for the consequences of their actions.

“Here we go—Open the gate of the Bull! Taurus! Open the hate of the Scorpion! Scorpio!” and two celestial spirits appeared. Zilla stayed still, breathed in and out and watched closely for the attacks to come. She was mildly impressed that this woman could open two golden keys at once with ease.

The bull had an axe and it seemed the Scorpion man was doing something the sand and her eyes widened a fraction as she realized what they were doing. Combining their powers. It was smart, but it would only affect those above ground. Zilla casted her own magic and sunk into her own shadow.

She watched the world above her through the shadows. It was like looking hrough a foggy looking glass and the voices were so far away. This place was quiet, though, only the sound of her own breathing accompanied her down here so it was easy to hear them. They were wondering where she went after their attack missed. Zilla travelled to about where the spirits were. They would find out soon enough.

She leapt up from the shadows, her sword drawn, and attacked the spirits from behind. Once she landed on her feet, she used the momentum from her landing to twist herself, so she was facing her opponent and saw the fairy’s eyes widen in surprise. With her left hand, Zilla commanded the shadows to attack the mage.

Black tendrils shot up from the ground and attacked the mage all at once. Zilla stood in a low crouch, ready to move at a moment’s notice in any direction. The tendrils backed off of the mage and Zilla’s eyes widened when she saw what appeared to be a grandfather clock where Heartfilia was. Zilla blinked and the shadows slithered back to her, all alert and behind her. Waiting for a chance to strike.

“Amazing set of moves by both mages! Raven Tail’s Zilla revealed herself to be a shadow mage and shows excellent control of the shadows!!” one of the announcers said. Zilla did not take note of his name. “Fairy Tail A’s Lucy has shown good prowess with her own magic!! Two gates at once and there seems to be no stopping either of them!”

It seemed to Zilla the clock was a defense of some kind. It was a smart move. Zilla found herself gripping her sword tighter because she wanted this fight to end quickly. She had no time for smart moves. She would do anything to get all those eyes off her. Anything to avoid being—looked at so openly.

She sighed heavily and then decided that she could escape the eyes of the spectator by sinking into the shadows. But then it would just be a waiting game. She could also test the limits of the defense magic and she readied herself to do just that when the spirit popped away and Heartfilia stood strong again.

“I got a few cuts before I got into Horologium, but they’re all better now.” Heartfilia said with a proud smile. The Fairy Tail crowd cheered.

Zilla didn’t feel the need to respond, so she stayed quiet. Instead, she watched carefully as the mage went forward to get another key but before her hand could grab on, a tendril moved quickly from her shadow and grabbed her wrist. Heartfilia gasped and Zilla had her thrown across the arena.

Zilla started a run after her flailing body, her sword at the ready and when Heartfilia landed on the ground and started to get up, Zilla slashed her back with her sword before she could center herself. Zilla jumped over Heartfilia and twisted mid air and landed on her feet, her sword pointed at her opponent. The crowd was cheering and Heartfilia shakily stood on her feet. She was determined, Zilla would give her that.

Heartfilia was faster this time and held up another golden key—“Open the gate of the archer! Sagittarius!”

Zilla frowned. Archer? She watched as a…man in a horse costume? Centaur? Appeared next to Heartfilia who got her—whip?—out and they stood together.

Her eyes were on the bow the spirit carried. Arrows. Zilla felt herself shiver at the sight of them. The shadow tendrils were as alert as her now and she felt her stomach tighten. The tendrils moved on her own and focused on the—archer and once the arrows were thrown, Zilla sunk into the shadows immediately.

She said she couldn’t do this. The mixture of the spectators. Of the eyes. Of the arrows. Suddenly, she was a child again and she was running from arrows for sport. For entertainment. And wasn’t that what this was? A sport for entertainment for the royal family? Something entertaining for the masses to watch as mages battle it out life and death style. A barbaric past time where one lives, or one dies, and no one truly wins because they are all trapped in this vicious cycle.

Zilla breathed in and out. She looked up from the darkness of the shadow realm and saw that her tendrils were making easy work between the whip and the arrows. It was time to end this disgusting display of power and entertainment. She moved just in front of the celestial spirit mage before jumping up. Her shadows were all on the Spirit, now.

This time she swung with her left hand and though Heartfilia stumbled at her surprise entrance, she was fast enough to send her whip to Zilla’s left arm in order to block her sword. Zilla smirked. Just as she planned. Zilla lobbed her sword over to her right hand where she caught it. The other’s whip wrapped around her arm and Zilla grunted as she pulled her left arm forward, causing Heartfilia to stumble. It was an old trick of her’s. Heartfilia fell on the ground on her front and Zilla landed right onto her back, her sword cutting the whip in half as she landed.

The archer disappeared and Zilla stayed on the mage’s back, where the slash from earlier was still bleeding. She dug her heel into the cut and Heartfilia cried out.

In this world it was be on top or be at the bottom and Zilla was never going to be on the bottom again. She dug her heel in further. She was going to survive this fight.

Zilla bent down and grabbed the rest of the other’s keys from her belt before stepping off of her back and her feet were on the ground again. She held them in the air and inspected them. Heartfilia sure did have a lot of golden keys. Was that dangerous? Zilla wondered.

“Give them back.” Heartfilia said, her voice was weak and as Zilla looked at her, she saw that the other was sitting up on her elbows and glaring at Zilla.

“The fight is over.” Zilla spoke to her for the first time. The archer was gone. The others she summoned were also gone. Her whip was destroyed. Zilla dangled the keys. The crowd was cheering. “I have a dark affinity—it’s not like these could be useful for me.”

“Then give them back!” Heartfilia demanded. Zilla saw a fire in her eyes and she wondered why they meant so much to the other. With a sigh she faced the other straight on. She pointed her sword at Heartfilia’s face to lift her chin up with the edge of the blade.

“The fight is over. Give up or I will be forced to cause you further injury.” Zilla dangled the keys in the air.

Tears welled up in the other’s eyes. “I can’t give up! I can’t do that to my friends in the guild!”

Zilla frowned. There were fifteen minutes left. “I admire your strength of character, as annoying as it is right now.” Zilla told her. She lifted her sword from under Heartfilia’s chin and sheathed it. The shadows moved closer and loomed over the pair of them.

Zilla turned her back and let the tendrils do their work of lifting Heartfilia in the air and then dropping her back down on her back. They moved her around on the ground, attacking her with their master’s back turned from the spectacle.

Her eyes were on the crowd and she found the hooded person once more. Zilla dangled the keys with her hand and turned on her heel as Heartfilia was on the ground. She was still breathing.  Zilla had to survive this.

No one will die.

It isn’t like Then, Zilla reminded herself, you’re not in any real danger. She called her shadows back and Heartfilia laid there, breathing still but injured and without her keys or whip. She stayed on the ground and it wasn’t long before the announcers called.

“RAVEN TAIL WINS!!!”

Zilla breathed out. She walked back towards Heartfilia and crouched down next to her. “Here are your keys.”

Heartfilia’s eyes opened and she took them quickly. Zilla lingered, unsure of what the do. She stood and offered her hand. Heartfilia took it and Zilla helped her stand. Heartfilia’s eyes were no longer narrowed at her in hatred, but Zilla could sense confusion in them.

It was not long before Fairy Tail’s members rounded on the pair. Zilla walked past them before they could get too close—she decided to ignore them. She wondered why her leg was in pain and it was not until she reunited with her own team and saw Master Ivan there when she realized why.

“Did you even notice an arrow hit your leg?” Master Ivan asked her. Zilla looked down and sure enough, her pants were ripped on her left leg and she was bleeding. Her eyes widened at that and Master Ivan heaved a sigh. “I suppose we shall go to the infirmary then. At least you can walk on it.”

“Good fight, shadow queen.” Nullpudding told her before her and Master Ivan walked away.

“You should have ended it sooner.” Master Ivan told her once they were walking together. Zilla shrugged. “You reacted well under the pressure. I know how you feel about arrows.”

“I’ve dodged worse arrows before.” Zilla told him simply. “I didn’t even notice I got hit.”

“Was your mind all on the fight?” Master Ivan asked her. She didn’t respond but then again, she didn’t have to. He knew where her mind went the moment Heartfilia called out an archer. She clenched her fists and walked all the way to the infirmary next to Master Ivan, silently. Her leg was starting to throb now, but the pain only distracted her from her thoughts. It was a welcomed pain to her.

There was a woman in the general infirmary standing there when her and Master Ivan entered. She was older and had pink hair and was frowning at Master Ivan when he entered. “Ivan.” The woman greeted simply.

“Mother.” Master Ivan said and Zilla’s eyes widened. She looked between the two people and for the first time in her time since knowing Master Ivan, she had a face to put on the woman that was Master Ivan’s mother. This was the woman who liked that tea, the one Zilla was often instructed to smuggle across Firoean borders. She never saw Master Ivan drink it, but he would disappear for an entire day after she gave it to him. “You will have a Fairy soon to attend to.”

Porlyusica Stryne huffed at that. “I was already attending to Wendy Marvell. Someone stole her magic last night.”

Zilla kept her face impassive and watched as Master Ivan sighed. “How unfortunate.”

“Indeed.” Porlyusica’s ruby eyes fell on Zilla then or more importantly—her leg. “I can see to your charge’s wounds if you would like.”

“That is unnecessary, Mother.” Master Ivan said and he reached out and put his arm gently across Zilla’s shoulder. She didn’t flinch. “Zilla is not very trustworthy to strangers, even renowned Healers like yourself. And I have been her caretaker for years—I can set her leg right.”

Zilla nodded to confirm this. Porlyusica’s eyes narrowed but her face did soften just a bit as she looked back toward her son. “Fine, then. Do what you need to do. Do not bother my patients, though.”

Master Ivan laughed softly and directed Zilla further into the infirmary with the arm around her shoulder. “I still know better than that, Mother.”

Towards the end of the infirmary, Zilla sat on the bed and rolled up the leg of her pants. The pair of them worked quietly, they were used to a scenario like this one. Zilla didn’t flinch as Ivan hummed and used minimal healing magic to close the wound. It looked worse than it was, truly.

She did flinch when the doors to the infirmary were opened and a boisterous crowd came in. Zilla did not need to look to know that it was the Fairy Tail train. She bit back her sigh and was grateful that she was not left alone here. For the most part, she ignored the conversations of the Fairies until one of them—Scarlet—said, “What are they doing here?”

“Healing a patient.” Porlyusica said. Her tone left no room for argument from the Fairies. Zilla decided she liked her then.

Master Ivan reached for the bandaged on the table. “Your leg should be alright soon—but Flare will have to play reserve.”

This was probably the best thing to happen to Zilla. She did not let it show on her face, but merely nodded at him. “Sounds like a logical plan to me.”

Master Ivan raised an eyebrow at her. He was not fooled. “At least try to look put out, Zilla.”

Zilla finally cracked and something like a smile went across her face. “Nothing much gets past you, Master Ivan.”

He tightened the bandages on her leg and stood up at full height then. “You would do well to remember that, Zilla.” He told her but there was a tilt of humor in his voice that kept her smile on her face. He reached back to the table and inspected some of the bottles there. He seemed to have found what he was looking for and handed over a small pill. “Take this, it will dull the pain and you could walk on it with little issue.”

Zilla’s smile fell slowly as she took the pill. “Must I?”

“If you are feeling any leftover nerves—do the breathing. Relying on physical pain is not the way. We need you on top of your game, Zilla.” Master Ivan said—the humorous tones of their conversation was gone now. This was an old argument between the two and one Zilla rarely won. She sighed as she swallowed the pill in one go.

“Do not give me that frown, Zilla. You are no longer a child.” Master Ivan lightly chided her. He looked to the side where the Fairies still were, and she noticed that he was focused on his mother. “Let us go—there are more fights to witness.”

“Can I go in the stands at least?” she asked him as she popped down on the floor again. She bent down to roll her leg pants back down and made sure her sword and jacket were secure.

“I suppose. I’ll let Flare know she’s officially on the roster.”

“Good. Because Alexei is too close to me stabbing him.” Zilla told him as they walked out of the infirmary.

Master Ivan laughed and patted her back. “Wait until the Games are done, Zilla—unless you want to be on the team.”

She sighed. She supposed she didn’t.


 

It would not be until later that night that Zilla found time to be able to slip away from the others. The feeling she felt in the arena never left her. It was worse than being watched—it was something far darker than a person in a hood.

She knocked on Master Ivan’s door in the inn they were staying in and heard him say, “Come in, Zilla.” She opened the door and walked in to see him reading in a chair by the window. He closed his book and turned to look at her. “You have been on edge since we got to the capital. And I am not including your fight with the celestial fairy in this.”

“My participation in the Games is not why I am here. You have highlighted why I must be here.” Zilla told him. She stood straight and continued. “Master Ivan, I noticed a figure in the stands wearing a hood. They were staring at me and waved. They continued to watch me. I suspect something malicious at play. This combined with a …feeling I have.”

Master Ivan smiled at her. “Other than Jellal Fernandes pretending to be Mystogan?”

Zilla nodded. “Yes. Though I do wish we could expose him.”

“I understand your hatred for him, Zilla. We must bide our time, I suspect Yajima is protecting Fairy Tail.”

“Should I go above his influence?”

“No. Go find that hooded figure. Other than Fairy Tail...there is something in the air here. I think our original plans will have to be pushed back to account for this. I will talk to the others about it if it continues, but as long as Raven Tail comes on top of Fairy Tail, well, that is all that matters.” Mater Ivan was rubbing at his beard as he spoke. She could tell there was a lot on his mind and just this once, not focused on Fairy Tail and their secrets.

Zilla nodded. “I understand, Master Ivan.”

“Do try and sleep tonight, Zilla. ” Master Ivan told her as she left.

Once the door closed behind Zilla, she sank into the shadows and began her walk-through Crocus. There was a silence as she walked through shadows and she got to watch the people above her, all walking around. Their voices were distant and she felt no need to try and listen to them tonight. This comforted her. She was finally not the one being watched. It was like a safe place. She avoided the Fairies easily enough, she had nothing to worry about from them for now. But it was towards the edge of Crocus, where a hooded figure sat on a rock and hummed to themselves.

She watched them for a while and then, the figure said, “I wonder...am I truly alone?”

The voice was not one she recognized, not at first. It unsettled her because she felt like she should know the voice. When the figure threw off their hood, Zilla yanked herself out of the Shadows and stared openly at the now-woman.

The dark green hair was unmistakable, the brown eyes and the birthmark under her eye were all the same. Though--she was older. Her hair was longer and tied into a braid and she looked. She looked healthier. She looked alive. “A-Ami?”

“You officially go by Zilla now?” Ami said in response—her smile was bright, and her body language was relaxed. She stood and Zilla saw she was taller than her now. It was a strange fact because always in her mind’s eye, Ami was shorter than her. Just like when they were kids. The few times that Zilla dreamed what they would all look like as adults … well the reality was better than any hopeless dream. Quickly, Zilla was being embraced tightly. “I thought you died.”

“I thought you were dead.” Zilla responded and hugged her back just as tight.

“I came to the games to watch some fun,” Ami told her, “I never expected to see you until well, I did. I would have found you sooner.”

“H-How did you escape?” Zilla broke away and looked into her old friend’s eyes.

Ami smiled down at her. “I went a different route a-after the attack. I didn’t make the train, but I ended up being found by a kind nomad tribe. They let me travel with them and a few years ago, I came to Fiore and well, I always liked flowers.” Zilla huffed a laugh. The sound felt strange in her mouth, but for so long...she thought Ami was dead. Like. Like Hari. Like her mother. Like Isaac—Abba and all of them. “If you survived then did Isaac?”

Zilla swallowed and let go of Ami. She crossed her arms tightly over her chest. “No. I-I thought I grabbed onto him when the train was going by and I jumped. It was a heavily injured Hari. I tried…”

“Hari’s dead then.” Ami sighed. “I figured but...I also thought you were dead.”

Ami reached out and cupped Zilla’s face. Zilla was not ready to be at the receiving end of such positive and tender touch. She felt herself recoil slightly on reflex. Ami did not seem to care about this, and she brushed her thumb on Zilla’s cheekbone. Zilla shivered and allowed herself to sink into the warm touch. To have this. Ami’s hand felt like there was fire underneath her skin.

It was a contrast to a dead body that was so cold. Ami was so. She was so alive. Was she seeing Zilla like Zilla was seeing Ami? As if something she lost so long ago had fallen into her lap? Zilla did not want the moment to end, to find out it was just a dream. Another cruel dream.

“I will admit...considering our past, I am surprised you chose to join in on a spectator sport.” Ami said quietly into the night. Her voice felt like a soft caress to balm Zilla’s nerves.

Zilla reached up and grabbed the hand that was on her face, tracing circles into the hard skin there. “Master Ivan needs me to be on the team. You do not know Fairy Tail--or Makarov Dreyar--as I have come to know them.”

Ami frowned then. The softness fell away, but her touch was still anchoring Zilla to the spot. “You are calling another person Master?” Her hand dropped and Zilla missed it immediately. She felt afloat once again. Lost.

“It’s not like that.” Zilla frowned. “It is what every guild mage calls the leader of the guild.”

“You are a mage...you have His magic.” Ami said, her frown was still present. Zilla feared that Ami was somehow scared of her now. She felt shame explode in her chest. “You fight well. But you lack His intent though. You could have killed that girl today, but you didn’t.”

Zilla swallowed but nodded nonetheless. “I share his magic, yes. Yet an unfortunate side effect to being the daughter of Lance Claramond.”

“You’re nothing like him.” Ami offered a smile, then, her face lifted. In it, Zilla could almost see the young girl she used to be. Ami reached out again, catching Zilla’s hand. She felt anchored once more. “You are very kind, if I remember. You always have been. You used to take the punishment for all of us, not to long ago.”

Zilla looked away from her, but their hands were still clasped. “The past is in the past, where it belongs.”

“I understand...wanting to forget all that.” Ami responded softly. “It’s why it took me so long to come to the Games. I remember...the monthly arena.” Zilla did not need to say anything, she just nodded, staring out at the fringes of the city. Ami, however, elaborated. “I was scared to see someone from the past, someone evil, but then I saw you.”

That explained the hood get up, then, Zilla thought. She turned to look back and Ami was smiling softly at her. Zilla felt her stomach tighten at the sight. Zilla recalled then, all the strange events surrounding the area and frowned. “Something nefarious is afoot, Ami. What it is, I do not yet know. Please...stay careful. And safe.”

Ami frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I am sure you can feel it. The magic surrounding the area.” Zilla breathed out slowly and willed her heart to stop beating so fast. “Something archaic. Master Ivan is changing his plans around the Games accordingly. But…” she bit her lip and then looked back at Ami, a neutral expression falling into place. “Stay away from Fairy Tail as best as you can. I do not trust Makarov Dreyar with anything. And...there is a Slavemaster among them.”

Ami’s eyes widened. “In Fairy Tail? I always...thought them as a righteous guild.”

“Makarov Dreyar is nothing but a power monger who paints himself in a righteous light. I do not trust his intentions, nor do I trust his guild. That goes past my loyalty to Ivan, especially after I saw Fairy Tail’s B team. Do you know of the Tower of Heaven?”

Ami swallowed. “Yes...I do. I heard about it when it all came down. My tribe...collected some of the survivors. Took them in as they took me in. They were used to former slave children.”

“So, you know the name Jellal Fernandes.”

“Unfortunately. Is he not a criminal at large?”

“Not at large. He is on Fairy Tail Team B, in disguise of course, a perfect one. Day one into the Games and they are already cheating and abusing their power. Especially considering Yajima is one of the judges and an old friend of Makarov Dreyar’s. They are not likely to get caught with this ruse and if Raven Tail were to raise suspicions, well, we are not exactly bias with our stance on Fairy Tail.”

Ami’s eyes widened then narrowed. “They are housing a known fugitive for some...Games?”

“Exactly. That is the character of Fairy Tail and of Dreyar senior.”

“I see why you do not trust them.” Ami agreed. She crossed her arms over her chest. “To think, I came here willing to cheer on Erza Scarlet. A former slave like us…”

Zilla nodded, frowning. “It is...unfortunate. Put your energy cheering for Mermaid Heel, then, as Millianna of that guild was also a former slave according to my sources.”

Ami laughed gently. “I think cheering you on would be more fitting, no?”

Zilla blinked and felt herself flush. “Oh...right.” She resisted the urge to fidget. “Stay safe, Ami. I will...visit you when I can. I suppose I will be busy with the Games and all. I did not want to participate, but Master Ivan expressed a need for me to do so. I am happy I am here, however, otherwise I would have missed you.”

Ami smiled. “I am happy you are here, too. I will be...appropriately wary of Fairy Tail. I do have one question, however.”

“Yes?”

“How do you know all this?”

Zilla smiled. It was small, a little strained, a little genuine. “It is my business to know things, Ami. I normally would not share, but...you deserve to know and be protected.”

“I appreciate it.” Ami reached forward again and gently grabbed one of Zilla’s hand and holding onto it once more. Her grip tightened. “I cannot express how happy I am to see you alive, after all this time.”

Zilla gripped her back tightly. “I. I understand that feeling.” It was rare Zilla found anyone with her own shared experiences. Lance Claramond did not so easily let slaves escape from under his iron rule. The Hessians were aggressive to the point of insanity. Then again, was anyone who enslaves other living beings truly sane in any capacity?

“Look out for me, I will be cheering the loudest.” Ami looked up the sky. “It is getting late, you should head back.”

“You are right, of course. Master Ivan will be wondering what I found.”

“What will you tell him?” asked Ami.

And there was a quandary. Ami needed the anonymity to be protected. If someone in a rival got hold of information that someone she cared deeply for was around. If they thought they could get some weakness from her, that would be bad. And if Grund was involved....she inwardly grimaced. She trusted Master Ivan, but he also trusted Grund. “I will tell him I confirmed some theories. That Fernandes is around with associates.”

Ami laughed softly. “As if I would work for Fernandes. But I see what you are doing. Thank you.”

“Of course.” Zilla got her hand out of Ami’s grip and nodded at her. “I will see you soon, old friend. Stay safe.”

Zilla returned to the inn where Raven Tail was staying in high spirits. Perhaps the highest spirits she had ever been in. There was a certain euphoria in discovering someone you thought dead to be actually alive. Not even a confrontation with a Fairy Tail member could ruin her moment. Or with Grund.

The last one was proven when she entered the Inn and Grund was in the lobby—full armor of course because he never knew subtly—and merely looked at her. Before he could say anything to Zilla, she entered her private room and closed the door behind her.

Once alone, Zilla let out a long breath and a smile. She could tell Master Ivan tomorrow. For tonight, she will let herself bask in the joy of the reunion.

Chapter Text

It was the second day of the Grand Magic Games and this time Ivan Dreyar was accompanied in the stands by Zilla. He found the general situation of Team Raven Tail rather amusing but mostly the intense dislike she held for Rab Grund. Not that he blamed her—the man was a nuisance. For Ivan, however, he had his uses—Rabastan ran the guild quite well in a way that Ivan himself never cared to do. He took care of the daily on goings that Ivan never wanted to bother himself or his time with.

These were the Games however and of course he would be here in Crocus. It was also nice to be near his mother in a more neutral setting. Even if just last night she forced him into a tea sitting at her own private rooms. Master Bob of Blue Pegasus was there as well as Master Goldmine and though he would have rather stayed with just his mother, he could put up with her old friends if it meant that she was content with her company. Admittedly, he was rather uncomfortable around two mages who clearly remembered him as a small child. Alas, the things we do for our mothers.

“Grund is useless.” Zilla said quietly, looking as Kurohebi was chosen for the Chariot contest. “But I suppose it was smart choosing Kurohebi. Though I do hope he does not overexert himself. Battles are different the second day on.”

Ivan laughed at that. He knew it must have felt like she was eating knives to admit that much. “Zilla, you never cease to amuse me with your observations.”

Zilla flashed Ivan a small smile. It was one of the only capable ones she was willing to give and only when they were not around too many people paying attention to them. She looked younger than she was when she let herself smile. “I am glad to be an amusement, then, Master Ivan.”

When she looked back towards the race, her smile did not fall away as he expected it. Now that he took the time to observe her more closely, Ivan noted that she seemed to be in higher spirits. Even if she found out Fernandes was not alone in his mad bid for—for whatever it was he was looking for in the Games. Perhaps it was because she was not on the official team anymore. Ivan wondered just how bad it was for her. He had a basic idea, but Zilla was his ace in the hole. Especially since she mastered her shadow magic completely.

He was against that idea at the time. It was incredibly dangerous, but she was impulsive at times and did so anyway but then she came out on top. Back then she didn’t underestimate herself and he wondered what was so different now that she felt the need to underestimate her power. The fight the day before could have been over before the Fairy even pulled out a key. Ivan hummed and put his attention on the Chariot event.

“What’s up Fiore!!!!” The announcer, Dj Hook Wizard, Ivan remembered—though Goldmine last night called him Brent—began. “Today’s event is gonna be WILD! But I’m so ready to see some QC action! Especially with Bacchus playing today!”

“He’s your guild’s strongest right, er—DJ?” Chapti asked.

Hell yeah he is! Bacchus is a really strong dude—one time at the guild hall, we were having a wild time and he stumbled over ‘cos he drank too much and sent some guild members flying! I was able to catch them before they broke any windows, though, because the OG has a MAD effective Disappointed face. At QC the motto is be wild, but not enough to invoke the OG’s disappointment.” Ivan found himself highly bemused at this announcer. He supposed Goldmine did mention that the young member of his guild was quite…something. 

Zilla was openly smiling now as she looked at the event go on. Yajima, Ivan noted gleefully, looked uncomfortable next to the boisterous mage. So at least this DJ had his uses.

“Oh look—the dragon dudes are totally wasted, man.” DJ said and Ivan looked and bit back a loud laugh. All three Dragon Slayers were fighting for last. It appeared they somehow did not realize Chariot meant riding a vehicle. The Boy also had that issue, Ivan remembered. “I think they partied too hard or something. They should get some medicine before going into the Games though!”

“I don’t think they want to swallow anything,” Yajima commented lightly. Though his annoyance was easily seen. DJ didn’t seem to notice or care about Yajima’s discomfort. This made Ivan happier.

“Wow! Mermaid Heel’s Risley used some pretty cool gravity magic!” DJ said and Ivan noted that her. Hm. Entire form changed? Interesting.

“Ichiya isn’t one to get distracted by much, though!” DJ told the crowd. “I met him once because my ex-boyfriend was in BP! Shout out to Wilhelm guys! Anyway, Ichiya’s parfum is pretty cool magic! Oh speaking of Blue Pegasus—did y’all know Master Bob used to be like really hot? So was OG Goldmine! I saw a photo in the OG’s office once because I was helping filing as punishment for breaking a window with my body—it was the most WILD information I ever got! It also explained to me how Laxus Dreyar is also really hot and lemme tell you, Fiore—it’s all in his grandmother’s genes. I was kinda confused before I saw that photo.”

Never mind, Ivan thought darkly, that boy has very little use.

“Master Ivan you’re going to break the chair’s arm if you grip it so tightly.” Zilla said next to him and Ivan looked down to see that it was already cracked. He also saw in Zilla’s aubergine eyes that she was very amused.

“You wipe that amused expression off your face this instant, Zilla.” He told her sharply. Zilla only shook her head and looked back towards the event. She was still smiling. How strange and right now yet another annoyance.

The crowd all cheered as Bacchus seemed to get back into the game. DJ especially started to thump the announcer’s table and yell, “THAT’S BACCHUS FOR YOU!” as the so-called Drunken Falcon toppled his competition in one go and came in for first.

Ivan sighed as the crowd cheered, at least Kurohebi came on top of Fairy Tail. That was all that truly mattered.

There was a small break in between the event and the matches, but both Ivan and Zilla stayed in their seats. Zilla was sitting back and turned to him and said, “Considering, Kurohebi did pretty well.”

“He came up on top of the Fairies.” Ivan nodded. “Goldmine’s boy…he is stronger than I expected.”

“I hope he battles today. It looks very interesting. His magic.” Zilla shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind dueling with him one day.”

“If you are going to sic shadows on someone from Quatro Cerberus, focus on that announcer.”

Zilla smiled again as she looked over at him. “Did he say something to offend you, Master Ivan?”

Ivan did not dignify that with a response. Soon, however, the crowd was filing back in and the fights were announced. Ivan smiled as the first fight would be Kurohebi vs Toby Horhota from Lamia Scale. It was going to be an entertainment, Ivan thought, as Kurohebi’s magic was quite something.

It seemed the snake did not notice was Kurohebi’s magic was and Ivan was right—the fight was entertaining. Kurohebi made quick work of the other and seemed lightly amused at the other’s anger. The bet add on was interesting and Ivan doubted that whatever the snake’s super-secret was going to be of much important in the grand scheme of things. However, it did add something to the battle. A nice little flavor.

Once more, Ivan was right. He felt himself shake his head at the so-called secret. Next to him, Zilla was still smiling softly. “He kind of reminds me of someone I used to know. Tobi.” Zilla said, her voice quiet.

Ivan knew both by the tone of her voice and the fact it was someone Ivan did not also know meant that person was from her past. Probably another slave child with Zilla. And therefore, most likely dead. She did not enjoy talking about her childhood, but the ramifications were always there. Her losing herself in her battle yesterday was just a symptom of that. Ivan turned his attention back the fight.

And then—well, Kurohebi made the stadium silent with the mere rip of a sock. Ivan could hear his Ravens laughing and he was smiling himself at Kurohebi’s show of apathy. Next to him however, there was a darkness and he looked over and saw whatever lightness Zilla had this day was gone. She was frowning and he could feel her magic in the air, the dark shadows festering with their queen's deep anger.

Ivan leaned over and whispered, “Calm down now, Zilla. It’s just a game.”

Zilla blinked at his voice and managed a small nod. She breathed in and out and the dark magic in the air simmered down just a little. He could tell she was still angry, and Ivan knew that he would have to distract her later. Perhaps a little spying on Fairy Tail would do her some good. It would get him information as well as put her focus back.

There was something different about the magical air in Crocus. He has felt since he came here—though he did not think the cause of it was Lumen Histoire. If his thoughts on that were in any way correct, Lumen Histoire was a darkness, yes, but it was light magic altogether. Ivan was not ignorant enough to believe that good and bad depended on what kind of magic a person used, after all he was well to aware of what kind of man he was, and his own affinity was light magic. So was Makarov’s and there was no way that he could be considered a good man when all was said and done. If it was not Lumen Histoire, then it had to be something else. But he had to make sure it was not Lumen Histoire. If not... just what that something was…Ivan did not know. Nor did he have any concrete guesses. Zilla felt it too which comforted him because at the very least, both of them on alert.  He would suspect it was something Fernandes and his crew were plotting—but they had been taking out dark guilds in most recent years. And it seemed that was what they were after, according to Zilla’s information, defeating darkness. A humorous thought, to Ivan, considering everything else.

Ivan watched with a bored expression as the second battle continued. He did not have to watch too much, as the announcers were doing a good play-by-play. His mind was still focused on Zilla's state of mind as well the plotting going on around Crocus.

“I don’t know how I feel personally about the so-called bet,” DJ said into the mic. “Watch out, Bacchus! You might get the OG’s Disappointed face!”

“Is it really that bad?” Chapita asked.

“You don’t wanna know, man. Oh—Bacchus is taking this fight seriously now! He’s drinking!” DJ whooped over the microphone and was…clapping. “That’s our man, alright!”

Ivan watched as the Fairy—Elfman Strauss, he believed—prepared for an onslaught. The magic in the air was strong and it seemed that Bacchus got his strength from drinking as well. A clever trick, to use one’s vices for gains.

Another clever ruse was Strauss using a different form—Lizardman, he supposed—to let himself get attacked by Bacchus in order to injure him. A dangerous, yet clever, move by the take over mage. Ivan hummed as he watched because he knew by secondhand information that takeover magic was quite risky and took years to master even just one soul. Though, Ivan reflected, they were apart of Fairy Tail of all places. It is quite possible that these mages pushed themselves to satisfy their so-called grandpa of the Guild. Ivan shook his head at the thought. It would not do well to feel empathy for a child in that guild, even if he was in their shoes at their age.

In the end—Fairy Tail won. Of course, they did. When do their reckless actions ever not help them? Ivan thought bitterly.

“Aw man, that was a sweet fight and Bacchus gave it his all! I’m still cheering for you, Bacchus!!” Dj said into the mic.

“Even if they’re called Quatro Puppy now?” asked Yajima.

“Ha! That’s actually a good outcome, isn’t it? In memorial to this amazing battle and to show off my QC pride—I’ll officially be DJ Hook Wizard Puppy from now on!” the crowd cheered loudly at that and Ivan wondered how this young man was so popular. “Let’s here it for QC everyone!! Though I do wonder how the OG will react—if y’all ever want lore on the QC name, ask him! It’s a great story!”

Ivan snorted at that. He assumed it meant that Goldmine had four hellhound souls now for his own takeover magic. Just the night before, the old man was teasing Ivan on how he used to call Goldmine the ‘doggy magic man’. How insufferable old mages got when they were together. Only his mother retained her pride.

The next battle would be an interesting one. Kagura Mikazuchi of Mermaid Heel versus Yukino Agria of Sabertooth. Ivan had done little research of their Guilds. They were not apart of nay of his plans. Just minor obstacles which required little research. Still, even he could see both young women had potential. And the information Zilla got on Mikazuchi’s guild was interesting indeed. Apparently, a former Tower of Heaven slave was on the roster and both her and Mikazuchi held deep hatred for Fernandes. Perhaps, Ivan thought, they could let slip to the two women about how he was hiding in plain sight among the Fairies. That could spice up the games for sure.

“She uses a sword as well. Though she can cut without sheathing it.” Zilla commented beside him as the two women walked into the arena.

“An interesting bit of magic.” Ivan nodded. “What was its name again?”

“Archenemy.”

A thought occurred to Ivan. “Have you ever named your sword?”

Zilla looked over at him, her eyes a little wide. Granted, he never asked her. It was a gift from him to her on her fifteenth birthday, just six years ago. Zilla shrugged and looked away. “I did. I named it Fide.”

Ivan blinked and then smiled at that. He looked away from his charge and towards the arena, the crowd was cheering, and the announcers were talking. Loyalty. “Fitting, Zilla. I am complimented.”

Whatever lightness had come between them seemed to vanish as the two women decided to bet on their lives. Ivan prepared himself for a reaction from Zilla, but all she did was stand up. “I am leaving.”

Ivan nodded. At least she was doing that. He would have little damage control, then. “I will meet with you later—do try not to cause a big event.”

Zilla did not say anything and left without further comment. Ivan looked on and tsked to himself. These two young women were just that—young. They did not know the true value of their own lives. Oh well. It didn’t mean much to Ivan in the grand scheme of things. Only how Zilla would react. He would assign her a small, spying mission, then. Anything to get her focus back.


 

The crowd meant very little to Zilla. She just—she needed to leave. These … people knew NOTHING of having your life taken from you. Having that choice, just what freedom meant. To put a stupid bet on it? Your life? Your freedom? And for what? For entertainment of the masses? They knew nothing. And it. It angered her. Seeing that was the final straw for Zilla and she had to leave before she did something irrational. Or, as Master Ivan said, cause a big event.

Zilla reached for her sword when someone tapped her arm and turned on her heel to face the person but was stopped short when she saw who it was. It was Ami. She looked a little concerned, her eyes on where Zilla’s left hand was on the hilt of her sword. Zilla let go immediately and apologized, “Sorry—I didn’t expect it to be you.”

There were people walking around them where they stood in the middle of Crocus. Ami seemed unbothered by that and offered Zilla a kind smile. “It’s fine, Zilla! I saw you storm out during the fight and…I wanted to check on you.”

Zilla blinked at her. She didn’t even notice Ami there today. But then again, she was with Master Ivan and so he had most of her attention. As well we the games. Zilla sighed and looked away. “I’m fine.”

Ami giggled which made Zilla look back at her. Ami titled her head and reached forward to flick Zilla’s nose. “You always used to say that. And we all knew you were anything but fine. Even then.”

Zilla found herself at a loss of what to do. Then finally, she found herself laughing—just a little bit. Ami joined in with her and the anger Zilla felt all afternoon slowly began to melt away. “You got me, Ami.”

“Let’s go grab a bit to eat!” Ami offered her, she held her hand out to Zilla and smiled. “While everyone else is focused on the Games. I’m sure we can find somewhere quiet. To catch up, you know?”

Zilla nodded at her and grabbed her hand. She let herself enjoy this—just this much. It was dangerous but anyone who could be considered an enemy was off and doing other things, such as being focused on the Games. Zilla could allow herself this.

Ami led them through the capital, and she must have been apart of a travelling Nomad tribe because she was able to easily navigate through not only the crowd but all the streets in Crocus. Zilla was impressed and it only increased when Ami brought her into a quieter restaurant. They were seated easily, and the waitress’ eyes widened when she saw Zilla. She must recognize her as one of the fighters from the previous day.

Once they were seated and given waters, Ami gushed. “People recognize you, Zilla! I’m with a celebrity!”

Zilla scoffed. “I’m not a celebrity.”

“So, I won’t get to see you on the cover of Sorcerer’s Weekly, then?” Ami titled her head and Zilla swatted her with her menu.

“Over my dead body.”

They shared a laugh together. Their waitress came over and Zilla ordered a simple hot sandwich with fries and Ami got the same meal as her. As they waited for their food, Ami started with the questions—“So why did you join Raven Tail, anyway?”

Zilla hummed. “Well…Master Ivan found me I think it was…about a week after the Escape. I was in Fiore finally but got off the supply train five days after that. I. Well, I took Hari with me so I could find a good place to—er, bury her.” Zilla sipped her water. She breathed in and out and Ami was waiting patiently. That helped. “I wondered after that and lived off of berries in the forest there. I…I ended up passing out on the side of some dirt road out of the forest. Master Ivan found me there by chance. He helped me from that day. He took the magic repressing cuff off of my ankle, fed me and housed me. He was the Guild Master of Raven Tail and as I could use my magic finally, I joined his guild.”

Ami nodded slowly. “You buried Hari, then?”

Zilla swallowed. “Yes. There’s a beautiful orchard that is apart of a massive forest in north west Fiore. I go there…pay my respects annually.”

Ami smiled softly. “Hari always did like flowers…”

Zilla moved her head in agreement. It was silent after that and Zilla sipped her water. She did not generally like to talk of her past, but with Ami at least, it was different. They had shared experiences. “What about you? And the tribe?”

Ami blinked and nodded before she smiled. “Similar story—I actually passed out and they thought I was dead! But then they realized I wasn’t. They had a Healer with them, and they invited me to join them. I’ve been with them since then, but in the past two years I ventured off on my own. I wanted to experience life in Fiore, like we all always dreamed of, and they never went there.”

“Fiore is a nice country.” Zilla agreed softly. “I traveled to Bellum as well. That is where my mother was from and I got to learn some of her culture.”

“Oh, Zilla that’s amazing!” Ami gushed. They both moved their table accordingly when the waitress came back, smiling at them and setting their food down.

Zilla plucked a French fry off her plate and bit into. It was just the right amount of crispy. “This place is good, Ami.”

“I hope so! I saw it my first day here, but I didn’t want to come alone.” She told Zilla. They shared a smile with one another.

“I am happy to accompany you, then.” Zilla told her. She took a bit of the sandwich and sipped her water some more.

The meal passed in a peaceful lull and they shared laughs, little jokes and it seemed that the past was just that—the past. They shared a mutual terrible beginning but look where they were now. Happy, together and enjoying their day as much as anyone else.

When the bill came around, Ami tried to pay for it but Zilla waved her off. She had jewels from her time in Raven Tail and Master Ivan did give her monthly allowance. Ami, Zilla noticed, blushed a little at it and Zilla felt her stomach tighten at the sight. She tipped their waitress well and the pair were off again into the hustle and bustle of Crocus.

Ami had grabbed Zilla’s hand once more.

“Thank you for lunch, Zilla.” Ami told her as they walked closer and closer to the edge of the blooming city.

“No…thank you.” Zilla tightened her grip on the other’s hand. “I do not remember a time I felt so peaceful.”

“Even when I asked you about—about Hari?”

Zilla hummed. “Yes. Even then.” She turned to Ami with a small smile on her face. “I will admit, I often find myself discomforted by talking of such things but, with you? It feels only right.”

Ami’s smile was shy and now it was wide. Zilla breathed out and wondered if she was smiling the same smile now. She may hate these games and she knows that she must get her focus back onto what conspiracies lay underfoot, but. But she could enjoy these moments, too.

“It feels right for me, too.”

On the walk back, Zilla had Ami go a separate way from her. The day’s event would be over now and therefore, there would be mages and potential enemies prowling about. Ami rolled her eyes, but smiled and did so anyway. Zilla smiled a little at the memory of that fond look and made her way through the city.

“Oi!” a voice called out to her. She startled and turned on her heel, readying for an attack but stopped short. The person who called to her was an older woman she didn’t know. She had long and curly red hair with dark skin and dark eyes. She had a scar on her face that went across her nose and an intense look on her face. “You’re Zilla Claramond from Raven Tail, yes?”

“I am.” Zilla told her. She watched her with a wary eye.

“I saw your match yesterday. Ivan Dreyar is your guild master, isn’t he?” Zilla nodded slowly, her eyes narrowed. But this woman didn’t seem to care about that, she just smirked and reached into her pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. “I was going to stalk him at the Games tomorrow—but you’ll do. Give this too him.”

Zilla took the paper and frowned. “Why should I trust you?”

The woman—supposedly called Isley—laughed. “You have spunk. I like that. If you don’t, I’ll find him tomorrow anyway, how’s that?”

Zilla considered it and the woman added, "I'll let him know I met you and then he will be rather cross he didn't get a heads up." Zilla frowned at that.


 

Ivan sat impatiently at the Inn. The Team was back, and he gave them their orders for the remainder of the Games—come on top of Fairy Tail. Their plans were an all-out attack were being pushed aside for now. Only Grund had an issue with this and left the Inn but that was not why Ivan was waiting impatiently. It was Zilla, the child who wondered off midday and has not yet returned.

When the doors opened, and Ivan looked to see Zilla he raised an eyebrow at her. She blinked at him and then frowned. “I apologize for not getting back to you, sooner, Master Ivan.”

“Where have you been?”

“I was…clearing my head. Calming myself down.” Zilla answered. She fidgeted where she stood, a little movement that involved moving on her two feet—there was something she was hiding. Ivan contemplated asking her what she was avoiding but decided against it. If she wanted to tell him, she would. It was not a matter of needing to tell him because she was always good at that.

“Very well.” Ivan said. He sat back in the lobby chair once more and opened the book again. He expected Zilla to leave, but she stayed still. The nervous air around her was obvious and Ivan took pity on her. He closed his book once more and raised an eyebrow. “What is it, Zilla?” Perhaps she was going to reveal whatever it was on her mind.

He watched as she reached into her pocket and took out a folded piece of paper. “I was accosted by a woman on my way back. She recognized me as a member of this guild and told me to give this to you.”

Ivan, intrigued, took the letter and unfolded it. His eyes went wide as he read the words. He read them and re-read them. He looked back up towards Zilla and demanded, “What did she look like?”

Zilla visibly thought about before she replied. “She looked around your age, dark red hair. Some grays were in it. She had darker skin and a scar across her nose.”

Ivan frowned and looked back down at the note. That did sound like Isley Kane. And this was obviously her handwriting. Annoyance, not at Zilla, but at Isley Kane ignited in his chest. That meddling woman. What could she possibly want and why now? He supposed there was only one way to find that out. “Thank you, Zilla. Sleep well tonight.”

The dismissal was clear, and Ivan was left alone. His book lay forgotten as he kept reading the note over and over. He hated this.

Chapter Text

Just as the note said, Ivan Dreyar woke up early and left to find the restaurant called The Big City Ship. An interesting name, thought Ivan, but he was more focused on the woman in question. It had been exactly twenty six years since he had seen Isley Jones n é e Kane. Once she and Jio Jones left Fairy Tail he didn’t attempt to keep up contact, as busy as he had been in the following years and well, until now, neither did either of them. Ivan walked through the early morning of Crocus easily enough but with enough suspicion to keep him alert.

The restaurant itself looked. Presentable . Apparently it did all three meals—according to the tourist brochures he used at the Inn for research on the place. It looked to be three stories high, with a nice garden area in the back that Ivan could see even in the front. Ivan let out an amused huffed. No wonder Isley picked this place. He opened the door of the restaurant and was greeted by a young woman.

“Good morning! Just one?” she asked, smiling pleasantly as hostesses do.

“He’s with me, June!” a familiar voice called out and both Ivan and June, apparently, looked over. At a booth by the the back windows, there sat Isley Jones. Ivan looked at her from afar—she was different than the last time he saw her which, well, would make sense. He never thought of her as his age though. For some reason in the rare moments where he spared her a thought she looked as she did the first day he met her at Fairy Tail. Short hair, a sour expression and dirt already on her pants. Briefly, he wondered if he would find her in the same condition, just with some gray hairs and an even more sour attitude.

“Oh!” June turned back to Ivan and smiled. “Please, go with with Mrs. Jones, a server will be on your way.”

Ivan spared her a nod before he beelined it for the table. He sat down across from Isley, her dark eyes watching him the entire way. When he sat down and settled himself, he raised an eyebrow at her. “Why have you not so graciously summoned me here, Jones?

Isley looked amused, a smirk lifted her lips. “Am I not allowed to meet with an old friend?”

Ivan laughed and Isley joined in. “You have never tried before.”

The woman shrugged easily. It was the truth, after all. “Yes but after seeing Raven Tail perform, I could not resist to see what the prodigal son was up too.”

Ivan scoffed. “No one has ever called me that.”

“Maybe not anyone in Makarov’s court, no.” Isley told him and Ivan narrowed his eyes. This was why he did not want to actually be here. Isley knew too much about. About all of that.

“Enough with the pleasantries, Isley. You are too uncouth for that.” Ivan told her. “What do you want?”

Isley said nothing at first. However, a waiter came by holding plates of food while another gave Isley a coffee and Ivan some tea. Ivan raised an eyebrow as Isley handled the food and thanked the waiter for them. When he asked her why she ordered his food for him, the infuriating woman shrugged. “I know what the chefs here cook best, Ivan. You don’t know everything. For once.”

Ivan stabbed his fork into his waffle. “I suppose not.”

Isley’s smile had too much teeth and too little genuineness. They ate slowly, staring at each other and eating their food slowly. Ivan noted that the waiters and waitresses seemed to avoid their table as well as the few other patrons in the establishment. Good. 

He loathed to admit it, but the food was good. Not that he was ever going to give this infuriating woman the satisfaction of ever being accurate. She would be even more an itch on his side that way. Even behaved the same as she did way back Then, though Ivan could concede that perhaps nowadays: the bite was more serious than her bark now. Considering...everything that happened. It wasn’t that Ivan disliked her for her personality, no, it was what she stood for and what she was when he was around her. A reminder. 

Once they were halfway through their meal, Ivan set his fork down. “I have been patient with you, Isley but I am slowly running out.”

Isley sighed heavily and sat back. “I hate Crocus, you know that?” And that was not what he was expecting to leave her mouth. He raised an eyebrow at her and considered her for a moment. There was something more coming, he knew. 

“I couldn’t tell, seeing as you seem to know the restaurants well.”

The woman rolled her eyes. “Don’t tell me you haven’t felt it, too, Ivan. Otherwise, I fear this entire meeting was a mistake.”

Ivan’s eyes narrowed. She was no longer smiling, finally, and her posture was tense. She did not look angry or annoyed, but tired instead. Uncomfortable, even which he didn’t think was something she could ever be. Something was bothering her and it was not, for once, the mutual ghost sitting between them for the rest of eternity. “Of course I have. I am a mage worth my magic after all.”

Isley huffed. “You were always the smart one of your duo.” Ivan glared at her but she either did not care or had too much pleasure saying that. Knowing her as he did, it was probably both. “It’s been here for years and every time I come here I want to skin myself.”

Ivan made a disgusted face. “Why must you make such graphic descriptions? We are eating.”

“You can stomach it.” Isley told him. She pressed on and leaned forward across the table. He leaned back to keep their distance. She seemed both annoyed and amused.“I know you, or well, I knew you. The Ivan I knew would be investigating it until he came up with a sound conclusion.”

Ivan hummed, conceding her that point. Even as it infuriated him. “And why would I tell you any conclusions I may or may not have made?”

Isley smirked at him. “Because otherwise, I will go to your mother instead and directly involve her.”

There was beat of silence between them. Finally, Ivan looked away and outside the window at the garden outside. This was why this woman was such a nuisance and why he did hate her. Her being here would halt his own plans more than his itching curiosity. His mother was probably the only person in this city who was smarter than him. Though she was from Edolas originally, she has lived in Earthland more years than Edolas. Besides, if there was anything Wrong with the magic as Ivan felt it, she probably felt it more than others as she grew up not used to feeling magic in the air anyway. But that was not the point. The point was that this was something Dark. Something Ivan himself had not encountered and it was something he did not want to burden his mother with. Not after everything that had happened. And he knew that Isley knew this. They both knew this would be a fact: the get Ivan to do anything, mentioning his mother and getting her involved would make him do just that. It was lucky that not many knew this about him. Or the identity of his mother.

“Fine.” Ivan said, looking back at Isley. Oh, how he loathed that smug grin. “I have already decided it is not Lumen Histoire because though it is dark, it’s base is in light magic and this, whatever it is, is not light magic.”

“Lumen what?”

It was Ivan's turn to smirk. “And you call yourself a former member of Fairy Tail.”

“Not a proud fact of that though, am I?” Isley countered. Which was fair enough. He was still smug. “Give me a basic rundown.”

“Lumen Histoire is Fairy Tail’s darkness. Precht, also known as Hades , explained the basics to me. It is a magical weapon that Fairy Tail has. Greater even then the Three great Fairy Magics.”

Isley blinked at him and then her expression soured. “Makarov fucking Dreyar has access to that?”

Ivan merely sipped his tea. “Precisely. And people wonder why Raven Tail exists. I do not think it is that, however, for reasons I have already explained. However, as it stands I cannot fully rule out Makarov.”

Isley sighed. She sat back on her side in the booth and rubbed her eyes. “As much as I hate to admit that he is not the cause of every terrible thing, it can’t be him. I’ve felt it ever since my son moved here four years ago. Makarov was thought-dead then.”

Ivan frowned. Well that was upsetting. Yet it still opened avenues for him to explore. Opened more questions than it did answer anything. “That is disappointing. I do not think any of the other current Fairy Tail members are aware of its existence. The mere idea that I know is probably enough to keep Makarov awake at night.”

“I’ve seen the new generation and how they work. I don’t think they’d realize how terrible it is that Makarov has something like that up his sleeve. As blinded as they are by his persona. They...they remind me of us, back then.” Isley said, a frown on her face. “I feel bad for them.” Ivan did not answer. When he didn’t, Isley glared at him. “Yes, I’m including your son in this. How could you let Makarov get his hands on him ? On Leona’s child?”

Ivan glared at her. Just the sound of her name made his heart ache. Made his veins boil with that old familiar anger. He reined in his magic because sure, he was not by any definition a good man (or father), but he was not about to let his magic seep out and affect the mood of the workers and fellow patrons here. It would be rude and only he was allowed to feel his deep grief. His burning anger. 

Instead he gripped his fork, his knuckles white with the effort and he clenched his jaw. Isley, it seemed, was not done.

“I’ll admit, I’m a shit godmother but I thought he was at the very least safe with you, Ivan. Or even with Gildarts as his godfather. But when I saw him... he rarely smiles now! I remember him as that little kid that smiled no matter what was going on. Always just happy to help. Even when all I let him do was water the plants. He looks like…” Isley frowned. Ivan wished she would cease her yapping.  “He looks like someone used command magic on him and took away all his emotions. Or like someone who was raised by Makarov Dreyar. I suppose you would know more about that, wouldn’t you?”

“I couldn’t be there for my son because my father excommunicated me and then took custody of my child.” Ivan said finally. The words were venom in his mouth and the poison came so easily to him. “I will admit, I am no perfect father but if I had my way at the very least my mother would have been made his legal guardian. But as it stood, Makarov got what he wanted.”

“And now he was the perfect soldier.” Isley added. “I hate that man so much I want to send him a poisoned plant.” How annoying that their thoughts crossed like that, thought Ivan. She sat back and crossed her arms over her chest. “I feel your anger, Ivan. We might not have had a blood relation, but Leona was my sister.”

Ivan’s grip on the fork continued. “No one knows how I feel.”

“Keep fooling yourself thinking that way, Ivan. We all lost someone that day.” Isley frowned, looking angrier than Ivan had ever seen her. “And he didn’t even have the balls to show up to her funeral. After all that. I think that was what did it for me. The final straw. And the way he just sent Gildarts off again without giving anyone a second to even heal. I couldn’t stand to see his face without wanting to yell. I had to leave Magnolia. Fairy Tail.”

“I know.” Ivan told her. He breathed in and out. Just as Rob taught him . And there was another one of Makarov’s ghosts . “ That , I know very well.”

“Honestly, Leona wasn’t even the first to die under his command and nothing changed.” Isley continued, as if Ivan did not speak at all. He was annoyed at that. “I heard way back when that a child died. A child. Other guilds have accountability systems in place. It’s never swept under the rug like that.”

“Lisanna Strauss almost died, but she was taken to Edolas. The place where my mother is from.” Ivan corrected. He shrugged. “But the point still stands. She was thought to be dead and nothing changed. However, we are not here to discuss that darkness, Isley. We are discussing Crocus.”

Isley breathed out. “Fine.” She sat back up and reached for her coffee. She sipped it and set it back down on the table. Some of it spilled out when she slammed the cup onto the booth’s table. “What about that girl? Zilla? Does she feel it, too?”

“She does.” Ivan nodded. “I am going to have her investigate that and Fairy Tail. I can never be too sure of Makarov’s motives.”

“Fair enough.” Isley hummed. “Where did you find a shadow mage like that, anyway?”

“The edge of Fiore.” Ivan answered simply. Isley could probably tell she wasn’t going to get more than that and nodded. 

“I have a connection in Era. I already sent for some information on some more...archaic magic. Jio wanted to come, but someone has to stay and watch the shop.”

“I would have preferred Jio to you.” Ivan told her with something of a smirk. “She was always the more behaved.”

“Damn right.” Isley agreed with a smile. She then added with a wry smile, “You know she wanted me to come here as a vacation? To visit our son in Crocus and have a good time with the games. And then who of all people came here?”

At the same time, they both spoke, “Makarov fucking Dreyar.” Ivan did not swear, not at all, but there was something about that man that made him want to.

Ivan and Isley shared a small laugh again. It faded, as all amusement did when there were heavier things to discuss. The past. The darkness in the country’s capital. Not that Ivan cared much for the symbolism of the capital or any seat of power in this country. What mattered to him more was how it would affect his own plans. And just who could be affected by this. 

“I’ll keep you updated with what I find, Ivan. As long as you do as well.” Isley told him. “I don’t want my son to get involved, though. Or Makarov.”

“If you think I would involve Makarov in this then you have lost your mind over the years, Isley.” Ivan told her simply. “The only way I would involve Makarov is if it meant his downfall.”

Isley snorted. “You always have had quite the one track mind, haven’t you, Ivan?” Her face softened a bit and Ivan frowned. “I think Leona liked that the best about you. Even when it meant you were more focused on science than her flirting attempts. Gildarts and I used to whine about it together.”

Ivan wiped his face with a napkin. “If that is what this conversation is derailing into then I am leaving.”

Isley frowned. “At least pay your half, Ivan.” She was still stingy with money, then.

He took out some jewels from his pocket and placed them on the table. “Here. I will be in contact if the situation develops.”

He did not wait for a goodbye, he left her sitting there.


 

Breakfast with Ivan Dreyar did not go as disastrous as she thought, but they were both holding back and that was something Isley Jones knew. She finished her coffee and left her half of the money on the table as well as a tip. Ivan was stingy and didn't even leave a tip! June came back to her and said, “Mrs. Jones, Georgi is in the back office if you want to speak with him.”

Isley found herself smiling at that. “Oh? Is he letting a newbie chef do some work?”

June winked. “Only when you or your wife is here, Mrs. Jones. Anything to give up the facade he overworks.”

Isley stood up. “Bold of that boy to assume that I don’t know about that.” She placed a hand on the young girl’s shoulder. “Thank you, June. Pleasant service as always.”

“Of course, Mrs. Jones!” June beamed at her. “That man that came...he is one of the Guild Masters of the participating teams, isn’t he?”

Isley wanted to snort but she just nodded. It was weird to her that people could recognize Ivan in that way. She was too used to him either being Gildarts’ boyfriend or Leona’s husband. Or, one occasion: both.

“You know some important people, Mrs. Jones.”

“I never understood how, June. I am not a pleasant person.” Isley joked and walked past the girl. She knew the layout of the restaurant so well now. She moved past other patrons and past the kitchens and found herself in the back office where Georgi sat dutifully, filling out paperwork. Probably bills and kitchen orders. He really should have a manager for this instead of being the manager / chef / owner.

Georgi looked up as she came in and smiled. Once Isley closed the door and sat across from him, he set the papers down and smiled at her. “Well then, do you feel better now, Mama?”

“No. Ivan only confirmed my suspicions.” Isley told her son.

He frowned. “ What ? You went to Ivan Dreyar? That was your source? Someone who, according to Mom, is probably more paranoid than you?”

Isley scoffed. “Your sister wouldn’t show me such insolence.”

“Yeah. Because she’s crazy enough to work in Era when the council is the way it is.” Georgi rubbed at his eyes. “Mama, I wanted this to calm you down, not fix your magic sealing hat on your head!”

“Do you truly not feel it, Gerogi? You’ve lived here for four years.” Isley asked. What had Ivan said earlier? He was a mage worth his magic. Granted, Georgi was no practicing mage but he did know basic fire magic. He was more into the culinary arts than magic. That was something of a relief to Isley, that both of her children were not too keen on joining Guilds. Carol, however, did the next worst move and decided to put her own magic into use for record keeping for the Council . Though no matter how many power changes they went through, she still reigned supreme in her department. She was scarily good at her job and Isley knew her position was always secure. In that, she was a proud mother.

“You know what I feel in Crocus, Mama?” Geori began and Isley sat back, awaiting his words. “I feel the people in Crocus’ hunger and I feed them.”

Ah, there it was. He worked to hard to pay attention to the darkness underneath. Isley was happy for him, he owned a successful restaurant in Crocus and did a good job at running it. He was a hard worker perhaps, he worked a bit too hard. Not that Jio set up a good example for him in the first place. “You do well, Georgi, for yourself out here. However it is my job to worry for you.”

“Because your my mom and all that.” He waved his hand. “I get it, but Mama, I am a grown man. I’m twenty six now!”

Isley smiled at him. “You will always be the little boy with a cute little scowl on his face.”

He blushed at that. “Mom called me this morning and wants to warn you to not get involved with any weird Dreyar family drama. She said your heart rate can’t take it.”

“Hey! It’s her fault I’m here.” Isley flicked her hair over her shoulder. “But if I do see Makarov in the flesh, no promises.”

“You know, mothers are supposed to bail their kids out of jail.”

You know, I raised you to be better than me.” Isley stood and reached across the desk to kiss Georgi on the crown of his head. “I have someone else I want to see. Someone less paranoid, I promise. It’s been a visit long overdue.”

“Alright, Mama.” Georgi said. He smiled at her. “Enjoy Day three.”

Isley ran a hand through her curls. “I hope something enjoyable will come from it.”


 

CROCUS UNDERGROUND

“How does the power up feel, Mr. Cœucruz?” Bo asked, inspecting the man for any damage. However, Cœucruz was just smiling as he sat back, a relaxed expression on his face.

“It feels beautiful. The fights the past two days were something.” Cœucruz said. He laughed and Bo flinched, standing up straight as ever then. “I got word back from the Master about the little maggot. We are to continue as normal, he is going to get something up for it.”

Bo clenched his fist but nodded. He looked far away then, at a distance. “I will inform the others.”

Cœucruz grabbed his arm, his nails digging into the younger man’s bare arm. “You will do no such thing. I will them. Go make yourself useful somewhere else!”

Bo nodded and Cœucruz let go of him. Bo left Cœucruz to himself and the man took the wires off of him and stood up from his chair. He stretched out his back and reached for his shirt once again. There was a constant smile on his face. The Games today were going to be good, he decided. Even if the little maggot was on the sidelines now. There was so much more magical power in the air now. The fight between Fernandes and Neekis was enough to power an entire battalion. But of course, the Master came first. Always.

His shirt tucked in and his jacket over him, Cœucruz could not help but smile. Yes. These Games were already a huge success and the Dragon Slayers have not even battled it out yet. Things were happening at a great pace and he knew he must thank them all so personally at some point.

He clenched and unclenched his fist. Yes. It must be personal.

 

Chapter Text

Laxus watched with his arms crossed as the guy from Raven Tail threw his...pet? At the magic power sensor. He was intrigued by the members of his...of Ivan’s guild. Gajeel’s reports had been all wrong. Falsified. It meant that Ivan knew that Gajeel was a double agent. Laxus could have predicted that but it seemed Makarov underestimated his own son. Laxus was sure Ivan was smug about that fact and he was also sure that he would be further amused at Makarov’s frustrations. Laxus himself? Elected to stay out of it. Whenever Makarov began to complain to the First Master, Laxus tuned him out by focusing on something else. A well practiced tool. 

But as it stood now Laxus watched silently as the Raven Tail guild member attacked the orb. His score was only a four but Laxus had a feeling there was more to the story. His scent seemed. Off to Laxus. He didn’t like it, but then again he was predisposed to dislike anyone in Raven Tail. Though, the darkness that Jellal warned them all about had been digging right into his magical core since he came here. There was something Wrong with some of the magic in Crocus. The thought was sombering, but he felt his mood lighten up as it was now Cana’s turn.

Cana had been getting slightly drunk, or so people thought. She was just being silly in an unassuming way and Laxus for one was excited to see what trick she has up her sleeve and was going to play. She was his first friend around his age to come to the guild and though over the years their friendship had faded somewhat; she would always hold a special place in his heart. In the back of Laxus’ mind he knew now the reason, because Gildarts was his godfather and took that role seriously when he was there: and none but Cana knew about her connection to Gildarts. Laxus was confused at first when Cana did tell him on Tenrou, she seemed almost scared to tell him and Laxus had felt bad then because of the missed chances. Gildarts, Laxus was sure, at any moment had he known about Cana, would have thrown all his attention to Cana. He was a big softie for someone so powerful. Though that mess was something Cana and Gildarts had to discuss and he knew he would support Cana, should she ever ask for help. So far, she had not.

But she did take off her jacket and reveal those markings. Laxus smirked at the sight; Cana certainly did have something up her sleeve. Literally. With pride, he watched as she toppled the entire competition in one attack and his smirk deepened as she winked to the crowd. His teammates hollered and cheered and Laxus even gave one good, firm clap. 

It was time for the Battles. As Cana returned, Laxus gave her a look and a nod. Cana laughed and offered a wink. “Did you expect that, Laxus?”

“I expected you to win, but not in such a flashy manner.” Laxus told her.

She was still flushed from drinking, apparently. She put an arm around his waist. She couldn't quite reach his shoulders. Had she ever, though? “Aw, guys, Laxus does believe in us!”

Mirajane shot the pair a look . He didn’t like that one bit. “Even when he was being whiny, he did.” 

“He’s been a softie ever since Fantasia. I miss the old Laxus.” Gajeel commented and he attempted, much like the night before, to pat his head. Laxus glared at him, stalling the pat and Cana laughed. He felt it where she was still half hugging him. 

“This is the old Laxus as far as us Fairy veterans are concerned.” Cana said against him. Laxus rolled his eyes.

The teasing among the group, mostly just Let’s Make Fun Of Laxus Time continued as Mermaid Heel put down Qautro Ceberus. Er. Puppy, woops. He wondered how Goldmine felt about that. His member, DJ, seemed excited about it when it happened. Then Sabertooth defeated Blue Pegasus. He should probably be paying closer attention. The team went still as the next match was revealed. Laxus himself versus Alexei of Raven Tail. Huh.

Mirajane frowned. A tinge of darkness to her look. “They better not pull any tricks.”

Cana tapped his stomach, “Don’t worry about this lug, he can handle it. Besides, Master said that they have a lookout.”

Laxus himself shrugged. “Whatever Ivan has planned, it won’t work.” He walked out into the field. The applause was heavy as he stalked out. He glared ahead at his armored opponent. Alexei. Gajeel had nothing on him. Gajeel even knew that Claramond was a shadow mage. Quiet and intense was how Gajeel described her and man, he was correct in that. Alexei though? Nothing. Just an another bird to strike down.

“THE FAMILY DRAMA IS HIGH TODAY!!” the loud announcer yelled. The loudness made Laxus annoyed but if he could tune out Makarov, he could tune out the announcer. He was expert at that now.

Laxus titled his head, “Who are you anyway?”

“Today and forever? Your enemy.” The voice didn’t sound male or female. This made Laxus surprised, but it was deep and scratchy. He narrowed his eyes at his opponent and the air crackled with his electricity. Today, he would fight for his guild. For his right to be in the guild again. Even after everything.

“You don’t have to fight for a reason to be in the guild,” Gildarts told him once, soon after he was excommunicated, “All you have is there . What is Makarov doing ?” Gildarts had been angry, but not at Laxus. It wasn’t the reaction he expected when he sought Gildarts out so soon after he left Magnolia. He didn’t expect Gildarts to attempt to help him when the S-Class trials came. The anger there, that day. The pain as well. Laxus tried to tell him, then, that he let everyone down and Gildarts wouldn’t hear him out. 

But he couldn’t focus on that old man now. He jumped out of the way at what looked like a decent bit of demolition magic. Strange and not what he expected, but Laxus could deal with some explosions. As he landed, electricity shot from his body and got Alexei. He smirked and blocked a punch with his palm and the two were at a stalemate. 

He ignored the buzzing from the crowd.

He could feel the gloved hand heating up but before another explosion could happen, Laxus swung a leg around and got Alexei right in the leg. He used that unbalance his opponent had to shoot him with lightning. As he did, Alexei made a noise (an amused one?) and an explosion rocked the battleground. Laxus swore under his breath. 

He fell but got back up and went into his lightning form to move past Alexei and be across the field. Close combat was not going to work as it was. His jacket was smoking and ruined and he shrugged it off in one go. He was a little upset about it, but it did block some of the damage before. He didn’t feel any need to speed the battle up, not right now. Alexei too, was getting his bearings together. Good. It would be a long fight then.

Both of them had magic that did well with distance. The middle of the stadium slowly became a mess as they had some sort of mutual onslaught against each other. Blow after blow. Lightning and explosions. On the sides, Laxus moved easily. With each strike he got closer and the explosions, hotter paired with even more smoke and debris. If he wasn’t a dragon slayer, the smoke would make is harder to see. His lungs were going to suffer a bit. It was always a win-lose when it came to the senses of Dragon Slayers. He could make out the form of Alexei and he reached forward from a flash of lightning and grabbed him. He used a Lightning punch to knock him down and as he landed his feet on the ground, it exploded beneath him. Jolly.

Laxus was fast though and his feet were going to kill after that, but that was what healing was for. There was now a dent in Alexei’s helmet and Laxus smirked. It had been a while since he had a fun opponent to fight. Since Hades, really.

They parried off for a while more, both managed to give each other good hits. Laxus’ left arm had a bad burn on it and one of his shoes had been completely burned off as well from explosions. But fire was something he was quite used to. Laxus was beginning to see a pattern in Alexei’s movements. He had a good range on his magic, really good, but he had to focus for a second to long on the spot before an explosion could hit. Luckily for Laxus, and unlucky for his opponent, lightning was fast. He could fool his enemy of the day into thinking where Laxus' position was. And too take a leaf out of Raven Tail’s book: appear from behind and overwhelm his opponent.

Laxus let out a breath and looked to see Alexei seemed tired as well. Not that his face was shown, the helmet though damaged was still intact. A part of his armor had been broken off, the legs mostly, where Laxus got some good hits in. And he could hear that he was breathing funny, a hitch in their breath, as if the armor itself was stabbing into him from where Laxus dented it. Good. He moved forward and became lightning.

There was something thrilling about being so deeply entrenched into his own magic. To feel the energy, the predictable yet chaotic mess that lightning could be. Predictable because he controlled and chaotic to anyone who witnessed it. A storm. This particular spell he learned from an old book his father had given him. Unsigned and taken from the Fairy Tail archives, with messy handwriting, but smart conclusions on Lightning magic. Some hearts on the margins for certain spells. Good warnings and descriptions of what both success and failure of each spell would bring and how it felt. Ivan had known it well, though, the handwriting. There were times where he would help Laxus when Laxus struggled to make out a passage. 

And it was even more sweeter to defeat Ivan’s mage with a spell that in books he had given to Laxus. Poetic symmetry. 

His lightning went in four different paths, two of them almost the same but he traveled in only one path. All four had the end point being where Alexei was. When Laxus made it to their back, he stepped out and grabbed their shoulder and smirked, “Got ya.” 

Lightning flashed from up and below and hit Alexei and before the other could get themselves together, Laxus kneed then in the back, ignoring the sting from hitting something made of metal and threw them to the ground. Laxus stood there and electricity traveled around his body: he was ready in case. He breathed heavily and watched. Alexei did not move.

“WITH TWO MINUTES TO GO, LAXUS DREYAR OF FAIRY TAIL TEAM B WINS!” Laxus was brought back to the presence of the arena at that announcement. He smirked at his fallen opponent. His breathing was still heavy, but he didn’t use any of his dragon slaying magic. He didn’t really need to. 

“Don’t tell anyone you can do this, Laxus.” Makarov had warned him so many years ago. Still, to this day, he hesitated to ever use it. Annoying. But he was strong on his own anyway. He made his way towards his fallen coat, his foot was warring against that idea but Laxus needed his coat back. As singed as it was now. He took the effort to bend down and pick it up, wrapping it around himself in one swoop.

Now that he looked at the battlefield...it was a mess of rubble. There was nowhere that looked untouched. Blood was in certain places as well. He spared a glance at Ivan, who looked shocked. Heh . Served his shitty pops right. Laxus looked to where his Team was waiting for him, all yelling and smiling. Without a word, he began to make his trek towards them. He walked past the two Ravens and one of the on-hand Healers that were running towards Alexei. 

Cana smiled brightly at him, as was Mirajane, Gajeel and Juvia. “Laxus fought very well.” Juvia said in her soft tone.

Well ? He was a badass!” Cana cheered. LAxus felt himself flush at her insistence. 

“That was the Laxus I missed.” Gajeel commented with a sharp smirk. 

“You should go to Porlyusica, though.” Mira winked at him. “Or face her wrath later.”

He waved them off. “Yeah, yeah. I’m off. Tell me how the rest goes.” 

He made his way towards where he knew Porlyusica was. Erza was already back, covered in bandages and was smiling at Laxus as he walked past. He nodded at the guild members who were cheering for him, waving. Little Asuka was the most enthusiastic, second only Lisanna. It was a fun battle, he supposed. He did well by his guild. He was almost surprised none in the thunder legion greeted him. Briefly, he felt a small pang only until he remembered they put it upon themselves to cover the perimeter. They were still busy doing that then. He smiled to himself. His friends were certainly like that. But it seemed Ivan had lost his nerve after the first night. No sabotage. Not even during any of the other battles. 

“Ah, the lightning bug himself.” A voice greeted that was Not Porlyusica’s when he entered the infirmary. There was another woman there, with dark curly red hair and a scar across her nose. She was sitting up on one of the beds and seemed to have been talking to Porlyusica. “Doesn’t smile as much anymore, though. Damn, what the hell are they feeding you, Laxus?”

“Uh?” He looked between this mystery woman who seemed to know him and Porlyusica. Though he was never too close her, he supposed she was his grandmother. A friend of hers would have known him as an infant, he concluded.

Porlyusica pointed to the bed, “Sit down there, Laxus. And Isley, do not be rude.”

Laxus did as was commanded and Porlyusica got out some jars. Probably burn relief stuff, it smelled really bad. He scrunched his face up at the smell. The other woman, Isley, was smirking as she watched. “Sorry, Sica. I’m Isley Jones, I used to be in Fairy Tail way back in the day.” She waved.

Laxus hummed. He’s never heard of her before. “Nice to meet you, Isley.”

Isley winked at him. “We already know each other, kid. Though you are a lot taller. Used to call you Little Laxus. Seriously, what did they feed you?” Laxus shrugged, unsure of how to answer. He suddenly felt very small. This didn’t seem to phase Isley, who just continued. “I was hoping Gildarts would be here, it’s been so long since I got to make fun of him.”

“You leave that man alone,” Porlyusica said just before she turned to Laxus, “I am going to apply this. It will sting for a bit, but it’s for the horrid burn on your arms and feet. You will also need to drink a potion for your lungs. It's strong so you won't like it.”

“How will Gildarts know I care if I don’t make fun of him, Sica?” Isley whined. Laxus wondered if she was being serious. That man was one of the most sensitive people he knew,. Could he handle bullying?  She seemed to note Laxus’ expression and laughed. “Don’t worry about him, Little Laxus. We would go on missions when Ivan and Leona were being too lovey dovey for him. A real quote by Gildarts, by the way.”

“Not that you or Jio were any better.” Porlyusica said as she swabbed more...whatever that was on his arm. It felt better, though. Laxus’ heart skipped a beat that the name, though. Leona. He knew very little of his mother, some from his scant memories and some from word of mouth. Leona Floros-Dreyar. A lightning S-class mage. Died on a quest. Whenever Laxus focused, he could make out a smile and the scent of lemons. 

“Did you know my mother?” Laxus asked. The words forced themselves out before he could stop them. Porlysuica paused only briefly in her movements before she began to apply the stuff on his burnt foot. She was strangely quiet, his grandmother. 

(A big part of him was surprised she was here. Makarov always said she didn’t want to be bothered with their many injuries.)

“Yeah,” Isley’s voice was soft and her face looked a little sad. “We were on a team before her and your dad shacked it up. Me, her and Jio. My wife now.” She tapped her leg with her fingers. “She was like a sister to me, your mom. The best of the best.” 

Laxus wanted to ask more, before Porlyusica said without missing a beat, “Makarov will be here soon, Isley.”

Whatever sadness that was on this woman’s face melted away to be replaced with a fierce expression. “I’ll get out of your hair, then. I won’t be stranger, don’t worry.” She winked at Laxus again. “I’ll be in Crocus for the games. I’m staying at The Big City Ship, well, the apartment above it. Just tell the wait staff you’re there if you need me, okay, Laxus?”

Laxus nodded. He figured he would take her up on that offer before he left Crocus. Without another word, Isley left. Laxus, for the first time in a long time, was left alone with his grandmother. Porlyusica. A person his grandfather warned him never to bother, as she was busy with her research and disliked company. 

(She didn’t seem to mind Isley, Laxus thought.)

Before either of them could think of anything to say, the infirmary door busted open and sure enough, there was the Thunder Legion. Laxus smiled at them and Freed was the first one close to him and said, “Laxus, that was an amazing fight!”

“You kept the rest on their toes, though with that slow burn battle. Are you a turtle now?" Bixlow joked with a wink. He didn’t have his Babies out right now. Porlyusica would just kick him out, probably if he did. She was strict about what was and what was not allowed in her infirmary and magic was definitely not allowed. 

We had full faith in you.” Evergreen assured with a smirk. He smiled back at his friends. Isley was still on his mind and the treasure trove of answers she had. Also, the questions her presence here posed. Why avoid Makarov of all people? But he allowed himself to be in the present. His friends were here and he could already feel better.

“Thanks for looking out for me.” Laxus said to them. The fondness in his tone was gross but sincere. 

“Your burns should be better by the end of the day.” Porlyusica was standing once more. Her hand glowed with magic as she looked over his chest and ribs. She stalled on one of his ribs and hummed. He could feel the lightness and warmth of her hearing and his breathing became easier then. Like a warm wind. “You should have mentioned the cracked ribbed.” Her tone was not scolding, but she did raise an eyebrow at him. Ah, a question then.

“Honestly? I didn’t feel it.” He told her. Laxus grinned when she rolled her eyes. It didn’t seem antagonistic. Something about this was familiar to him.

“What will I do with you reckless kids?” Porlyusica murmured under her breathe. She passed him a potion and it smelled terrible, but he let it invade his mouth and swallowed it quickly. It was terrible. She did a quick re-check over him as he made a face.

“Hopefully, heal us.” Bixlow joked and Porlyusica shot him a dry glance. 

“That is my job.” She replied. Deserts were drier than her tone. And something was amiss there, but Laxus didn’t think much on it. Suddenly, her hands were on Laxus’ chin and she angled him. “I just need to bandage the cut on your cheek and we will be good. You did notice that one, didn’t you?”

“I always pay attention to my face.” Laxus assured her. 

“It’s an okay face.” Evergreen said with a shrug, but Laxus looked at her as Porlyusica readied the bandages. He didn’t like that smirk she had. He prepared himself for something. What? He wasn’t sure but it was Evergreen. “Even if Erza Scarlet thinks more highly of it.”

His face became red instantly. “That was years ago and it was horrifying. Evergreen we have an agreement about this!” The most awkward month in his life was after Erza became an S-class mage and got it into her head that her and Laxus could be some sort of Fairy Tail power couple. He wasn’t a dick about it because that was just Wrong. She was four years younger than him and a teenager while he was nearly an adult. It wouldn’t be right to make fun of her for it or even mention it now. But it did make him uncomfortable then and he loathed when Ever brought. Even today when she obviously had feelings for someone else.

Freed and Bixlow laughed along with Evergreen. Her lips were painted with a playful smile.  Distantly, he recalled Isley Jones’ words. How will Gildarts know I care about him if I don’t make fun of him? Eh. He could see it now. A part of him, the part of him that wasn’t such a price was glad that Gildarts had something like this once upon a time. Maybe he could ask Isley to bully Gildarts about Cana.

What she said about his mother? That stuck with him too. He knew so little about his mother. It was a topic that came in his head and left just as quickly most times. When he was a kid, it was all so new. Her death was the first funeral he remembered. He could recall the obvious pain in his father’s entire stature. That was the one thing that remained clear. Because he thought of that a lot more. The actions his father did and sometimes lack of action grated on Laxus, but: he remembers his father’s pain. Was is that pain that drove his father down the path he currently leads? What did Makarov have to do with anything about his hatred? Makarov never spoke of Leona either. It was a topic that had several CAUTION yellow tape signs. The only person even willing to give what scraps of information was Gildarts. And Gildarts had other issues to work out now and even when he was a kid.  He glanced at Porlyusica, who began to put the bandage on his face. Maybe...he could ask her as well.

Chapter Text

Zilla found herself pacing back and forth in her room later that day after Grund’s battle with Laxus Dreyar. Raven Tail lost, but not without a fight. She wondered how he was able to produce magic and found herself at a loss for words. Master Ivan seemed unphased to others, but, she noticed the tension in his shoulders where others would miss it. And after Obra’s task...well Flare was up for tomorrow, she was sure. Only she was left in their team to participate. Zilla was officially on the reserve roster for now. Though her leg was all healed now.

A knock on her door stopped her pacing and she approached the door, schooled her neutral expression and opened it. Flare Corona was there, looking nervous. Then again, the younger mage always had an off look on her. “Zilla, I have a question.” Zilla peered into the hallway, there was no one else around. She opened the door further and allowed Flare room to get in. Once she was in, Zilla closed her room door and locked it. Flare seemed to take up Zilla’s pacing. 

“You had a question.” Zilla probed not unkindly after a few moments. Flare had been quiet, clenching her fists as she paced. She finally stopped at the sound of Zilla’s voice and crossed her arms over her chest. 

“Alexei has magic.” Flare said, her eyes wide. “How? I thought...I mean. I know I shouldn’t ask questions but, I. I figured you were the safest one to ask.” She looked away and rubbed her hands together.

Zilla recalled then, the fear of Grund commanded from other members, especially Flare, him with magic seemed more dangerous to them then the man without. Zilla was just annoyed, but Flare had something to fear. “I was wondering the same, actually.” She confessed. She was never close with any of the members. Only Master Ivan. But she could see why Flare would come to her, it was Zilla who, when around, put an end to Grund’s sadistic manner with her own force. She had something Grund didn’t: magic. And other things. Like a soul. “I was planning on quietly investigating the matter. Master Ivan seemed almost as phased as we are. I think Grund is going...off the book as it were.”

“We were supposed to march on against the Fairies.” Flare frowned deeply now. “Master Ivan changed his plans when we got here, I know, but it was supposed to be our day today. Now we are just...trying to win over Fairy Tail. I understand the change, to some extent, but I know Alexei was especially angered over it.”

Zilla noted then, the bruises on her fellow member’s body and silently fumed. “I wish you came to me earlier, Flare.” Her voice was carefully blank. Flare did not say anything, not that Zilla expected her to.“I will investigate the matter that is Alexei , as a reserve, I have more freedom than you do to investigate. I advise you to lay low, focus on the Games at large. Act as if nothing is amiss, just like the others. If anyone, I mean anyone , harasses you, just alert me. You are the decoy for now. People will not expect me to be around much.” Which was better for her.

Zilla walked closer and reached forward, when Flare flinched, she stopped. She bit back a sigh and reached into her pocket and took out two small Lacrima crystals. She originally had them to give one to Ami so they could stay in contact. However, newer circumstances were afoot. She could find other ways. She opened her palm and held them between her and Flare. “These are linked Lacrimas for communication. Just power it with your magic and speak into it. It can also send and receive projections if needed. Use one to communicate with me. I will use the other to communicate our investigation with you if you are not near.”

“Should...we tell Master Ivan?” Flare asked, looking between the crystal and Zilla’s own face. 

“No. If Alexei is working off the book, then so are we. We will alert Master Ivan when it becomes prudent to do so.” Zilla paused. “When questioned, I approached you . If any blame comes upon us investigating, it will fall only to me.”

Flare took the small lacrima and nodded. Her shoulders seemed less tense now than they were a few moments ago. Her eyes drifted from her hands where the crystal was to Zilla. “I heard...other guilds are going to the water park.” Zilla was confused for a moment. What did that have to do with Grund/Alexei? But then, in Flare’s eyes, Zilla caught something there. A question, or perhaps, a hope. 

“You are free to do so. In fact, I encourage it. Take note who is there and who is not and well...enjoy yourself as best as you can. If you feel nervous at all...call me via the Lacrima. I will come.” Zilla told her.

Flare’s eyes widened. “A-are you sure?”

“I am positive. I will be looking around here.”

Flare smiled at her and Zilla felt strange somehow, wrongfooted. She peered at Flare and only had a moment to prepare as the other woman suddenly hugged her. Zilla stiffened in the embrace but then she pat the other’s back, albeit, awkwardly. “Thank you, Zilla. I always thought you were...nicer than the rest.”

Zilla swallowed. She wasn’t sure how true that statement was. “Be wary of the Fairies. And do not hesitate to contact me for anything.”

“I will.” Flare promised and with renewed confidence, she left the room. Zilla locked the door again after her and wondered what was going on in her life. Did she have a new...friend? Or was this how guildmates worked? 

Zilla let out a long breath and then delved into the shadows. She could think on that later.

Here, in the darkness, she could breathe, but also, as of late, she has felt a deep disturbance. Everything went back to the arena and she could feel something sinister, even here in the darkness. In her darkness. Perhaps it was amplified, here, somehow. She heard millions of voices, but ignored them in favor of looking around. She came to the world of light at the now abandoned arena. It was closed for the day and there was no one else here, but something was telling her to look deeper.

How had Grund shown any magic? He was also an earth user at some point, not a demolition-magic person. And it was magic he used. The magic generated items inspired from Edolas were not being used, at least, not the way Master Ivan had planned. When Ivan had asked him, Rabastan only grinned and said, “I told you I’d find a way, Ivan. Even without your help.” and the pair shared cold looks with one another. Zilla was not supposed to be there for that conversation, but she watched from the shadows. A silent observer. 

Zilla still wasn’t sure if she should be proud of her abilities that Ivan did not notice, or scared.

She walked around the surrounding areas and found, to her surprise, a place that was dug up. A tunnel of sorts. There were chains and a KEEP OUT sign there, citing dangerous terrain. If something so dangerous was near the arena, why have an arena here? She inspected the area and picked up the dirt. It looked like it was natural, but. It looked too perfect to be anything but man made. Zilla bent down and examined the area. She put her hand past the sign and saw the air shift. There was magic afoot. Zilla stood again and crossed her arms, frowning at the hole. Who was behind this? There were no footsteps, save hers around the area. The chain links were a bit rusted, so it was probably made a few years ago, so it could not have been Fairy Tail. Zilla frowned ahead. Her instincts were telling her to find a way past the bubble there. But how? 

Then, her Lacrima went off in her pocket. Flare.

She pulled it out and heard a voice say, ‘Zilla, I need some backup at the Ryuzetsu Land.’

Zilla put the Lacrima back in her pocket. She memorized the location of this cave and disappeared into the shadows. She moved faster this time, following the Lacrima to it’s pair, where Flare was.


 

By the time Ivan made it to the small inn where his mother was staying, he had not yet let go of his intense anger at Grund. How dare he? How dare he belittle everything Ivan had done for him and give him such cheek? He was beginning to feel the need to finally let Zilla have at him with all of her hatred for the man. So close. But he still needed him around unfortunately. Ivan opened the door to the Inn where his mother was staying.

When he saw his mother, patiently sitting with a cup of tea, he felt some of the anger drip away. She was reading a book in the Inn’s lobby, a homey little place. She sat herself by a window in one of the plush chairs, a fireplace that instead of heating the room, must have been cooling the room in the Summer heat. Magic’s wonders. She looked like a picture from a book, peaceful and he breathed in and out before greeting her.

She looked up from her book and closed it on her lap. “Ivan, I could hear you storming the entire way here.”

He did not roll his eyes. He was not a child. But he did sit across from her and felt a small bit of delight at the tea she had poured for him. It was not her favorite brand, but then again, the Inn wouldn’t have that would they? He had Zilla smuggle that for her. “Mother. I am doing fine, thank you.”

“Are you taking the loss that hard?” his mother asked him. Her eyes were slightly narrowed and he could hear her shrewd tone. “Laxus fought well, he did not even use his dragon slaying magic.”

“It is not the loss that angers me.” Ivan told her. He was not lying. He knew how strong his son was and he prepared for that, but his preparations had been thrown out the window the moment they came to Crocus. What angered him was Grund, the little sneak. There should be no way he had access to magic, especially demolition magic but there he was today. Using it. And he was being awfully cagey. Nothing like that idiot usually was, always ready to brag. Even when they were in Fairy Tail, he always believed in himself too much. He was desperate for S-Class, something that other thought even Ivan had. When he begged Ivan to use the Lacrima surgery on him, Ivan only relented because he was annoying and he needed to train Laxus. Laxus, who went from being sickly to having advanced senses struggled immensely in the beginning and Grund’s whining would do no help. Grund, the idiot, did not even manage to get a dragon lacrima and so, Ivan had to save his life and the cost was Grund's magic.

So how did he use it? And it wasn’t Earth magic. Yet another thing he must investigate. Perhaps he should retire from magic altogether and become a detective. 

“It is...Alexei who angers me. He lied.” Ivan waved his hand. “I will not go more into it than that, you may be my mother but you still have are Fairy Tail aligned and these are Raven Tail matters.”

His mother shot him a dry look. “Fine, we won’t talk about that then.” And that was why Ivan could forgive his mother. His father may have excommunicated him for the failure that was Grund’s surgery and made it about much more than it was, but his mother was a scientist. He didn’t fail her, not truly. And she would never press issues if Ivan did not wish to speak of them. It was easy to forgive his mother because she was the one constant in his life. Oh, and he supposed that he loved her. “But, I did run into someone interesting today.”

Ivan’s interest piqued. “Oh?” 

“Isley Kane, well, Jones now. She was proud of that fact.”

Ivan felt instantly annoyed. That woman ! She said she wouldn’t involve his mother. His expression became flat. “Interesting.”

“She mentioned you two had breakfast together this morning,” his mother calmly explained, “I was surprised about this.”

“I was forced into it by her threatening to apprehend me during the Games.” Ivan told her. “She wanted to catch up now that I’m a Guild Master.”

“Did she?” His mother asked. He could lie to anyone but somehow, his mother always caught on. Sometimes she would let it go and other times, he could see why he investigated so many matters. He got it from somewhere. He braced himself.  “I thought it had more to do with what she was looking into. She hates Crocus, it seems.”

Ivan groaned. He sipped his tea to stall for time and wondered many things. Why would Isley needle him this way? There was an answer: she was like that. Always had been. Like a hound dog. Would asking his mother about it do anything other than confirm what he knew? Perhaps. She was smarter than he was and had different and valued experiences with magic, considering she grew up in Edolas. Was it worth it for those reasons? Maybe. There was a possibility that she would go to her old friends and Ivan did not want to interact with Bob or Goldmine more than he had to. The only reasons he did were for Guild Master business he had to bother with now that he was apart of an Official Guild. And because his mother valued them for some reason and he valued his mother. At least she was no longer friends with Yajima. He would rather tear his eyes out than speak to someone who called Makarov Maka

The conclusion he came to as he set his cup down and resisted the urge to put his hands in his face and scream, was yes. It was worth it. “She hates it because of the wrongness of Magic makes her, and I quote, want to skin herself. She knew I would notice it and figured I would be investigating it..”

“Ah.” His mother said in response. “Now, I want you to admit something to me before we continue.”

“What?” He narrowed his eyes at her. He did not like her tone.

“Did you have one of your guild members take Wendy Marvel’s magic? And furthermore, did you or did you not plan to sabotage Fairy Tail directly but ended up abandoning that plan because of the Magic here?”

His mother knew him to well. “Yes.”

She closed her eyes and sighed in response before she rubbed at her forehead. There were a few moments of silence before she opened them again. Her red eyes bored into him. “Please do not do that again, Ivan. I am asking you not as a member of Fairy Tail but as your mother and as a healer who had to work double time to make sure Wendy would fight, as she was determined to do. Do not make another child a victim in your war with Makarov.”

Marvell did fight that very day after the battle between Grund and Laxus, so her job was done. She fought valiantly against Lamia Scale’s Chelia Blendy, but he did not point this out. He saw the look in her eyes and a name came across his mind. Isley’s tone was bitter and angry when she flung that argument at him, about him . His mother’s was resigned, long used to the fact, long used to the situation they were all in. He hated making promises just as much as he hated failure. “I abandoned that train of thought after the first night, Mother. There are some things that are more important. Very little, but this for some reason is an itch I can’t stop scratching. I can’t be fully confident that he isn’t behind it yet.”

“Very well. Thank you for your honesty.” His mother sipped her tea and he joined for that moment. They were quiet for a few moments more, for which Ivan was grateful. He felt strangely raw in a way only his mother could make him feel. “Why would you think Makarov was behind it?”

“Something Hades told me about Fairy Tail.” Ivan answered her honestly. “But that has a source of Light in its being, and this...is not Light magic. I would know. Not as if Makarov is in the clear, as he still who he is. I am surprised that you would allow him to use an Edolan’s identity like this.”

“Makarov never listened to me.” His mother told him, but she was frowning. She looked tired. “Pretcht...I still don’t know what happened to him.” Unlike her, Ivan did not have as high of an opinion as the man. He did make Makarov a Guild Master, after all. Ivan was smart enough not to voice that. “And you have a point, however hypocritical it is, about Makarov.”

“I would not do the same Makarov has done.” Ivan argued, his anger coming back. “Let a child die and sweep it under the rug? Even if she did not die, she was thought dead. Make terrible decisions that endanger guild members even after someone pointed it out?” Excommunicate someone (his own son) after giving an okay for the procedure? “I don’t hide my failures, Mother, I am very honest about them.”

“I know you haven’t let some children die, if what Isley told me about that shadow mage is true.” His mother said sharply. Ivan sipped his tea. “What happened with Laxus was…”

“Do not bring this up tonight mother or you might give me heart problems.” Ivan warned her. She did close her mouth and the two were left in stilted quiet. Ivan put his cup down. “I will tell Isley if there are any updates, I am sure she will blab to you.”

“Ivan.” His mother almost pleaded with him, but there was steel in her voice. Even now. He wanted to laugh, but there was no joke. No punchline.

“Goodnight, Mother.” Ivan did not look back as he left her in her Inn’s lobby.

He walked through Crocus, a war in his mind. All the anger from before was returned tenfold. People were right, in a way, to be confused as to why he left Laxus there in Magnolia. But they didn’t understand Makarov the way Ivan did. No, in some ways, he and his father were alike. They both were too cunning for everyone’s own good. His mother liked knowledge for knowledge’s sake and in some ways, Ivan was like that. But Makarov? No. He liked knowledge to use it, to pursue something. A lot of it was strength. Look at Fairy Tail’s top mages, the ones he dotes on, the ones he calls his family. He may say that creed to everyone, but oh, Ivan knows. He remembered the reports. Macao was better off dead than saved all those years ago. If it was anyone else, say the dragon slayer who took an S-class request, he sent people after him. Not the single father. Ivan knew his father and knew his father was dangerous the way he was. He got away with a lot more than others because Yajima worshiped the floor he walked on, always had. There was a reason Goldmine left the guild and Bob too and that was Makarov was in charge now. 

Fairy Tail, the Wizard Saints, the persona, all of it was a way to inflate his own ego. Maybe he had good intentions, somewhere, but by the time Ivan was born those were out the window. Ivan knew what it was like to be Makarov Dreyar’s son, knew first hand what being raised by that man was like. Ivan at least had his mother, someone to fall back on. So why would Ivan leave Laxus, his only child, the only living proof that somewhere in his life, Ivan had loved a woman named Leona Floros and she loved him back and they had a happy family? Why?

Because he was left with no choice. Makarov ensured that. The first dragon slayer in hundreds of years, how could he let that go? Even if it was his grandson? The product of two of Fairy Tail’s S-Class mages, someone in Makarov’s own blood? How could Makarov let that go? 

Ivan’s hand was played for the last time that day. When he and Grund were excommunicated.


 

“Why would they send you alone? To spy on us?” a familiar voice accused and Zilla gritted her teeth. Erza Scarlet. She was strong, Zilla knew. Very strong and she could fight a hundred monsters for the sake of her guild. For her friends. In a distant way, Zilla respected Erza Scarlet for that. However, as the situation was what it was, she was more than annoyed. 

Zilla lifted herself up from the shadows and saw herself at some booth inside the Water Park. Around the corner, she saw Flare standing nervously near the Fairies, the tension between the group ripened the air. Zilla turned the corner and all the Fairies, Heartfilia, both Strauss siblings and Scarlet all looked over at her and upon seeing their gazes behind her, Flare turned. Relief came in the other’s eyes. Zilla wondered where Flare got a bathing suit to perfectly match her hair. Did all of her clothes match it? 

“Zilla!” Flare walked over and Zilla met her in the middle, her eyes glaring past Flare and at the Fairies. “I told you I needed backup. They keep on harassing me.” Though she said they , the only truly aggressive looking one was Scarlet. It checked, with the other’s streak. She was still bandaged from the day, but was well enough to be here apparently. Though Strauss senior was a danger all on her own. But they were just frowning with suspicion. Zilla  hated the thought, but she knew they were not so wrong to be suspicious of Raven Tail. It still grated on her, though, because it inconvenienced her for the moment. But Flare was truly here to enjoy herself. The bruises on her arms were faded a bit, but they still made Zilla angry and it was all too easy to shift that anger. While Zilla doubted they would outright attack her outside the Games however, Master Ivan always said to never underestimate a Fairy’s need for righteous deeds. 

“How uncouth. This is a public area and there are civilians here as well.” Zilla said to Flare, but she was looking directly at Scarlet. “Then again, when has Fairy Tail ever been known to care for the lives surrounding them? I am sure Magnolia celebrated their times of peace and are already preparing for going back to the times when their town was destroyed because of their host guild.”

Erza made a move to step forward, but the older Strauss grabbed her arm. “Erza, relax. This isn’t the place.”

Was she spying on us?” Heartfilia asked and Zilla looked at her now. The Celestial Mage seemed to look at Zilla in a different way after their battle. Different from their first encounter. As if Zilla was some sort of anomaly after the conclusion of their battle. She hated it.

“No! I was trying to enjoy the pool!” Flare replied before Zilla could. She then looked back at Zilla, with something akin to fear in her eyes. As if Zilla would pretend she did not tell Flare to do just that. Well, she said to take note , not spy. But those were just pesky details. There was a fear there, as if Zilla would just...lie to get Flare in trouble. The thought unsettled Zilla. “You believe me, right?”

“Of course.” Zilla said to Flare, looking at her now. She felt a rare softness in her tone. “I advised you to have fun tonight, because tomorrow will be all work, did I not? And you did well to make use of what I gave you earlier.” Flare still looked tense, so in order to relieve that tension, Zilla suggested something that she would never do on her own will. “Perhaps I should stay with you. I am sure Master Ivan would prefer that. Birds of a feather flock together, after all.”

“What about your leg?” asked Flare.

“Healed.”

“Do you own a bathing suit?”

“No. Do I require one?”

Flare had no answer for that and shrugged. Then, for the second time that night, Flare initiated contact with Zilla by grabbing her hand and pulling her away and with confidence of someone else, walked right past the fairies, pulling Zilla along. Zilla allowed it if only to get away from Scarlet and Heartfilia. They unsettled her the most. 

Flare made a beeline for the pool and Zilla, who had no idea how to swim, was not about to go into that. Instead, she kicked off her boots, rolled up her pants and sat at the edge of the massive pool, putting her feet and calves into the water. The purple of her Raven Tail stamp was obvious even in the pool water, right on her ankle. She looked at it for a bit before she began to watch as Flare happily swam about. She did her best to keep her expression neutral, but Flare was reminding her of a different red head.

A much younger one, at that, who enjoyed the public bath at the Compound more than anyone else there. Children and adults alike. She was small, Hari, and she would always beg to play whenever they were supposed to be bathing. Zilla and the others would indulge her, though the one that was always with her already playing was Isaac. Zilla’s heart constricted at the few happy memories they all shared. Her throat felt tight.

To get herself out of the ever dreaded memory lane, Zilla looked around and noted that Flare was correct. A lot of the other guilds were here. She noted that the Fairies who just accosted Flare were mingling about with some of the others. Somehow, the elder Strauss was in the middle of an arm wrestling match with Bacchus, a strange sight indeed. She also saw that Laxus Dreyar was here, with his own team. She remembered the reports on them. She looked away quickly and saw Makarov was here as well and she ignored him as well. So many different people here tonight.

She felt eyes on her and looked over to see Jellal Fernandes dared to be here. He was looking right at her and she raised an eyebrow at him. In a few strides he was near her in the water. “Can we talk in private?” 

How dare he. “I do not deal with slave masters, Fernandes .”

The man had the audacity to looked shocked. “How did—”

“It is my business to know things.” Zilla interrupted him, she looked past him and saw Flare was playing with her hair in the water. Making fun little shapes. Zilla almost allowed a smile, alas, she was with an enemy right now, though. “I have not told anyone of Fairy Tail’s cheating because Master Ivan does not want to bring attention to it. I am sure he has his own reasons. As it is, I do not deal with slave masters so unless you want this pleasant evening to take a sharp turn, swim away and pretend we never spoke.”

She saw his eyes narrow at her. “What is Raven Tail up to? Are you the ones behind the magic here?”

“You are very bad at interrogation. I am sure without the ability to torture freely as slavemasters tend to do renders you unable to extract information.” Zilla responded, bitterness filling her tone. She would take note of his question, however. Either he was not somehow behind it or it an attempt to throw her off. “However, I will tell you what I know of our motivations if you promise to leave me and Flare be.”

“Fine.” Jellal gritted out. She could tell he was not happy and this made her feel a small glimmer of smugness. As much as she allowed.

“To win above Fairy Tail, of course.” She turned away from him.

Jellal’s glare hardened. She could feel it. “You’re right, we don’t want this pleasant evening to take a sharp turn. Just know this: Crime Sorciere is watching.”

Zilla turned to him once more, met his eyes behind his mask and raised an eyebrow at him; her expression still neutral and said, “If I was not barefoot, I would be shaking in my boots.”

Fernandes swam away from her and she felt a different pair of eyes on her. This one belonging to Laxus Dreyar’s. He witnessed the interaction and Zilla looked away from his gaze. She had other things to worry about than pesky Fairies. Still. Why would they ever work with someone like Fernandes and still be all about their feelings and nakama ? It didn’t make sense. Then again, she supposed, they were hypocrites. Ivan was right about that. 

Soon, Flare swam up to her and tilted her head, the rest of her body submerged in the water. Her long hair floated around her and floated to the top and it almost looked like dark blood in the pool. Zilla had to remind herself it was not blood. Just hair. It helped that Flare’s hair began to make shapes again.“What did he want?”

“To know of our nefarious plans.” Zilla shrugged. 

“What did you tell him?”

“The truth: we want to beat Fairy Tail. The rest matter less.” Zilla told Flare and Flare gleefully laughed. 

“I am sure he liked that, stupid cheater.” 

Zilla did not laugh but her face did soften at the way Flare’s face scrunched up. She didn’t have the heart to mention Raven Tail’s first  few days here. Before she could think of anything further, a booming voice filled the surrounding area and Zilla jumped because the voice yelled, “ZILLA~”

Turning, Zilla saw Ami running towards her and she felt her stomach drop. Ami was not safe if people were made aware of their connection. And here all her current enemies were! In fact, due to her boisterous entrance, many were looking over as she ran! Zilla could feel her anxiety loom as she saw Ami. Her green hair was braided as it was the last time Zilla saw her, but she was not wearing cloaks or pants; she was wearing a dark bathing suit that covered most of her skin, save for her arms and a skirt over legs. 

Despite her anxiety, she felt some humor bubble up upon seeing the Raven Tail sigil on the skirt. Must have been a recent purchase. On a less humorous note, there are still some obvious scars on Ami’s body even though she was one of the most covered people here (second only to Zilla herself). 

“Zilla!” Ami repeated as she was now with Zilla and Flare. She bend down and smiled at Zilla. “I have to say, I’m surprised to see you here.” She looked past Zilla and saw a nervous-looking Flare and beamed at her. “And Flare Corona! Are you two having some girl time away from the men in your guild?”

“Sure.” Zilla agreed. She was fighting between being happy at seeing Ami and being angry she approached her despite Zilla’s warnings. “Flare, this is...an old friend of mine, Ami. We recently reconnected here in Crocus. Ami, this is Flare Corona, though you seem to already know that.”

Ami sat down next to Zilla, putting her own feet in the water and smiling pleasantly at Flare. “Nice to meet you! I do hope you get some action tomorrow, I’m looking forward to it.”

Flare smiled, a small timid one. “Thank you...nice to meet you too. I have...never met a friend of Zilla’s.”

“I am a rare specimen.” Ami joked lightly. Well, that was a fact. Zilla had...well, she supposed now she had one friend. Zilla was not sure where Flare placed now. “How are you two tonight? The fight earlier between Alexei and Laxus Dreyar was magnificent . Though I am upset Raven Tail lost, it was a beautiful fight anyway. Explosive, I’d say! I thought it was going to be a draw at first.”

“It was...interesting.” Zilla conceded. She noted, however, the tension in Flare’s shoulders. “But we are not here to speak of today’s events. In fact, we are relaxing.”

“Just say you’re a sore loser, Zilla.” Ami bumped her shoulder and Zilla raised an eyebrow. At her and Ami giggled. She looked where Zilla was sitting and at Flare.  “Do you even know how to swim?”

At that, Flare’s eyes widened and Zilla frowned deeply. “Do you know how to read?” she retorted.

“Nope!” chirped Ami happily. “But I can swim. It was one of the first things I learned when I escaped the Compound. The nomads showed me.”

“A valuable skill,” Zilla nodded slowly, there was a smile on her face now, “but Master Ivan saw fit to teach me how to read and write, as well as to hone my magic.”

Ami laughed. “That sounds boring ! What about you, Flare? Wanna race? Show off our swimming skills?”

Flare seemed to brighten up at that. “Sure!”

“See ya!” Ami jumped into the water Zilla flinched when Ami kicked up water at her. Her face felt light as she watched them. They laughed together and began swimming together. Zilla was wet and alone now. How annoying. Still, as long as those two were having fun, then it was fine.

Free of distractions, her mind drifted back to the tunnel. What could it possibly be used for? Who made it? What was that sinister feeling she’s been feeling with her magic? She looked down at her hands and wondered if anyone from Fairy Tail was capable. Fernandes seemed confused but she would not trust him. She could not. She doubted it was the Shadow Dragon Slayer from Sabertooth, their magics were similar but vastly different. She did not think their magics could interact that way. There was something she was missing, a puzzle piece. Or a few. 

There was also the matter of Grund. Where did he learn such magic? She thought, due to Master Ivan’s research reports, in order to augment magic with Lacrima, one needed Dragon Lacrima like he used to aid his son’s life force. Other cuts of Lacrima were too dangerous to toy with in such a way. Something Grund knew all too well. Was he somehow connected to the tunnel? Or was the tunnel Zilla found something far much darker, something more sinister, an answer to her other questions. If they were two separate problems, Zilla would have to prioritize the tunnel, despite her promise to Flare. It was in too close proximity to the stadium for her comfort. 

A splash near her caught her attention and looked up to see Flare and Ami, both wet, dripping and smiling at her.

“You look too serious for a water park, Zilla. You’re not even dressed right!” Ami told her and Flare nodded. Zilla noted that Flare would never dare say something, or agree to that, just a few hours ago. Ami’s affect then.

“I am having fun.” Zilla told them. Her expression and tone may be flat, but she did feel somewhat relaxed. The water was nice on her legs and feet.

Ami and Flare both shot her looks. Just then, yells were heard and drew their attention away. Zilla watched as Ichiya from Blue Pegasus made a spectacle of himself, flying around the park with Dragneel of Fairy Tail. And then, Ichiya was flying around and Zilla almost smiled at the way he crashed Fernandes and Scarlet’s little love fest. However, the attention was given away when it seemed Dragneel pushed the two Ice Make mages onto the slide.

Zilla could feel disaster afoot. Especially when, for some reason, the ice Fairy began using his magic of all things. The water was instantly colder.

“Flare, Ami, we should leave before this gets worse.” Zilla began to stand up. 

“I don’t want to leave because of some reckless magic users.” Ami huffed. Still stubborn, then.

“I think Zilla is right, nothing good comes from too many Fairies.” Flare said, moving towards the ladder of the pool. 

Zilla was watching the spectacle and saw, to her own disbelief, the dragon slayer’s palm began to light with fire. “ Foolish ...”

Zilla’s shadows moved at her behest and before the spell could be fired, the dragon slayer’s hand was snatched and he was thrown to the ground by a black tendril. The ice that was forming around the pool was also destroyed by the black tendrils and now it was more akin to ice cubes in the water than the freezing that was coming. 

Oi !” The dragon struggled against her tendril and she released him immediately before he could fight back. She frowned in his direction and when he popped up, the dragon slayer frowned at her, “I was about to stop the ice!”

“You were about to blow up the entire park!” Ami called back, frowning at him. She put her hands on her hips and Zilla just looked away from them all. She hated everyone looking at her. Which they were. Several other Fairies were alert and ready. She didn’t want this. 

“Flare, let’s go. You have a big day tomorrow.” Zilla told her guildmate, her voice was calm but the quickness of her words betrayed that calm.

Thankfully, Flare was already getting out of the pool. Zilla bent down to pick up her boots and she turned to Ami, “Enjoy the rest of your visit.”

“Thank you for saving our park!” one of the workers said as she and Flare begna to make their way out. “Raven Tail members can have free passes for the rest of the season!”

“I cannot imagine Master Ivan here.” Flare whispered as she wrapped a towel around herself. 

The image of Master Ivan relaxing by the pool, sunglasses on and sipping on one of those fruity alcoholic drinks with an umbrella came unbidden to Zilla’s mind. For the first time all day, Zilla huffed a laugh. “Never give me that image again, Flare.”

Flare laughed with her. “You know...I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun. Despite how it ended.And began. Thank you for coming.”

“I said I would come if you called.” Zilla shrugged. Just as quick as it came, her smile faded away. As always. “I did find...something. I do not know what it was, yet. I will have tomorrow to check it out. Unless you want me there at the Games.”

“I think...I will be fine.” Flare said. “I would rather we solve the mystery of...Alexei sooner rather than later.” Right. She thinks it was about Grund.

“Unless Master Ivan needs me to be there, I will investigate. I am not yet sure if it all connects back to Alexei yet, but there is something afoot. Master Ivan felt it too the first day.”

“Did he?” asked Flare and then, she remembered that was a conversation between herself and Ivan. He did not feel the need to reiterate this to the others, only mentioned his desired plan of change to embarrass Fairy Tail. 

“Yes. We discussed it after the First Day. There is something...amiss about the magic here. Have you felt it?” 

Flare shook her head and looked around. Though it was night, it was still rather hot. She seemed to be comfortable in her towel as they walked back towards their Inn. There were a lot of people in the Capital which, Zilla supposed, should be normal. It was the abandoned arena, the tunnel, that made her pause. Perhaps that was a part of the reason why: everywhere else was brimming with life. To find such a place devoid of it among the rest seemed...wrong, somehow. No. Not somehow, it felt wrong, period. 

“Ami was nice.” Flare said after a long stretch of silence where Zilla was dwelling on her own investigation.

She hummed at her companion. “I have not seen her in a great many of years. I suppose...she was always lively when we were children. I often wondered how she could be so lively, despite everything. Though I think others would say she was obnoxious.”

Flare laughed softly. “I never knew...you had a place you grew up. You never talk about your past.”

“I barely talk, Flare.”

“True.” A pause. “I am happy...that hung out today. I’ve always admired you.” This surprised Zilla. Flare fiddled with her hair. “You stand up to...Alexei and Master Ivan trusts you. You do a lot of the important missions for Raven Tail, but you aren’t arrogant about it. It’s hard not to admire you.”

Zilla shook her head. “I do not do nearly enough, Flare. But. I will take the compliment. It would be rude of me not to. But I will say...I have always thought your brand of magic was nice. I never knew hair could be so powerful, not to mention yours is very beautiful.”

Flare’s cheeks reddened at the compliment and Zilla felt pleased with herself. It was...good to make someone feel nice. Zilla herself felt a little taken aback at Flare’s words so it only seemed fitting to make the other feel the same. Perhaps this was what friends do. Flare was a friend.

Though Ami was a friend, for sure, their relationship would always be a touch different. Especially considering their shared, torrid past. It was so easy to remember all the bad details, but in the past few days with Ami around, it was beginning to feel easier to remember the better times. It was not all being starved, overworked, locked in solitary and...everything else. There were lighter times. What a world to live in. Still, she had to protect Ami. And Flare.

“Flare. I would like to request your discretion in regards to Ami. I warned her that she should not show such a personal relationship with me, considering the air around the games. However, she has blazed through all these warnings and did as she pleased, as usual. Please do not mention her to others, especially Alexei.”

“It’ll be our secret.” Flare agreed with a smile and nod. “Between us girls. Like the mission.”

Zilla offered her own small smile. “Exactly.”

When they returned to the Inn, Master Ivan was outside waiting for them. He considered them with a raised eyebrow and a wry smile on his face. Flare seemed tense, but Zilla was not. She had known Master Ivan far longer and had a much more personal relationship. Though in consideration to the more indifferent way Master Ivan treated most Raven Tail members, except when they pleased him in some way, she could see why Flare’s nerves acted up. Especially in the way Grund treated her. Where Ivan ruled Raven Tail with respect, Grund had always sought to do with fear. “Ah, there are my two lost Ravens.”

“We were at Ryuzetsu land. A lot of the other guilds were there as well.” Zilla informed him.

“I heard.” She should have known. “Raven Tail has a free season pass. Just got the message a few moments ago.” Ivan said as he regarded them. “I am sure I have you to thank for that, Zilla.”

“Dragneel was about to lay waste to it.” Zilla shrugged. “I put a stop to it.”

Master Ivan laughed. “Perfect. Undermind Fairy Tail’s popularity and their need for destruction.” He reached over and placed a hand on her shoulder. She did not mention she just wanted peace and did not think of that. “Good job, Zilla.”

“It was Flare’s idea, I just executed.” Zilla told Master Ivan. “She wanted to venture out and I did not feel like being in my room tonight.”

Master Ivan hummed and looked at Flare, his dark eyes flickered. “Good job, then, to you both. Flare, do you feel well rested for tomorrow?”

“As best as I can be, Master Ivan.” Flare answered immediately.

“You should sleep, then.” Master Ivan said and Flare caught the dismissal for what it was and made to leave.

“Goodnight, Flare.” Zilla said and before she reached the front door of the inn, Flare turned and smiled at her, bidding her own goodnight before disappearing. It was just Master Ivan and Zilla left. His hand was still on her shoulder and she raised an eyebrow at him. He nodded at her and then she sighed. Of course, he would want some form of report. “Every guild with the exception of Mermaid Heel  and Sabertooth were there tonight.”

“...The second-generation dragon slayer?” Why couldn’t Master Ivan just ask if his son was there? Zilla did not say as much, but she did nod. And then, she caught her mistake instantly and spoke up.

“Yes. He was with his team.” She elaborated. She struggled with whether to add to what else happened and she added. “ Mystogan apprehended me, however. He suspects us to be up to something.”

“And he survived a conversation with you?” Ivan raised his brow and Zilla allowed herself to roll her eyes at his poking fun with her. “Do not roll your eyes, Zilla, I am merely expressing my surprise you allowed that.” He proceeded to chide her.

“I could not kill him in public, could I?”

“I am sure you would have been rewarded. He is a dangerous fugitive.”

“Posthumously. Makarov Dreyar would have killed me for ruining his perfect cheat.”

“I would accept on your behalf, Zilla.”

ZIlla finally cracked and smiled back. Ivan, seemingly pleased now, took his hand off her shoulder. She almost missed the light touch. Flare must be already rubbing off on her. “Have you found anything new?”

She thought about telling Ivan of the tunnel, but refrained from doing so. Instead, she said, “I will admit...no. I have not. Have you figured out how Alexei went through with his battle today?”

“No. That door was shut before I could needle him. He has been getting on my last nerve lately.”

“Tragic.” Zilla looked out. She couldn’t help but feel she was being watched. “Remember, just say the word…”

“We need him around, Zilla. However much he annoys the pair of us. We have discussed this.” Ivan told her, frowning now. Zilla knew better than to argue this point. She had tried a lot more in her youth.

“I understand to some extent Master Ivan.” Zilla told him. She looked out, unable to get past the feeling of being watched. “Can we go inside now? I am rather tired.”

“You have had an exciting night.” Ivan agreed easily. He turned to open the door and allowed Zilla through. The sensation of being watched was still there. It made her uneasy.


 

Ivan had left some time ago, yet Porlyusica did not clean up his tea. She did not even pick up her book right when he left. Others began to filter in an out, happy families who were excited at the games and Porlyusica watched them silently and continued with her tea. It was not her favorite brand, no. That was still at her home, sitting in her cabinets, a gift from her son. Her son, who she did love, no matter what. 

Even though the divorce had not come as a surprise to him, Ivan’s only worry was that he would be left with Makarov. She wouldn’t let that happen, she knew. She loved him and though he lived with his father primarily, she had a room set up for him at her house. It was still there to her day, right next to her office. Across from where she sees her patients. A locked room, dusted with the evidence of her son’s adolescence. A relic to a long ago past.

Porlyusica closed her eyes. She had never seen Ivan truly happy, with no worry, until he and Gildarts became friends. If there were such a thing as soulmates, Porlyusica knew that somehow, he and Gildarts were soulmates. They clicked in ways that Porlyusica clicked with Rob. It made her happy, then, that Ivan finally had someone other than her and Rob who he could be comfortable with. He would drag Gildarts to her before he got better at healing and could heal Gildarts himself. Even to this day, she could hear them bickering in her mind, Gildarts calling Ivan Nurse Naggart. Ivan calling Gildarts Gilly.

And when Leona came around, Ivan had a different smile around her. A different laugh even and Porlyusica loved that. Loved that he had that. It made Porlyusica sure that even though she was young for a mother, even though she wasn’t sure if she could be as good as her own, that she did right by Ivan. His actions never betrayed that thinking. Even when he did things such as leave when the conversation got to heavy.

Ivan being excommunicated for Laxus’ surgery was always confusing to her. He had taken some of her research on Lacrima, expanded on it for a few years and then did something nothing before had ever done: cured his son for good. Not his symptoms. But everything. Laxus was a sickly child, something that she always knew but was reminded of this day. He sat in her infirmary and though he was a grown man now, she was hit with the memory of him at her house. In the room where she treated her patients, his mother on one side of him and his father on the other. Leona’s face was worried each time her son’s coughs seemed to wrack his entire being. Ivan’s face was calm, but she was his mother and saw the equal worry as Porlyusica did all she could to heal the symptoms. Ivan and Leona did everything they could for that boy and when Leona died in that tragic accident, Ivan become more...intense with his research. 

To punish him so severely for that move confused Porlyusica. Makarov was around then, during the before. He knew. In another world, perhaps Ivan perished on that quest (call her selfish, but she was happy he didn’t) Porlyusica may have done it herself, to save Laxus. To ensure he could grow up. 

Grief, Porlyusica assumed, grief was what blurred that entire time period for her. It was foggy in her head, something she could see in colored blobs but never in clarity. And it hung around her. She wanted to talk about it tonight, because the memory of Laxus in the infirmary hit her so deeply, but Ivan had walked away. She wanted to ensure him something she never vocalized: she understood why he did it. She never thought he should be punished for it. Excommunicated for saving his child’s life? Yes, it was risky , but it worked. Ivan was smart, perhaps smarter than her with his younger mind and still growing mind and he was careful to. Careful in a way Makarov never was. Never could Makarov understand since it clashed so much with Makarov’s own way of doing things.

It was also that grief, perhaps, of losing a daughter-in-law and a son (for in a way, everyone lost Ivan when Leona died) and Polryusica had to watch as her family crumble in ways that made her more distant to Laxus. She figured her door was always open, but the child never came. As entrenched in his own life as children tend to be. As they should be. And then, news of Rob. Oh... Rob . That was a wound that would never heal and in that way, she could understand her son more.

Porlyusica sighed and looked back at her son’s cold cup of tea. She hoped, for anything, that Ivan would not stay mad at her for bringing it up. Next time, she will be more firm. And, no in Crocus. But it was hard at times. When his own grief, so hidden from others, was so apparent to her. 

She picked up her book, she figured she was not going to get much sleep tonight anyway.

Chapter Text

Day Four of the Games and it was Flare’s duty to participate in the Naval Battle. Zilla sat with Master Ivan, rather than stand with her team and kept her eyes focused on Alexei. He seemed to be watching the Games like anyone else. Her mind wandered to the Tunnel once more and she considered sinking into the shadows, leaving a Thought Projection behind in case anyone looked for her. Master Ivan would notice, however. Annoying.

“Do I need to be here, Master Ivan?” she asked him. He looked over at her. There were many things bothering him as well, Zilla noticed. She wanted to investigate the tunnel though. But she would need to come back with something . She did not want to mention the tunnel, not as incomplete as her investigations were thus far. A full report would be better for now. “Can I leave a Thought Projection and spy on the Fairies for a bit? There was something that I wished to investigate.”

He pondered her suggestion. She hoped that he would let her. She did not want to wait all day for this. It was nagging at her every other thought. It was hard to sleep the night before, with all the questions running in her head. The memories, as well. They have been more active as of late due to Ami’s influence. 

“Very well.” Master Ivan said after a long beat. “Spy on them and investigate. Do you need anything to aide your investigations?”

Now, it was her turn to ponder. She thought on it. There was...something there. “I will let you know.”

“Carry on, then. Update me as needed.” Master Ivan turned away from her. Just as she sunk into the shadows, a thought projection of herself sitting next to Ivan appeared. She walked below the shadows of the stadium and made her way towards the Fairies section.

They were conversing and she struggled at first to focus, but found it soon enough.

“....First, what do you think?” Makarov Dreyar’s voice. She caught onto that. First ? Who was that? And what a strange name, too. No one responded, though. And Makarov laughed. “It’s true, since yesterday everyone’s spirits were up. Not even that little brat Ivan can get in our way now.”

Zilla was on alert and she listened for a response. Instead, someone else spoke. A woman’s voice and Zilla peeked, seeing it was the youngest Strauss, Lisanna. The one who died, but not really. It still confused Zilla. “Laxus seemed quiet today and last night.”

Makarov seemed unconcerned. “Eh, he’ll be fine. He had a long battle.”

Once again, Makarov and Lisanna seemed to look at nothing and Lisanna Strauss had nodded. “You’re right, First. It must have been emotionally draining too.”

Makarov had an expression that Zilla could only call shrew. Weirdly, she had seen it on Ivan’s face before too. Normally when she complained about Grund. “There was nothing emotional about that fight. I know my grandson.”

Lisanna merely hummed, but still frowned.

Zilla took note of this, they seemed to be talking to air. Perhaps they all lost their minds. That should be enough for Master Ivan. She left them there and made her way outside the arena, toward that tunnel.

She was closer to the Tunnel this time and she approached it inside her own personal bubble in the shadow realm. However, something dark was here and it was not her. She would know her own magic. It did not feel like anyone else’s either, though she supposed she never felt Rogue Cheney’s magic. She was not sure how different his magic was from her’s, considering he learned from a Dragon. The slayer aspect of his magic would make it a lot different, she guessed. Even if their base was very similar. She put that thought to rest and focused on the task. 

Even down here, she could feel the blockage. It made the hairs on her neck stand up. It was bared against her even down here, where she was the ruler of her own realm. Zilla frowned and let herself stand there in the shadows. She sat down, cross legged and breathed in deeply, an attempt to focus her magic to the point. 

Breath in, and out. In and out. 

In.

And.

Out.

Just as Master Ivan taught her to calm herself down. To focus.

Zilla felt her magic expand and even then, it was stopped by that damn block in front of her, even if it expanded in other directions. She tapped her leg before she laid back into nothing but the shadows. Her eyes closed and she breathed out slowly, an attempt to calm her building frustration. The questions nagged at her.

What could she do if she could not get past a simple block? Master Ivan would probably examine the properties of the block. Her magic could not get past it and she did not know that much about what it was in front of her. What could get past it? Was it barred off to just magic? Zilla stood and lifted herself from the Shadows and appeared back in the physical world. 

Even now, the place was quiet. The KEEP OUT sign was still there, hung by a chainlinks. She picked up a nearby rock and threw it at the tunnel entrance and watched as the air seemed to shift and it bounced back. She could feel a magical signature, but she did not recognize who it belonged to. So it was no one actively participating in the Games. That ruled out Cheney, at least.

However. Fairy Tail did have a rune mage. In fact, if her memory was correct, they had two on varying levels. It could be a use of letter magic and in that case, she would have to find the runes and destroy them. Or, at the very least, make an attempt to translate the meanings of the runes. That could give her clue enough. Zilla frowned at the entrance. She picked up another rock and flicked it back, watching now the edges of the entrance, her eyes sharp and on alert for a possible source nearby. Nothing happened, the rock just bounced back again.

Her skin prickled and she frowned. She picked up yet another rock, but this time she threw it as hard as she could at the entrance. She ducked as it bounced back at her just as hard. She breathed out and clicked her tongue. She began to tap her foot and stared hard, glaring at the tunnel’s entrance. Perhaps, she thought, if I glare at it enough something will happen. She moved one hand through her bangs and into her hair, she was probably messing it all up but she did not care at the moment.

At the moment, she was focused on the task at hand. Breathe in and out, Zilla, do not let your emotions get the better of you here.

Perhaps the rock was not damaging enough to make the seals seen. An idea came to her then. If the rocks were not strong enough, then she had something at her disposal that was stronger than a stupid rock. Zilla directed an attack from the shadows to pierce the bubble. They bounced back as she expected, but the air became heavier with magic and she let herself smile a small, proud smile. She saw a light emit around the place, not just light but letters. They faded away, but that was not the deadend it could have been. So there were the runes. The script was older and she was going to ready another attack. If she could get a dialect she could locate a book somewhere in Crocus.

Zilla took a step forward and then, she felt weak. In a second, she was on the ground.


X776 - THE COMPOUND - SOMEWHERE IN SOUTH EAST BOSCO

“Get up.” A deep voice commanded and like a puppet on strings, she stood. Her legs were shaking from the effort and the circlet on her ankle was constricting as it always was. Her leg was still bleeding and her breathing was quick, yet shallow, trying to catch up with the fast beats of her heart. “Look at me.” And she lifted her gaze from her dirty feet to the man. 

He looked the same as always. He was tall and wore all black, seemingly unaffected by the sun’s harsh glare. He looked so put together, in his three piece suits that never seemed to get dirty, the only sight of damage on his person being the eyepatch around his left eye. His smile was cold, giddy even as if the sight of her blood excited him. His eyes were dark and glittered with a madness that made her very aware she was trapped. His black hair was pushed back and he looked as if he just came across a rather tasty meal, not another human person. This man was supposed to be her father. This man was, in practice, her Master. “What a pathetic thing you are.” He told her. “I never even granted you a name and yet, here you are, defying me with your lazy work.”

It was true. She did not have a name, not officially, but when there were times when she was away from them. The Master. The gaurds and worse, the Hessians. When she was with her real family, her Mama and her brother Isaac, she had a name. Zilla. When she was with her friends, they whispered her name and called to her. When Abba and Don wanted to show her some new songs, they said it. When Hari and Isaac demanded a game of dodge the rag, they said it. When Bo put her on her shoulders during a game of chicken, he said it. When Riley’s eyes were weakened and she needed someone to help her, she said it. When Ami was telling her stories that came from her mind, she would say it.

 Out here though, under the gaze of the Hessians, of the guards, of her Master. Here, in this wasteland of the Compound, she was nothing. Nobody. It. Weak. Girl. Maggot.

“Get her out of here, Gaël , it looks like she’s earned two days in solitary.” Her Master commanded and just then, she was yanked by the hair, almost to the scalp, and made to follow Gaël . He walked fast and she struggled to keep up with him. Where Master wore black, Cœucruz wore white and had the same symbol on all his clothes. It was close the Hessian sigil, but made into a cross instead. His Hessian sigil was on his chest, right over his heart. He left his chest bare always to let people knew who he was. 

But, the girl knew, as long as she was going to Solitary and not being forced to run from his arrows, forced to play Hide and Seek, she would be alright.

She only feared for Isaac and Mama.

The darkness was better than the light, where they could see her. Find mistakes and punish her. Her bleeding leg meant little. Her scalp did not matter. What mattered was Isaac and Mama. Here, in the darkness, she was safe, but were they? 

Was anyone ever safe?

The little girl leaned back and felt her chest get tight. Soon, her Mama promised. Soon, they could escape. Go to Fiore, where her Mama knew a rich woman who would help them, welcome them. Protect them.

Soon.


X791 - CROCUS, FIORE

Zilla came to when an explosion blasted and she scrambled up, her breathing heavy. She looked around, and got her sword on the ready, but no one was around. She blinked and readied for something. Anything.  There were cheers in the distance, she could hear them. The cheers, she must be in the Arena again. Her hand tightened around her sword. There was smoke in the air and Zilla was confused. There were no fire mages among the Hessians, except for Master who could use flames at his will…

She blinked a few times and remembered suddenly. She was in the capital. In Crocus. The Games were on. She was not There. She was far away and. He could not hurt her now. Zilla breathed in and out slowly, her glare fixed on the tunnel. What just happened ?

It felt as if someone was interrupting her own magic. Zilla frowned. There was a something deeper afoot. The roars from the crowd and the heavy sounds of more destruction followed her thoughts. Zilla breathed out again, regained her composure and locked her memories away yet again. They could bother her at night, not when she was busy.

Sheathing her sword, she turned her back to the tunnel. She would investigate after consulting some books on runes. Could runes trigger memories, she wondered? And why those specific memories? The thoughts followed her as she traversed back into her shadows. One step she was in the world, the next she was left alone in her peaceful world of darkness.

When she made it back to the Game's Arena and took her Thought Projection’s spot. “I need books on runes.” She told Master Ivan, her eyes on what seemed to be the conclusion of the battle between Sabertooth and Fairy Tail Team A. Apparently, the Ice Mage and Redfox changed teams. She supposed they had that freedom with two different teams.

“Ah, you’re back just in time for the end. It was a draw between the dragon slayers.” Master Ivan said. He looked at her and his eyes narrowed. “You look unsettled.”

“Conspiracy does that.” Zilla said with a nod and Master Ivan laughed. That at least, was something familiar to her that did not make her shake.

“You have been quite talkative these days, Zilla.” Master Ivan noted. He seemed prepared for a long speech of some kind and she felt glad for that. His voice was soothing to her in a strange way. “It is a welcome change. I will work on getting you your books. You missed quite the show. Orland seems to enjoy drawn out torture and the little blonde fairy you fought the first day is back in the Infirmary. Flare was quite smart, she recognized Orland’s superiority and wrapped her hair around Orland’s feet when the Water Fairy pushed everyone out and even Orland seemed to allowe that. But Flare did not last long after that. Mermaid Heel fought with Fairy Tail Team B, it ended as a tie as well. A close fight with Alberona and Strauss elder versus Mikasuzhi and Millianna.

"Lamia Scale won over Blue Pegasus and that was a messy, yet entertaining fight. It was Vastia and Blendy, the older one, who seemed to take her cousin’s place after her battle with the Wind fairy, versus her fiance and the blonde one. It was an almost easy battle for the Lamia duo and Blendy did not go easy on her fiance. To me, it seemed she had more chemistry with her Ice partner, but that is just battle chemistry and I will not lower myself to gossip as others do. We tied with Quatro Puppy and I can still feel the ramifications of Goldmine’s wink when that was announced. Only one team came up truly victorious today, other than Sabertooth’s win in the event.”

“It would seem I missed quite the show.” Zilla commented, but she was barely listening to whatever it was Master Ivan was saying. Something about gossip and chemistry. She looked to her team to see Flare missing. “Where is Flare?”

“Infirmary.” Master Ivan answered. “Orland is effective, but cruel.”

For once, she did not wait for permission as she stood. She made her way away from the crowd and toward the infirmary.

When Zilla arrived at the infirmary, she ignored the Fairies crowded. Did they travel in packs? She found Flare easily and walked quickly towards her. She had bandages on her head and looked at Zilla with something that the shadow mage could only guess was fear.

“I-I’m sorry I failed, Zilla…” Flare said quietly. Zilla swallowed. Maybe not fear, but shame.

“You did not fail.” Zilla told her. She crossed her arms over her chest. “You placed well and you were smart. That is not something to overlook.” Flare nodded slowly, but she did not seem to believe her. Zilla was not good at these things. She found herself at a loss. What would comfort her? Hm. Zilla supposed reassurance from someone she looked up to would be enough. “Master Ivan even commented on your quick thinking.”

At that, Flare gasped and looked up. “Truly?”

“Yes. He told me as much.” 

“What are you doing here?” a new voice asked and Zilla and Flare both looked over to see Natsu Dragneel, arms crossed and glaring.

“Visiting my guildmate as I am sure you are.” Zilla answered, her eyes flickered behind him to where the others were gathered. Sabertooth’s mages, she noted, were missing. Perhaps they had their own station. If Ivan wasn’t so insistent on spying , perhaps these situations could be avoided. Her eyes found Dragneel’s again and she frowned. “Is there a problem?”

“No.” Makarov Dreyar said, appearing next to his protege. Zilla wanted to scream she didn’t need this right now. “Unless you’d like to share one.” He was looking at her closely and she glared at him with narrowed eyes. The only problem here is you. 

Zilla opened her mouth to speak just that, but it was Porlyusica’s voice that rang out, “No fighting in the infirmary! Save it for the Games!” 

Zilla clenched her fist and turned her attention back to Flare who looked nervous. Flare didn’t need this right now and so, she softened. Just a bit. For her. “Flare, if you are faring well enough, perhaps we should go back to the Inn. Master Ivan can see to your wounds away from interlopers .”

“Alexei said…”

“Forget about him .” Zilla interrupted. There was venom in her chest and escaped through her voice. She hated this. She hated the tunnel, she hated the memories, she hated everything about the Games and Crocus. “He is not in charge and he never will be. You will stay in my room.”

Flare nodded at that. “Alright…” she pushed back the blankets and Zilla saw there were more bandages there.

“Can you walk?”

“I...I can.” Flare said, though her tone was uncertain.

Zilla could feel the eyes on them and she took a deep breath. Ignore them, Zilla. “No. You cannot. That is evident in your injuries, Flare. Your health is not something to take lightly or lie about to make someone else’s life easier.” She opened her palm and with her manipulation of shadows, created a make-shift wheelchair. Though there was a strict no magic rule, Porlyusica did not seem to mind it in this instance. For that, Zilla was grateful and inwardly promised that when this was over, she would get that woman gallons of that tea she liked. “This is will be easier.”

Flare was able to sit in it herself and Zilla turned towards the two Fairies she did not care for. “If you would be so kind as to remove yourselves from our path, I would appreciate it.”

Dragneel met her steely gaze and nodded. He seemed placated by something. His Guild Master, however, continued to regard her with a shrewd look. She wanted to stab him as much as she wanted to stab Grund. She hoped that came through on her face. He did get out of her way, though. So maybe it did.

With no time left to waste, Zilla grabbed the handles of the shadow-wheelchair and swiftly paved a path out of here. She saw in between the Fairies, the weakened form of Heartfilia, who was so heavily bandaged it looked like she was tortured. Her stomach swooped and she moved onward.

As they made their way through the hallways, Zilla caught sight of now familiar dark red hair. The form of Isley Jones, who Ivan informed her was a meddling woman, was there. She saw the pair and marched fight on over. “Hey you two.”

“Flare, this is Isley Jones, a former associate of Master Ivan.” Zilla explained and then looked at the woman. “Hello.”

“So formal,” Jones smiled, but it faded as she looked at Flare. “You did good out there, kiddo. Sorry about what happened in the end.”

“I am...alright.” Flare offered meekly. Even though Zilla could not see her face, she could still imagine her trying to smile. “Zilla and Master Ivan will take care of me.”

“As they should.” Jones agreed easily. “I was on my way to see how Ms. Heartfilia was doing after that. And Sica.”

“There’s a group of them in there.” Zilla said with a frown. “Tried to impede us on our way out.”

Jones frowned at that and looked to where they came. “Dreyar in there?”

“Both.” Zilla answered. The younger one had the decency to not get in her way at least. It was only Dragneel and Dreyar. “Be careful.”

“Zilla, Flare.” Ah, just what this needed. Master Ivan. His eyes narrowed when he saw who they were with and Jones grinned widely at him. “Isley.”

“Ivan!” Jones then proceed to wrap an arm around Master Ivan. Zilla felt her eyes widened and wondered if Flare, too, was shocked. “Your guild members did good today! Is Zilla going to be back in action now?”

Oh no. Zilla just realized the true ramifications of Flare being injured. Master Ivan spoke through gritted teeth as he said, “Obviously.”

“Good!” Jones seemed genuine. “I want to see her fight again.”

Zilla did not want this. Not at all. She tried to communicate that through expression before she remembered she was not good at communicating through expression because she was not good at expressing. Damn

“Zilla will do good, I think.” Flare spoke up once more. Her voice quiet, but so sure. Oh no. 

“You did great today, Flare!” Jones assured her. She then winked at Master Ivan who proceeded to push the woman off of him. “Ah, don’t be such a sourpuss, Ivan.”

“I’ll be as sour as I want to people who back on deals, Isley Kane.” Now that confused Zilla. She thought her name was Jones. Was she wrong?

“It’s Jones now, Ivan." Ah. "And I didn’t say anything too bad! I swear! Sica just has a way with her eyes that makes you not able to lie or skirt the truth, you know? I mean, you would. She raised you.”

Master Ivan did not see the value in that comment, if his thunderous expression was anything to go by. He didn’t look at Zilla or Flare when he said to them, “Go back to the Inn. I will see to Flare’s wounds there.”

Zilla needed no time wasted and offered an awkward look to Jones who smiled jovially and waved at them, even bidding them luck come day 5. Once they were outside, Zilla felt the ability to breathe again.

“That was weird, right?” Flare asked her. She angled her head in a way to look at Zilla and Zilla nodded.

Very weird.”

Back at the Inn, Zilla levitated the chair as Flare looked sort of terrified that it was happening, but allowed it because there was no elevators in their Inn. A short-sighted building issue, Zilla thought. Zilla unlocked the door to her room and assured Flare for the hundredth time that it was fine she was staying in there. In fact, Zilla did prefer it. It would be easier to keep a watch on her if she was closer. It would also be easier to have someone else there to listen to their breathing after the harrowing day Zilla had trapped in her own mind.

Sometimes, just being near another person was better than being alone.


Day Four was an interesting one, Laxus decided. They were both celebrating a victory while also being worried for Lucy. There was a split, some followed Makarov to the bars and others stayed huddled together. Laxus sighed and looked to where his own teammates sat in the lobby of their hotel. If one of them got hurt the way Minerva Orland hurt Lucy, he would be pissed and probably struggling to keep it together. As it was, he did feel bad for Lucy. Mirajane seemed rather stressed and only after a few moments of sitting with Lisanna did Mira get up.

“I’m going to...to visit Lucy.” Mirajane said to no one in particular. It was obvious to Laxus (which probably meant everyone else) that Mirajane harbored some sort of romantic feelings for Lucy. He wondered how long it would take before Mira got too obvious. She almost turned into a demon earlier that day and broke into the fight. The only thing that stopped her was Elfman at her arm. Of that, Laxus was sure. 

He probably would have let her, Games be damned. Not that Laxus didn’t find some meaning in the Games. It stood as a thank you to those who were left behind while they were in Fairy Sphere. For Laxus it became an apology, too. For the past. He was capable of change, he was listening more to his grandfather, an attempt to let the past be the past even if he did tune the geezer out at times. Even if it bothered him, if some things continued to bother Laxus.

Still, everyone else was distracted with what was on their minds. There was one more day, a break, before day five. It meant many different things for all of them. There was one unique definition of the end of the Games for Laxus. He had a countdown to when Isley Jones would be close enough for him to ask questions too. Older ones, ones he’s had for years. 

“I’m...heading out.” He told his team. 

“Where to?” Evergreen asked. He saw some concern in her eyes. She was worried for him and he smiled at her. Even if some things changed, his team didn't. Their bonds didn't weaken no matter what and for that, Laxus was happy.

“To see Porlyusica.” He told her. 

That caught Freed’s attention. “You’re not still injured, are you?”

“No. Nothing like that.” Laxus told him. Something registered in Freed’s eyes then and he smiled and nodded.

“Alright, we’ll be here, Laxus.”

“Well, be seein ya!” Bixlow waved. His babies repeated as they always do, seein’ ya!

Laxus made his way to the separate Inn where Porlyusica had gotten her own room. She had told them all that if they needed her, to go to her. Laxus wanted to talk to Isley, but also his grandmother as well. He figured this one would be easier to explain than some random woman. Besides, he recalled how Isley had left before thinking Makarov was bound to come here. She didn’t want him to know she was here, or that she didn’t want to see him. But she invited Laxus. 

Luckily, he didn’t need to remember what room Porlyusica mentioned because she was sipping tea and reading a book in the Inn’s rather homey lobby. As if she knew he was coming. That, he wasn’t sure, but she did look up when she heard him and blinked at him before she offered something like a smile. “Laxus, it’s late. Are you alright?”

Now, he felt off footed. It wasn’t that late, he thought, but then again. She was an old woman. Don’t say that out loud , Laxus told himself. “I’m...fine?”

Porlyusica raised an eyebrow.“Is that a question?”

He sighed. He was a bad conversationalist. Cana made sure to remind him of that all the time. He walked closer and took a seat opposite of the healer's. “I was...wondering about Isley, actually. Was she telling the truth?”

Porlyusica hummed at him. She closed her book and sat up more. “About what, exactly?”

“Did she know... my mom?” Laxus asked. He didn’t know why, but this felt too real too fast. He felt a lot calmer when he was with his team. Maybe she should have asked one of them, Evergreen, maybe, to join him.

Porlyusica, though, merely nodded. “She did. Everything she said….it was the truth, Laxus. She was on a team with your mother. The third member is now her wife, Jio Jones. When I...knew Isley more, lighter, perhaps. Not that she changed too much over the years. But that’s something to be grateful for, I think.”

Laxus considered his...his grandmother’s words. He nodded. “I see.”

Porlyusica took pity on him. “Leona made her your godmother, just as Gildarts is your godfather. But...I think…” Porlyusica frowned now and Laxus was holding onto each word like it was a safety net, “after everything that happened, Isley and Jio needed to be away from Magnolia. From…” There was a pause, where her red eyes went from her hands, to Laxus, back towards her hands. Laxus watched this closely. “from Fairy Tail.” she finished.

Laxus was curious, about many things, but what that pause could mean. From Ivan? From Gildarts? From Laxus?

From Makarov ?

“Because...of my mother’s death?” Laxus asked. He didn’t know the details. No one wanted to discuss her death. Not one wanted to discuss her, period. It was a fact for his entire life, so he kept those questions within him. Never voiced them. Except for the one time, where he tentatively asked Gildarts and the man’s eyes burned with unshed tears and an eight year old Laxus was not prepared for that. Even as Gildarts told him, with a sad smile, that Laxus had her magic. Lightning. And when he became an S-Class mage, Gildarts had looked proud as he said, “A lightning S-class mage, eh? Your mom was one too.” All he knew, before the Games, were those two facts and she died on some quest. Nothing more than that. He had a picture, from a lifetime ago, that was himself as a toddler and with Ivan and his mother. They all looked happy in that moment.

Porlyusica sighed and nodded. “Yes. Leona’s death was...a tragedy, as any death is. It cut many deep and…” His grandmother shook her head. “Isley and Jio left the guild…” Porlyusica seemed to struggle, her eyebrows came together. “later. Retired from Mage life entirely. I tried to keep up with them…” She trailed off and shook her head again. “It’s hard, over the years, to remember everything. But Isley Kane was always genuine in everything she did, if a little rough around the edges. She would not lie to you, Laxus. Especially not about Leona. I certainly wouldn’t let her.” Her voice became fierce then and Laxus couldn’t find it within himself to argue that point, or any point with her.

“I was thinking of...taking her up on that offer. Of talking to her.” Laxus told her, for some reason. He didn’t mention it to his friends and especially not to Makarov. If he did talk to her, though, he would tell his team. They would hold him accountable for actually talking to her and maybe they would come with him. It would make him feel less awkward at least. Evergreen and Freed could hold up conversations better and Bickslow could lighten up any situation.

Porlyusica smiled, then. Her eyes became soft and though Laxus could not recall a specific situation where they were alone like this, where she would give him a look like that, it did not seem as foreign to him as it should. This is really fucking with my brain. “Good, you should. I’m happy to hear it.”

There was a pause in the conversation then. He felt. Uncomfortable. Awkward again. He sat back in his seat and scratched his cheek softly. “Um. What were you reading before I came in?”

“A collection of Icerbergian poetry that...your father got me when he last visited Iceberg.” His grandmother answered and. Wow. That surprised him. He didn’t even realize Ivan and her were still in contact. Then again—why would he know? He was bad at being a grandson. Just ask Makarov. Before he could delve into those thoughts again, she offered, “Would you like to hear some?”

Laxus figured, he had an entire full day tomorrow. He could sit and read poetry with his grandmother. He owed her that much for dredging up the past, she seemed confused and unsure about what she spoke of. At least, not about Isley Jones. “Sure, why not.”

Chapter Text

After a surprising evening wherein she spent actual, quality time with her grandson, Porlyusica woke up the next day feeling strangely well rested. It had been a long time since she felt this way. The feeling lingered in her morning routine and all the way towards the Infirmary. As she checked on Lucy, quietly as Mirajane slept soundly in a chair by her bedside, there was a peaceful lull. Wendy the day before had expressed the desire to want to be Lucy’s main healer paired with a glint in her young eyes. A protective instinct, the woman would describe it. Porlyusica had agreed, once she had seen that Lucy was stable, but still. She could not resist checking in. She had her oaths, after all. 

She watched as both young women slept; Mirajane and Lucy, how they reached for one another, their hands connected for the slightest moment before falling away again. Ah, she thought then, young love. Better luck to them than her. 

It was a bittersweet thought, one that did not disrupt the peace she felt. If anything, it was a refreshing sight. Despite all what was happening: there was still that.

Lucy was doing well, Porlyusica was content to see. Wendy would be here soon inevitably check on her as well. Porlyusica could let her go from the Infirmary later this afternoon so that the child could prepare for the Royale. Evidently, she was picked for the final team. The thought unsettled Porlyusica, but she had to learn to let certain things go or else she would simply go insane. This was something she had come to terms with not so long after what happened with Rob.

When Porlyusica returned to the Inn, she expected to have some more time to read and did not expect to see her son. Not so soon after their last encounter and how it ended.

“Mother,” he greeted her as he always did. Porlyusica did not know what to expect, but he sat down and she followed his semi-faux casual air. “I spoke with Isley last night. Her connection in Council came fruitful, after all. Apparently, there had been previous reports about the magical activity in Crocus but no one investigated it. It was made a note, but someone from the higher ups in the Council would cancel the investigation. For the past seven years.”

There were several implications to that statement. 

The first was that her son did not know how to talk to people, it seemed, other than her. If he did, then he would be well aware that Isley’s connection in the council was none other than her daughter, Carol, who worked in file management. Archive keeping, whatever the title was. And therefore, had a lot of access to such things. 

The second was there was the significance of the seven years. The Grand Magic Games began seven years ago. She looked at her son, who awaited her response. That gave her some reassurance that he was willing to go past his obvious upset at her from the other night: he would not be here otherwise. Still, they had to discuss That at some point. But. Perhaps that would be saved for later.

“I see,” she said finally. She felt herself frown. “That makes me more uncomfortable. Not just as a healer, but as a mage myself. What about the Games brings such...darkness?”

“That, I do not know. Yet.” Ivan rubbed at his beard and she was struck suddenly with the image of her brother, Godric. Whenever he was deep in thought, he too, would rub at his face. She always thought that Ivan looked at her brother and now, she supposed, he was older than the last time Porlyusica saw Godric but, if she had to imagine an older-looking Godric, Ivan would be a close picture. Not the broken, nose, though. Or his eyes, those were a Dreyar family trait. “Zilla is investigating something. She requested books on runes and is studying as we speak now.”

Porlyusica remembered the day before. The way Makarov had behaved appalled her and in her infirmary, no less. He was suspicious of her, of course. With the warnings they received about the Games beforehand about darkness and a shadow mage in Ivan’s guild would make Makarov suspicious. Porlyusica thought it was a ridiculous idea: the darkness here was more potent than a shadow mage, no matter how strong. She pointed this out to Makarov but he still seemed intent to watch her closely. If only Ivan and Makarov knew how similar they could be but she did not think either man would appreciate the comparison.

But there was more to it than that: any time before, Porlyusica saw that shadow mage of Ivan’s, the young girl was calm, even when her leg was bleeding. She walked and fought as if she was not injured, not until she was halfway towards the stands, back to the Raven’s fold. It was concerning for several reasons but it also showed something else, a defining characteristic. Not much seemed discompose Zilla Claramond. And not in an arrogant way as if everything was below her. Porlyusica compared her more towards Rob than anyone else, able to be above it all but also so grounded, a juxtaposition that seemed fitting for only certain people.

There were other observations as well. When Zilla was in the infirmary with Ivan. She showed more...liveliness, Porlyusica supposed, when she was speaking with Ivan, but still. The girl was composed and neutral in any moment before or after.

The day before, in the infirmary she had seem shakened. Like a wild animal in a cage. She had seen that look in other mages before, normally they woke up when they were healed and were not yet aware they were not in a battle any longer. On Zilla, it looked as if she was being bothered by more than just her guild mate being injured. It certainly did not look like she was reacting towards the Games. It was that reason Porlyusica had let her leave, had leveled a glare of warning at Makarov to let her go.  

Dragneel was always impulsive and it was something Makarov should never had let happen in the first place as a Guild Master. Still, Dragneel seemed pleased enough that Zilla was merely concerned for her guild member, Dragneel had returned to Lucy to support his own guild member. Any animosity towards Zilla that the boy had melted away because he thought she was concerned for her friend. Some of that was true. Makarov seemed reluctant to let it, let Zilla , go. Mavis had been watching her too, but with more open curiosity than the shrewd way Makarov looked at Zilla.

“She seemed...shaken yesterday when I saw her.” Porlyusica pointed out. She watched her son closely for any tells.

“The Games have caused her significant stress.” Ivan relented. He was still stroking his beard still and seemed deep in thought. Porlyusica could see his mind working from where she sat. “I wonder...if bringing her here was the right decision, but I needed her here. Still do. She is smart and knows how to work quietly. I can at least depend on her .” The way he said that, Porlyusica wondered if he was still having issues with Alexei. “As it is, she is doing her own investigations. I thought I should update you, to be on the alert. Day five approaches and I am beginning to suspect that there is some inherently wrong with Games and not just Crocus. I wish I visited the Capital in recent memory, to compare the two experiences. Before and after the games.”

Porlyusica snorted at that. “You’re telling me.” She had thought the same thing the first time Isley mentioned it. A context for the constant crawling all over her skin. At first, she put it to her experiences with being from Edolas and coming here, to Earthland. A place with such high concentrations of magic, of course it would make her feel so uncomfortable. But then Isley stormed her way back into her life and popped that bubble. “It would be easier to figure out what it was if we had that context.”

Her son gave a wry grin. “Spoken like a pair of scientists. Must we continuously attempt to recreate solutions in order to get a theory down?”

“You got it from somewhere, Ivan.” Porlyusica said with utmost fondness. 

Ivan’s smile soon faded from that playful, almost boyish grin to a serious look. “I must make my leave, now, Mother. If you could, ask Goldmine and Bob what they think. I will attempt to rouse Zhang and Babbasamma into some conversation about it to ask them. Zhang is more approachable, at the very least.”

Porlyusica did not even bother to ask about Makarov. He told her and that was most heads up Fairy Tail would get. Ivan did not wait for a long goodbye, merely dipped his way out and disappeared into the crowd of Crocus. Even so early in the morning, the city was bustling. No doubt excited for the festivities the next day would bring.

She sighed and stood, ready to make to her contacts. Surely Bob and Goldmine would notice something. They would also probably be awake. If not, she knew that Brent would be, he was a lively one and would be so glad to assist her into getting contact with Goldmine and the others. He was a helpful boy like that.

Before she could leave once more, the door opened and she saw Laxus. The sight amused her. Of course, he would be here so soon after his father. Though, perhaps it was luck that managed to avoid that confrontation. 

“Good morning, Laxus.” Porlyusica greeted.

He offered her a shy smile, “Mornin’, I just wanted to come by and say. Uh. Well, I’m going to talk to Isley today. But I had a quick question.”

She could almost read Ivan’s  mind, but her grandson’s? That was a mystery to her. “What is it?”

“Why doesn’t she want to see Makarov? Is she...bad news?” Ah, that was it. Porlyusica knew. She knew the answer and it was essentially: Isley did not want to be charged with assault or manslaughter. Which would inevitably happen if left alone with Makarov.  And, in this case, Makarov was the bad news. She promised herself after the divorce that she would not let her own bitterness get in the way with Ivan and Makarov and she would do the same for Laxus. And here Laxus was—stressed about someone who wouldn’t dare lay a finger on him. And she was sure that Isley could use a powerful attack and not truly injure Laxus.

(She wondered if Makarov knew that Laxus, even back then, during the disaster that was Fantasia, would have been able to defeat him if Laxus truly wanted to push himself to those limits.)

“Nothing like that, Laxus.” Porlysica assured. “She just...does not think much of him and it would be easier for her not to see him.”

Laxus easily accepted that answer. Porlyusica held back a loud laugh. Of course, by now, he would so easily accept the idea of someone not wanting to see Makarov. It was almost sad. “Okay. Thanks and um.” He hesitated again and Porlyusica was not known as a patient woman, but she actually was. Every healer needed some semblance of patience, after all. “When we get back to Magnolia...would it be a bother if I visited you sometimes?”

There was something off about that statement. But she kept her face carefully neutral, she did not want to scare him off. But that word rattled her brain. Bother. Why did it seem so off? Why did this muscular young man seem so nervous around his grandmother? Not that she was something not to be slightly intimidated by: she was once a top mage and still had quite the amount of skill, but that was not important. Not at the moment. Bother. What a strange term. Out loud, she said, “That would be fine, Laxus. Not a bother.”

Relief filled his features and he nodded. “Right, then uh. Bye.”

Not as graceful as an exit as her son’s, but amusing nonetheless. Bother . She would have to look into this. Not now, because she had some talks to be had.


The night before, when Flare had been asleep, Zilla snuck out of the room. She had plenty of books now but she needed the dialect of the Runes. She used heavier objects than rocks this time, but did not risk using her magic. Thankfully, her efforts proved somewhat fruitful. Not that she was able to finally get through, but she was able to identify that it was an ancient language of some sort. By the time she returned to the Inn, it was so late it was almost morning. She slipped into the bed as if she never left it and fell asleep for a few short hours.

Flare was a good roommate, Zilla thought, because she woke Zilla up as asked. The pair got breakfast with Nullpudding that day. The shorter man was like glue and wanted some audience for his constant chatter. Zilla once again would need to thank Flare because she was a good enough audience as she began to study up on Runes. They could chatter while she was being busy. In the end, she was not at all bothered by their chatter, but the opposite, as it gave good background for her research.

“Some light reading, Zillla?” Nulpudding asked and she looked from from ancient words and runes to see her guildmate. Flare was picking at what was left of her food now and Nullpudding had cleaned his plate. Some time had passed, then.

“Runes.” Zilla answered. She looked away once more and added, “Nothing that interesting.”

“Runes? Why those?” Nullpudding asked, just as Alexei came down. Zilla gritted her teeth and closed her book and looked towards Flare.

“I like to exercise my mind.” She answered Nullpudding. She turned to Flare. “I am going back to the room to read in peace. Would you like to join me?” Flare nodded. Before they could leave Alexei held a silent hand up. Zilla glared at him. “What do you want, Alexei?”

“You are in a hurry.” And that was strange. His voice was quieter than normal. She continued to glare.

“Anything to be out of your face, Alexei.” She told him and walked off, her magic bringing Flare with her in a makeshift wheelchair once more. By the time she made it back to her room with Flare in tow, her agitation wore off. She locked the door and Flare hummed.

“I think I can walk better today, Zilla. You don’t need to use all your magic on me.” Flare told her softy. “Master Ivan healed me well last night.”

Zilla looked at her. After the mess that was the infirmary yesterday, she wasn’t sure if she should trust her comrade’s words. Then again. Perhaps Zilla was forcing her to spend time with her. It was just. She did not want to be alone, as weak as that sounded. As lonely as that sounded. She sighed, it was still early morning. It had not been that many hours between her...flashback. “I apologize, Flare. You do not have to spend the day with me, I will be reading mostly before I obtain a Rune pen.”

Flare blinked at her then, suddenly. “Oh no! Don’t worry—it’s not that. I just.” She looked down suddenly. “I didn’t want to annoy you.” Her voice was almost a whisper and Zilla swallowed. Zilla wasn’t the issue, here, then. Not in the full scope. She could in her mind's eyes see why Flare would think that. Up until the Games she never made any attempt to bond with any of her guildmates. Not really. She wasn’t sure...how to proceed.

Zilla hummed and crossed her arms over her chest. Master Ivan taught her many things. How to read and how to write. How to fight, how to hone her skills. Magical spells, using swords once she wanted to learn. But he never taught her how to make friends. 

There was one thing that her Mama taught her, though: always be honest.

“You do not annoy me, Flare. Nullpudding can at times but not this morning. I felt rather peaceful, actually.  It was Alexei who bothered me.” She frowned. “He reminds me of someone...from my childhood. It unsettles me. I wanted to leave the moment I saw him and I don’t want him to know about the research as it has to do with our investigation.”

A lightness came over her companion then and Zilla saw her shoulders lessen in tension. A small, yet warm smile painted Flare’s face then. “I can help with runes if you need it.”

Zilla shrugged and handed her a book. “The specific language I’m looking into an ancient one. It has roots in both Fiorian and Boscoan, from a time when the two countries were merged before the Civil War three hundred years ago that created Fiore. I have the Boscan book here. I am...familiar with modern Boscan language, take the Fiore one.”

Flare nodded and took it happily. “Will do!”

Yet another great thing about Flare is that she seemed happy to help. Another was that she did not ask too many questions, even about Ami or even thought to ask her about why Zilla would know Boscan language. She sighed with relief and sat by the windowsill while Flare sat on the bed she used the night before. 

The rest of the morning went by peacefully. Occasionally, the pair would share some new interesting details and Zilla wrote copies of some runes she saw the night before as reference. Flare did not ask where she saw them, but she did take note. She was taking this just as seriously and once again, Zilla felt a rush of relief and gratitude toward the other. According to her clock, it was well into the afternoon by the time Zilla found exactly what she needed to translate the runes. They were more Boscoan in its roots, but with just enough Fiorian to justify their presence in Crocus.

“I found it.” She told Flare and she stood, stretching her muscles and ignored the pops from her back. Perhaps she should not have hunched over by the window. “I need to get a rune pen, I left the one I have at the Guild. I am sure Master Ivan will have a strategy meeting later as well. Perhaps, then, we can celebrate with some food before then.”

Flare stood and Zilla watched to make sure she did not seem to over exert herself. She was satisfied to see she wasn’t, so she called back her shadows to the ground, the wheelchair no longer needed. The pair left the Inn together.

One thing Zilla detested, other than the feeling of Wrongness in the city was the heat. She kept her jacket on. That was always a must. But it did suffocate her as well. She looked over at Flare and felt a stab of jealousy at her red dress. Flare looked not only cool , but also quite relaxed in the dress. How did she find the same shade as her hair? A recurring question, a mystery but perhaps one day, Zilla would ask her when all this was over and they were back at Raven Tail. 

Perhaps, too, when all this was over, Zilla could talk to Ami more. Go on more outings and show Ami and Flare her favorite spots in Fiore. The scenic places were what always go to Zilla as they were not only quiet but full of life. They could have a picnic, all three of them together. Sitting under the blue sky. Ami would probably make fun of her, find humor in the fact that Zilla enjoyed places with fewer people. Flare would laugh and perhaps feel brave enough to join Ami. It was a peaceful day dream. 

It was yet another thing to fight for. A happier future away from this cursed city.

“This store, Zilla.” Flare pointed out. It was a Magic supply shop. Zilla followed Flare and felt her lips quirk upwards at how Flare went right to the hair brushes. Well, it was her magic. Zilla browsed the selection of pens and hummed. She never had to buy one herself before, Master Ivan got the one for her. There were more brands than she expected. She used very basic runes before, once when Master Ivan was teaching her basics of other magics. She only ever used runes to keep others out of her room in case they decided to snoop. 

She reached for a pen and frowned at the price. 500 Jewels? Well, it would be worth it. It seemed to be good for ancient languages, if the package was accurate. She walked over to where Flare was looking between two different hair care products. “You ready?”

“No,” Flare was frowning. “I can’t decide which one to get. What do you think?” Flare showed them to Zilla. One was black and had wider comes while the other was red, but seemed to be have thinner ones. Zilla felt out of her depth. 

“I do not have much experience. I just use a normal comb for my hair.” Zilla shrugged at her.

“Well, your hair is thinner, right?” Flare asked and Zilla nodded. “It’s shiny, too. No offense, but mine is a lot thicker and longer. Maybe the wider comb would help.” Zilla was so clueless, she had no idea how she could possibly be offended. Flare continued to debate this and Zilla watched, her expression lightening a bit. She could imagine Ami here as well, giving input. Ami's hair was always long and thick and she would know more for sure. It was easy to imagine the three of them together, just like they were at that Water park. 

Soon, they paid and went back to the Inn. Flare had stopped at a food truck and got them both some food from it, her recommendation to Zilla on the quality was very earnest. Zilla offered to pay for her food, but Flare had denied it. Their food and other purchases in their hands, they made their way back to the Inn.

On the way back, strangely, Zilla saw Jones again this time with Dreyar the Third in tow. How strange. She took note of it and continued on her way and listened to Flare’s advice on hair upkeep. If she was going to listen to anyone’s opinion on the subject it would be hers. Not Master Ivan’s.

Zilla was right earlier, though, when they returned, they were summoned to Mater Ivan’s room for a strategy meeting. Flare and her both stopped by Zilla’s room to put their purchases away, their food left on the table.

Obra would be the key to their success with his magic and he would target Laxus and Jura mostly. Zilla was to take on stronger members and Master Ivan instructed her not to hesitate to go all out. They were all cautioned to play patiently, though, to the whine on Nullpudding. Master Ivan wanted the other mages to tire each other out and for Raven Tail to have an advantage that way. When the others left, Zilla stayed behind.

“Master Ivan, I do have something to report about yesterday.” She almost forgot to mention this.

He raised an eyebrow at her, “Is this about your rune investigation?”

“Possibly. After I eat, I will continue with that so I will be absent for a few hours." Probably longer, but he didn't need to know that. "However, when I spied on Fairy Tail yesterday...they were talking to someone who wasn’t there. They called that person ‘First’.” At her information, Master Ivan’s eyes widened. It meant something to him, then. What? She had no idea.

“Interesting.” Master Ivan muttered. He rubbed at this beard, “Thank you for letting me know, Zilla.”

She took the dismissal and left on her heel. She would tell him about the Runes before the Battle Royale began. She sighed and put a hand through her hair. Just one more day and then she would be home free. 

She missed her room in Raven Tail quite a bit. And the small amount of decorations she had there. It may have been merely days but it felt like years. She wondered if Ami would find her room charming. She hoped so, it was neat enough and she was quite excited to show Ami the mask she found in Bellum that was from her mother’s culture. A mask for the warriors of legend there. And her sketchbook, which Zilla regretted she did not bring with her. Maybe she could show Flare and Ami her drawings. The only person who has seen them were Master Ivan and he did not appreciate the cartoonish sketches she made of him. He kept some, though, so she was not sure how he truly felt about them. She also quite enjoyed drawing landscapes and creatures she found on her travels throughout Fiore. 

Once more, these were the thoughts that pushed her through the arduous tasks ahead of her.

Flare was practicing some minor spells as she worked on her hair when Zilla entered. Her food was half eaten and Zilla’s was heated and ready for her. Zilla gave Flare a small smile and began to eat as well. She would need the energy.

“When we get back to Raven Tail,” Zilla began after eating some of the meal, “I would like to invite Ami over as well. I can show you both some of my sketches.”

“You draw?” Flare asked. At Zilla’s nod she seemed excited. “That sounds fun! I like pottery a bit! And Ami was really nice the other day, she was showing me some tricks, like how to play skip frog in the water.”

Zilla felt something like a smile at that. “We can...have fun. When we are not busy. I’ll be sure to ask Master Ivan if she could even join, if Ami is interested in that.” Zilla paused. “Though I am unsure if she practices magic, when we were young we…” she bit the inside of her lip. Flare was patient and Zilla let out a breathe. “We were both confined with magic sealing bracelets, so she must be some sort of mage.”

Flare nodded at that, but did not press for questions. “Well, you could always ask her next time we see her.”

Flare seemed happy with that idea and Zilla was as well. Talking about That did not, for once, make her feel as if she was swallowing glass. They continued to eat and Flare began to tell Zilla how where she grew up, she was the only short person. As in, person their size. She came from a village of giants and invited Zilla to join her on a visit back and Zilla nodded. It would be interesting to visit such a place and Zilla easily agreed. An hour passed and with a full stomach, Zilla stood.

 Zilla grabbed the rune book, the pen and turned to Flare. “I will be gone for a bit, do not wait up for me.”

“Alright, oh!” Flare reached into the pocket of her dress. A useful dress indeed. She took out the small Lacrima. “Since I'm here, I won’t need this. Take it.”

Zilla reached for the Lacrima and pocketed it. Perhaps she could find Ami and give it to her then, an easy way to keep in touch. “Alright, thank you.”

“No, thank you .” Flare smiled at her and Zilla nodded back. She didn’t quite smile, but she tried. Rune pen in one hand and book in another, she left the room into her shadows. She made her way towards the Tunnel, but stopped for a quick snack to have while she worked. It would take a long time and she could never quite resist the temptation of a good apple.

Time seemed to go by slowly. She frowned as she continued to experiment with runes and tried to use the book to help her interpret them. When the sky got darker, she worked in the darkness and used the communicator Lacrima for light. 

The fact it was night did not bother her. She tended to work better in the darkness, anyway. She just needed to crack this code and see where the Tunnel went and who was behind and then she could report to Master Ivan. He would know what to do with the information, he always did.

She eventually ate her apple threw the core at the barrier, but nothing happened except it hit her in the head. At least no one was here to see that. It was time for a break. So, she sat up straight and breathed in and out once more. It always seemed to do the trick, even when she was a child. With renewed focus, she went back into the Rune research and kept the light on her book and on the various seals of the Runes that had begun to expose themselves the more she attacked it. Not as hard as last time, not with her pure magical energy, but some shadow tendril love taps, as she called them.

It appeared that they covered the door, but that the sign and the chainlinks were not apart of it. When she finally made a breakthrough on the translations and got down to the properties it appeared that they were made to keep people out as well as hold up an illusion, no matter how far away the caster was. There was also a hint of memory magic triggers in order to disorient a person who threatened the borders, Zilla thought with increasing frustration, worked. Whoever did it was going right on Zilla’s list of people she would gladly injure. 

It was complex and would be hard to rearrange completely. She was not nearly skilled enough with that, but she figured she could attempt to make it so the runes did not identify her as an outsider. That way, she could get in and out easier. She would leave the rest to Master Ivan and see if he could find someone to do a better job. Or do it himself.

She readied her pen and began to work. The night ticked on by as she did so and in a very distant way, she thought it may be a bad idea to not sleep the night before a Battle Royale but on the other hand...she was never going to go all out. Even with Master Ivan’s so-called permission. It would be nice if they got above Fairy Tail but there was an entire team of people and she did would do what needed to be done. For the moment, what needed to be done was this. It would be a slight little payback for making her participate in the Games in the first place. What would Master Ivan do? Ground her?

(It would be the second time he would do such a thing. But she was an adult now. Could he ground her?)

Just as dawn broke and created a dark blue sky, her hard work paid off. She tested the barrier with just a foot and wiggled it, it shifted to allow her entry. Zilla smirked. Finally! I have something to show for. She picked up her book and rune pen, she sent the book back to her room and the pen in her pocket. 

Fide was secure on her, tucked into its sheath and tied around her, and with no time left to lose: she entered the tunnel completely. There was a good feeling to a job well done and a nice payoff. Even if she had no idea just what or who she was going to encounter here. 

(The thought should probably make her hesitate, but she did enough hesitation the past few days. It was time to do it the Zilla Claramond Way.)

Her eyes widened as the tunnel did not seem at all like an underground tunnel. It looked more like a hallway in some building. The floors were metal and the walls as well, with dim lights lighting the corridor. It gave enough light so she could see but not enough for her to examine completely. Her hand touched the cool metal and it thrummed under hand. As if there was a beating heart inside of the walls. Half of her told her to go back, but she was already in this deep. She had a feeling about this place. There would be no way she could go back now, at least that's what the other half of her said to do. So, she continued on.

She unsheathed Fide just in case and mentally mapped out the place as she walked deeper in. It was definitely going down somewhere . She was definitely underground, the air felt cool against her face. There was no wind anywhere. The air had an almost stale taste to it when she breathed. There was also a heavy feeling of magic. It was thick, too, like it was concentrated magical energy. The deeper she walked, the thicker it became. Like humidity in the Summertime.

It wasn’t a steep walk downwards, but enough of a shift that she could feel it. The walls and ceiling grew higher and the light grew brighter the more she walked. Her footsteps were quiet as she made her way, her breathing was shallow, as she only breathed through her nose. She kept a close ear out for anything behind her as she walked, prepared for anything. Her stomach tightened as she ventured in and so too, did the grip where she held Fide. There was something unnatural about this, especially because in her mind’s eyes as she trekked through, this place was going under the arena. What could that possibly do? What could be under the arena? Why was this place so...empty? Almost devoid of life. Just like the area around the entrance. It felt stilted  to her and it continued to do so the more of it she saw. Her skin crawled. It had such heavy security to just get in, yet she had not seen anyone. It was either arrogance or stupidity that kept the security in the halls so light. Considering how tight lipped this entire operation was and how complex the runes were (she couldn't break them, just edit them) she had a sinking feeling it was arrogance. That could either be a good or bad thing depending on who she was dealing with.

There were no signs of anything, directions or anything that gave this place an identity. No sigils, flags or anything—just metal walls.

She heard a cough and flinched. Zilla moved against the wall as close to it as she could get and the metal was warmer now than at the entrance. She readied her sword and turned, looking for the source. It came around a corner to her left. She listened up against the wall as she heard someone breathe, their breathing pattern was off, though. There was a stutter too it. As if they were struggling to do the most basic instinct of every living thing. I’ve been there, she thought bitterly. She listened more and pondered. It could be a person with a weak set of lungs. Or an injured person. She took a deep breath and with her sword drawn, turned the corner. 

Zilla almost dropped her sword at the sight of the person, who was bleeding against the wall and had a trail of blood leading him right to where he was. With good reason, too. He looked close to death than she would have thought, considering he seemed healthier earlier in the day. The bright hair, always braided looked so messy. Choppy and uneven. His eyes were dull and for once, did not look so cold. They were too weak to be cold at the moment. He was glaring up at her though and the sight of stubble on his face threw her off—he always shaved, was always clean shaven and neat. The mess of his person made her feel more uncomfortable than the tunnel did.“Grund ?”

“Zilla.” His voice was raspy. Not as smooth as it normally was. “They got me.”

Zilla sheathed her sword. Grund was never a threat to her and was especially less so in this state. She bent down and grabbed at his shoulder, though her touch was light, he flinched at it. As if her very touch caused him pain. He was clutching his stomach and she noted marks on his neck, where it was all red. He was only wearing pants and she could see that he had burn marks almost everywhere, and cuts in various places. Shallow, but enough to bleed. His neck was where most of the damage was. “Who? Who are they and what—I saw you today?”

He shook his head and his glare hardened. “That wasn’t me, it was this...person. Who captured me the Second night we were here.” His voice was quiet and weak. “They know you’re in the city.”

Well that wasn’t helping. But neither was letting him die. No matter how much she hated him. That was really annoying for her. Master Ivan would be upset if he died and he would blame Zilla for letting her hatred of him get to her. Though, looking at how beaten he was, she felt a stab of empathy for him. Not even she would do this. The most damage she would do is stab his leg or cut his hair—the hair was messed with, though.“We need to get out of here.”

“I don’t know what they’re planning.” Grund said with a shake of his head. He was getting weaker, his voice and his breathing. She looked down to where he came, another winding hallway. He must have escaped his captures and they haven’t noticed yet. Zilla swallowed.

“Focus on breathing.” She ordered him. She hated this, hated how she had to save Grund of all people. But sometimes there were bigger problems at hand. She moved and wrapped his arm around her shoulders and picked up him, throwing him over her shoulders. She didn’t know where to go. Her instinct said Master Ivan, to keep it close to the chest. But he would be asleep and she didn’t feel like explaining everything to him, not yet. It was also possible he would cause something of a scene that he was capable of. Zilla was also not sure how much he could do, considering Grund’s current state. She needed an expert. Someone who wouldn’t make her start from the very beginning.

Unwillingly, an image came in her mind. An offering that was made all the way back to Day One. And she would be able to be discreet. Hopefully not ask too many questions as Master Ivan would. Zilla stepped into the shadows, running as fast she could towards the infirmary now that the blockage was no longer there. She only hoped Porlyusica Stryne would be there.

Chapter Text

Gaël Cœucruz was many things. He was talented at design, specifically for battle armors. He was a requip mage and loved only one person more than his precious bow and arrow. He was rich because of his company, he was smart, cunning and dressed sharply. One thing he wasn’t? Forgiving of incompetence. And people knew this. His Master knew this and celebrated it because it made his Master’s job easier. His fellow Hessians knew this and they did their best to work up to his standards. The first generation Hessians rarely let him down, they were comrades after all. Have been for years, since the genesis of their organization. Lennox was thankfully here as well and that meant that he knew he had at least one other competent person around. Drew. Well, did Drew really count as a person at this point? Not that he held it against his dear friend. He appreciated Drew, after all. He was art in motion whenever he fought.

The second generation? They were barely a step up from the drivel in the camps. Some of them were more competent than others. Drew’s protege was good at what she did. Almost too good. The Heir was a step up as well, but considering his blood he merely fulfilled the role that was expected of him. Drew's protege stood as more of an aspiration they should reach too, or else.

So when he checked on the Raven they had captured to find him missing. When he checked the barrier and noticed that someone had tinkered at it, an apple core by the tunnel, was he happy? No. He was furious . And he let it be known. The moment he saw that worthless Bo he grabbed him by the neck and threw him against one of the metal walls.

“What is wrong with you? Do you have a brain in that skull of yours? Answer me, boy.” He lightened the grip on the young man’s neck so he could speak. freely.

“Wh-what are you talking about?” The whelp asked.

Anger clawed at him and he slammed Bo’s head against the wall once more. “You IDIOT! Did I not tell you to watch over the Raven? He’s gone and someone has infiltrated us! He’s not even a magic user you complete imbecile! Are you that weak? Do you realize the damage you have caused?”’

Bo’s arms scratched at Gaël's arms, a weak attempt to lessen the pressure on his neck. Gaël let go of him and let him fall to the floor where Gaël kicked the idiot’s side with his boot. He was suddenly glad he wore steel toed boots today. “Are you not a Hessian with pride? Stand up, boy!”

Bo stood and he looked over. His hand was on his throat where he rubbed it and in between breathes he answers, “It was Riley’s job last night. I was busy helping—”

“I don’t care what you were doing!” Gaël interrupted. He clenched and unclenched his fist. He had half a mind to poke holes in this boy’s body with his arrows, but he relented. Though he was barley a step up from the drivel, he was a step up. A Hessian. Gaël rubbed at his temples, thinking quickly at what to do. “Summon the others that are here. I’ll get the ones in other places. We have a change of plans today.”

Thankfully, the boy did not question him. He walked briskly away towards the other end of the hallway. The moment he was gone, Gaël punched the metal wall, leaving a dent there. He was going to find out who dared to get past the Runes and he was going to personally morph them into Icebergian Cheese and deliver the holey masterpiece to his Master.

Speaking of, the Master should be alerted of this as well. And there was the one thing he loved more than his bow and arrows: his Master. He would and has killed for the man. He would gladly do it some more, anything and everything in the name of his Master. To let him reach the heights of his glory and of freedom. The thoughts of his Master soothed Gaël and he made his way towards his Rooms in the Underground. He could reign in aggression for now because, with a smirk, he recalled with a change of plans came a way to let out his aggression.


If Zilla believed in such a thing called luck, she would think she was lucky. The moment she appeared in the infirmary with a close-to-death Rabastan Grund, Porlyusica Stryne was there. She was alone too, it seemed Heartfilia was discharged at the very least. Zilla felt a strange twinge of relief at that revelation because she forgot that there could be Fairies here when she rushed over here. An oversight on her part. Porlyusica dropped the bandages she was holding when Zilla appeared though and seemed startled. Zilla grimaced.

“Sorry for the intrusion, but I need your help.” Zilla told her and Porlyusica seemed dutiful as ever and wiped her surprise off. She instructed Zilla to put Grund on one of the beds and Zilla did so. Perhaps a little roughly, for which she got a quick glare from the healer. Perhaps she should continue to put her distaste for the man aside. “This is Rabastan Grund.”

“I know who he is.” Porlyusica said, a frown on her face. Grund's breathe was shallow as Porlyusica dutifully began her work. “I am surprised to see him here and in this state.”

Zilla was more concerned with one thing. If Grund was here, then who was Alexei? There was an imposter in their mix and had been for days . There was also the question of who ‘they’ were and why they would kidnap Grund. She wanted to say Fairy Tail but with a glance at his injuries, she did not think anyone in Fairy Tail would be capable of this damage. All for Games, at least. They were destructive crew, but did not seem overly cruel to Zilla. She did not get that vibe from them and the tunnel couldn’t be anything of their making. Sabertooth, perhaps, but she did not think that they were capable of this either. What could they benefit from infiltrating Raven Tail? They were an arrogant crew, not sneaky at all with their proud smirks and shows of power. If they wanted to show Raven Tail their power they would have done so openly for viewers to witness, just as Orland had done to Heartfilia. Zilla ruled them out, as well. 

Zilla took a seat and put her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands, grabbing at her hair. There were still so many unanswered questions to consider and she did not like how one answer brought up so much.

She took a few calming breaths as Porlyusica worked. Who would attack someone who didn’t use magic? Why go through with disguising someone in Raven Tail of all places? At least she knew how Alexei used magic in the fight against Laxus Dreyar. It wasn’t even Rabastan Grund. What good would getting information out of Grund even be? Unless it was someone specifically after someone in Raven Tail. Master Ivan probably did have some enemies out there but she shook that thought away. This was their first year in the Games as well as being an official guild, and the tunnel lead to under the arena, she was sure of that. She had to go back, but this time not alone now that she knew there was a bigger threat. Zilla would get chewed out for going alone in the first place, she knew. Another reason not to go to Master Ivan for healing, she did not feel like a lecture at the moment. She swallowed the lump in her throat.

“He is stable.” Porlyusica’s voice cut through her thoughts and made her flinch. She looked up and saw the older woman was frowning at her. Zilla fidgeted under the intense look. “Mind explaining what he is doing here? I have a fear he is somehow connected to my son.”

Zilla figured she didn’t have much to lose at this point. She wished that the healer wouldn’t ask questions before but it seemed Zilla was wrong in that thinking. It was annoying as it was typical. Perhaps she was not so lucky and therefore—she shouldn’t believe in luck. That snake ate itself easily. “He is in the guild, the second-in-command. He handles all the daily business Master Ivan doesn’t care to. I don’t really have much care for him, but I couldn’t let him die either. He’s arrogant and cruel.”

“What happened?” The woman asked.

Zilla debated where to begin. In the end, her thoughts spilled into her voice, no longer was there a heavy wall between them.

“He was Alexei for the first two days of the Games. He was supposed to be using technology inspired from Edolas to have him participate in the games. You know, magic powered objects since he can’t use magic. Obviously, magic was used during Alexei’s battle again Laxus Dreyar. We were all thrown by that, but Alexei was tight lipped on it. Even to Master Ivan. I’ve been...investigating since Day One about the Magic here. It feels wrong and there was something suspicious going on. I suspected Fairy Tail, since they were cheating as well. But at least we aren’t harboring a slavemaster .” Zilla paused and sighed. She needed to stay on track. “My investigations lead me this tunnel, near the arena. I couldn’t get through it at first because of Runes and. I’ve been taught basic runes, but Master Ivan got me books and yesterday I got a Rune pen to aide me. I worked on it all last night. I got past through a tunnel to this corridor. There were different paths, but I knew it was bringing me to somewhere under the arena. There were no signs to identify who was behind it all. That’s where I found Grund. He told me they’ve had him since at least the night of Day two.”

“I have several questions.” Porlyusica said and this time, she sat down on one of the unoccupied beds. “I suppose I will start at the beginning. What do you mean Grund doesn’t have magic? When I knew him, he was an Earth mage of Fairy Tail. He wanted to be S-Class, though I advised Makarov against it. I didn’t think he had the temperament or the skills to be one.”

This confused Zilla. It must have shown on her face because Porlyusica raised an eyebrow. Zilla swallowed and spoke slowly. “The Lacrima surgery? The reason Master Ivan was excommunicated from Fairy Tail? Grund wanted Master Ivan to do what he did for Laxus, but he didn’t get a dragon lacrima and his body rejected it. To save his life, Master Ivan had to take the Lacrima out but it cost Grund his ability to use magic. That’s why Makarov excommunicated both of them? It’s in Master Ivan’s research notes.”

There was a steep shift in the air and the blankets that Porlyusica was gripping ripped. Zilla blinked as several objects in the air began to move and the wind blew. Magic was thick in the air and Zilla grew tense as it rippled. Bandages flew, the curtains and sheets in the area all struggled to move, to get out from the beds. Several of the blankets had, Zilla noted. She grew nervous with this magical energy, air magic. Would Porlyusica attack her?

Just as quickly as the older woman lost control, she regained it and breathed out. Zilla did what she did best: stayed quiet and watched the other carefully. Her posture was stiff as she regarded the woman warily. “Did...Grund reveal the identity of his captor?” Porlyusica spoke through her teeth as she asked the question.

Zilla shook her head. “ Captors . He kept mentioned a ‘they’. He told me...they know I’m here. Here as in where , I was not sure if he meant the tunnel or the Games in general. Which would be strange to mention because everyone in Fiore knows who I am now and where I am. As for the they, I do not know. I do not even know who it could be—nothing that is in the realm of possibility to me. My only known connection is Master Ivan.”

She crossed her arms. She was uncomfortable with that fact that so many people knew where she was, but she was needed here. It seemed to be a good thing when all was said and done that she came. Even if she hated it and protested every second of it. 

There was an impossible, disaster scenario of who they could be but she did not want to touch that part of her mind. It was impossible though. The one place untouched by Them would always be Fiore. Her Mama was so sure of it and so was Zilla. Every slave knew it, the Kingdom of Flowers, the place the master of shadows did not touch, where the blossoms welcome you . It was referenced in so many songs. The one phrase that kept her comfort even on the worst of days. It was why this place was a safe haven on Earthland for her. She was no sure why it was true, but it was. She never wanted to investigate the reasoning too deeply. It seemed dangerous too. “No one apprehended me on my way out. I used my shadows to get here quickly and discreetly, but. The entire situation unsettles me.”

“As it should.” Porlyusica commented. She still spoke slowly, as if trying to regain some sense of control. So, Zilla continued with her words. With her thoughts. She was talkative here in the Capital, Master Ivan was right on that a few days ago.

“If it has something to do with the Games, then who knows how far this can go. It could go back to the Royal Family itself. If not that then the organizers of the Games which is a fair few important people in the Fioran government. This doesn’t sit well with me. It must be something...archaic there. But for what purposes?”

“What indeed.” Porlyusica seemed calmer now as she crossed her arms. “It does beg the question: where do we report?”

Zilla shook her head. “It has to do with mages, so my first instinct would be the Council. But what do we even tell them? There’s a tunnel.” She shot a look at Grund. “He is useless as he is the moment.”

“But still alive and will be for questioning when the opportunity arises.” Porlyusica said. Her eyes narrowed. “I have a lot of questions for him. And others.” Zilla watched as Porlyusica moved around and she went into a little nook in the infirmary and came back with some apple sauce and a granola bar and held them out for Zilla. “Eat these, you look tired.”

Zilla took them and opened the apple sauce. She didn’t bother with a spoon and drank it from the container, gulping it. She didn’t realize how hungry she was until she did just that. Though she may look exhausted, she felt anything but. Her senses her all on alert, her mind was racing. The possibilities of answers that tunnel held felt off to her. She rubbed at her eyes before she opened the granola bar and chewed on it. Halfway through a chew, she remembered her manners and swallowed. “Thank you.”

Porlyusica was deep in thought and merely waved a hand at her. “It is no issue. I’m a healer.” The two continued to sit in silence, the older woman in thought and Zilla did her best to concentrate on eating. She would need this energy. 

When Zilla finished eating, she spoke once more, “We need to keep this silent, at least for now. I should go back to the tunnel today, perhaps Flare will join me. Or Master Ivan. I really need to mention this to Master Ivan. And take care of the imposter. A lot to do, but there are many hours in a day. I need to work quickly, though, because I am sure they will soon notice their captive is missing.” Just then, Zilla stood up and glanced at the clock. The games would be starting in twenty minutes. She needed to change her blood stained clothes and go to the Arena. “I have to go get ready for the games! I forgot!”

Porlyusica seemed to have forgotten as well, as busy as they were because she blinked before she frowned. “I will keep Grund’s condition to myself, but we need a better plan.”

Zilla shrugged and something occurred to her. She pulled out one of the Lacrima crystals and handed it to Porlyusica. “I have its twin, we can keep in touch that way. Once the Games begin, alert Master Ivan all that I’ve told you today about the Tunnel, Grund’s condition and about the Arena. I’ll take care of the imposter during the Battle Royale and perhaps that could give us more answers. I will record it for you.”

Prolyusica took the lacrima and gave her a heavy frown. “This is a risky plan, Zilla. I don’t like it.”

“Maybe so. But it’s the best we have at the moment. I can take care of myself, but as it is, we are in a bad position.” Zilla told her. She knew it wasn’t the best plan in the world but it was what they had to work with. 

“I will tell my old friends as well, Bob and Goldmine.” Porlyusica said. “They need to watch their guild members.”

Zilla nodded. “I understand. I will contain the imposter situation to Raven Tail.” She bit her lip. She was suddenly nervous about all of this. At least Flare will be on the outside of it. And Ami would be safe. Speaking of. “Also, there is a woman around my age, with long green hair. Her name is Ami Beron. She will probably be watching the games, supporting Raven Tail, and...if you can, keep an eye out for her? I know it’s vague, but if it helps she normally dons a clock and pants. She is innocent in all this.”

Porlyusica raised an eyebrow. “A friend?”

“One of my first friends.” Zilla confirmed. She let out a sigh and brushed her hand in her hair again. “This is a messed up situation.”

Porlyusica gave a wry grin. “You think that and do not even know it’s full scale. Not yet at least.” She looked back towards Grund, her grin falling more into a glare. “I will need to speak to my son about many things.”

Zilla blinked. She was beginning to think there was more to this woman’s little loss of control earlier. Even if she gained it back just as quickly. As it was, Zilla had places she needed to be and quickly. “Thank you, Ms. Stryne. For your help.”

“It is what I can do.” The older woman nodded. Zilla turned to leave but before she could sink into the shadows, Porlyusica grabbed her sleeve and Zilla turned her head to look at her again. Her eyes met the steely red gaze of Porlyusica and she stilled. “Good luck out there, Zilla. Be careful.”

“I will.” She promised. Once the healer let go of her sleeve, Zilla sunk into the shadows. 

In no time at all, she made her way towards the Inn. By the time she got there, she was not surprised to see Flare was absent but she was surprised to see that the book was gone. Interesting. She quickly changed out of her clothes and put on her sturdier cargo pants and steel toed boots in exchange for her regular ones. She placed a tank top on and grabbed her secondary black jacket, the one with more pockets. The other one still had blood on it. She placed her belt over her pants and hooked her sheathe with Fide onto it. After making sure she had the Lacrima Crystal, she left.

Her team was waiting for her in the Arena and she felt unsettled the moment she arose from the shadows. The other guilds were here, all ready to be transported around Crocus where the Games dropped them off. She walked quickly towards Raven Tail and saw the thunderous expression on Master Ivan.

“And where have you been? You’re late.” Master Ivan chided her immediately.

She didn’t look at Alexei, whoever that was, as she shrugged. “Overslept, my apologies.” Flare said nothing and Zilla was grateful. Ivan leveled her with a glare and she stared blankly back at him. She couldn’t truly say anything with an interloper in the mix but that was the benefit of a trusted third party: Porlyusica could. That would be what brought her through this, despite how tightly wound she felt.

“When this day is over, we will need to have a long talk.” Master Ivan told her. His voice was stern and held a fierceness to it. Apparently, he was no longer amused by her subtle changes during the Games. Oh boy, you don’t even know about the Tunnel yet , Zilla thought.

She merely nodded and looked past him, where Flare was. Her cheek was still bandaged but she was standing strong. She looked worried, but Zilla wasn’t sure if that was because she was nervous for the day or Alexei’s proximity.

A thought occurred to her then. The bruises Flare had from the other day. Anger welled deep in her chest because those were not from Grund. They were from the person impersonating him. While it was true they were doing a good job at being him, it made her angrier than ever because someone else had invaded Flare’s space. It was a different, newly hated person. While she was thankful that Ivan had healed the bruises and had made a promise to reign Grund in finally, it was obvious those efforts would be fruitful now. 

Because this imposter seemed to get off on hurting people, if their arrogance over Flare was anything to go by. She leveled them with a strong glare. She couldn’t wait to get her shadows wrapped around them and pull them apart. One piece of armor at a time. It will be a slowburn battle, then. She looked away from them.

She walked past Ivan, whose glare followed her, but at least Alexei was no longer looking at her, and went in front of Flare. “How did you sleep?”

Flare nodded and struggled for a smile. “Fine.” In a lower tone and her head closer to Zilla, she said, “You didn’t come back last night.”

Zilla shrugged and rubbed the back of her neck. It was one of those nervous ticks that Ivan had tried and apparently, failed to train out of Zilla. “Sorry. I was...held up.”

“Are you alright?” Flare looked concerned and Zilla waved it off.

“Still battle ready.” She looked around them. Other guilds were here and it was not the time, but still, Zilla could feel her anxiety breeding like bunnies in her stomach. She swallowed and nodded back at Flare. She was not sure who she was trying to convince right now. She was a bad actress. “You’ll find out soon enough. Stick close to Master Ivan, alright?”

Flare nodded at her. She had a look of concentration on her face, as if she was in the middle of a debate over something. Suddenly, just like a few days ago, Flare moved quickly into Zilla’s space and hugged her tightly. “Good luck out there, Zilla. Knock ‘em dead.”

Zilla froze for a moment, but she wrapped her arms around Flare as well. The warm touch was still something unfamiliar to her. Foreign. She breathed out and in another unfamiliar way, she felt some of her tension ebb away at Flare’s insistence on invading her personal space. To think, a week ago she would not have dared to do this. No one would. Not really. Zilla held onto that peaceful feeling. “I will do my best.”

Flare broke away and gave her an encouraging smile. Zilla nodded back and the pumpkin announcer came up on the screen, causing everyone's attention to turn. “Welcome to Day Five and the Final Fay of the x791 Grand Magic Games! Teams, get into your circles and audience, get ready! It’s time for the Battle Royale!”

The rules were set. Every guild would fight each other the moment they encountered one another. Each time a member of the guild is unconscious or deemed unable to fight, the other team gets a point. If the team leader falls, it’s five points. At that, Zilla smirked. Alexei, whoever they were, was the Team Leader. When she defeated them, does Raven Tail get five points or lose five points? Oh well. It’s not like she ever cared for the Games and she especially didn’t now.

Zilla let go of Flare and walked into the circle of light for Team Raven Tail’s transport. She adjusted the strap of her sword and stood in between Obra and Nullpudding.

“Ready?” Nullpudding asked them all. He seemed excited for the battle. But then, so was Zilla. For the first time in the Games. On the first day, she was reluctant to fight and it only seemed fitting that it took until the last day for her to be ready.

Zilla looked squarely ahead, her face for once not blank. She was smirking. “Yes, I feel adequately prepared for the battles to come.”

Now we’re talking, Shadow Queen.”

See? She didn’t feel annoyed at Nullpudding. He gave her the right outlet at times.