Master Precht used to always talk about the principle of redemption. “A guild isn’t about first chances, but about the second.” It was something Makarov took to heart when he became the third master of Fairy Tail.
Makarov did not care about one’s background, only their willingness to devote themselves to the guild and to their own future. Perhaps it meant that he took in his share of orphans and mages of the weaker variety, but children had the most future to look forward to. He might have a rambunctious guild on his hands, but it was one full of life that he hoped would make the founder and first master proud.
However, like in all things, Makarov learned there had to be a balance. Second chances came in plenty, but the third and the fourth could be thin ice. There were people out there that meant ill, who wanted nothing but selfish gain or destruction, and as a master, it was his duty to protect the guild members from danger within their walls. He would not grant a shot at redemption at the cost of damning those trusting him to protect them.
It was for this reason that he did not trust Acnologia.
At first, it was all in the scope of a guildmaster protecting his charges from preying outsiders. The mysterious doctor—whether in truth or cover alone—had already associated himself with Natsu and Laxus. Natsu’s case, with disappearing in the woods only to be returned the next morning, was suspicious but not unreasonable, but followed by Natsu’s variable mood, and the fact that Laxus recognized the man with some level of emotion that superseded any normal encounter, made the ordeal concerning.
Aside from mood, Natsu seemed fine after the encounter, and even then, the kid began to return back to normal after long. He said nothing to the contrary, and Natsu was an honest kid, if not overly so. Laxus, on the other hand, was tightlipped about the man, though he defended him if Makarov showed his hand in being suspicious.
Laxus was not the talkative type he had been as a child, so he was aloof on many things, but not the type to deny information altogether—unless it pertained to that day, many years ago. What little Makarov had known, back when it had been fresh and Laxus managed to tell him some things between the trauma, was that there had been a man who called himself a doctor that helped him. Nothing more than that.
The pieces were sliding together quite ominously.
It was a shame. Laxus had been young—too young—at the time of the incident that resulted in his father’s death. It was not surprising that being so young, his grandson could not see the obvious implications of the stranger’s involvement in correlation with the death of Ivan. Makarov had hoped, now that he was older, that Laxus would put two and two together, and that he would see the merit in sharing that information with his grandfather, especially since it was quickly becoming guild business. Alas, the boy was stuck in his own ways, and unwilling to let Makarov in. It was no matter to Makarov—Laxus could do what he wished—but it was disappointing all the same.
For a while, the issue seemed moot anyway. As much as Ivan was a troublesome kid, his murder still brought Makarov sorrow, but he could not waste effort in investigation without neglecting his charges. Though Acnologia had briefly crossed paths with Fairy Tail again, he was gone just as quickly. It was enough to be vigilant should he ever return, but not enough to make a case against him.
Then he did come back. Looking to join Fairy Tail, no less. Makarov had no qualms about strangers looking to join the guild, but Acnologia’s brushing history with his kids made things more complicated.
More complicated, still, was when Makarov entered the guild hall that day, it wasn’t just the fact that the prospective guild member was the one elusive man that was becoming his bane—it was also the fact that two of the new kids were situated next to him at complete ease.
Wendy, Rogue, and Gajeel were a trio of newcomers that were either siblings, or merely behaved as them. They were good kids, if also the usual brand of chaotic, but they got along with the guild well, especially with Natsu and Lisanna. They weren’t the most sociable, but lonely kids either were or they weren’t. So, it was surprising that the two younger ones, who were more reserved, were so comfortable with the strange man. Rogue was even in his lap like it was a natural thing.
They must have met previously, which meant that Acnologia had been in Magnolia for a while without him noticing. It was disconcerting.
Still, Makarov was a fair man, and he needed to be smart about this. Unless something explicitly came up, he couldn’t act upon it, so it was best for him not to give himself away so early. He smiled and began the process as he normally would, but perhaps with more pointed questions. The man would never know, however.
“So, you’re looking to join Fairy Tail, eh? You’re a mage?” he asked. He couldn’t pick up any magic signature from the man, a fact that was suspicious in this setting. If there was something Makarov couldn’t detect, then he wanted to know.
“I am.” Acnologia raised his hand and a swirl of air floated around it innocuously. “Air magic, mostly.”
Air magic? It was rare, nowadays, because it lacked the flashiness that most youngsters sought in magic. Allegedly, there were more uses for it back in the day, but it was something lost to time, for the most part. Having Wendy now was rare enough, though the child called it something different, like sky magic. (The new children also aligned themselves, off-handedly, with the same so-called “dragon slayer magic” as Natsu claimed; Makarov still wasn’t sure if it was a legitimate yet esoteric magic, or merely a child’s fantasy of such.)
Makarov took the precepts of air magic and decided to ask further. “Air magic, eh? Oh, and you’re a…doctor? Know healing magic, do you?”
The last part was a joke, his attempt at misdirection. There were many magical remedies, but healing magic as a caster type was virtually unheard of. So, it was shocking when, with a completely straight face, Acnologia responded, “Yes.”
Was the man trying to pull something, or was he serious when he claimed to practice a lost art? Was that why both his magic and his countenance was so hard to place? Acnologia was by far a bizarre looking man, with tattoos up his arms and on his face, even in lieu of eyebrows, and slitted eyes that were perpetually sharp. He looked more like a vagabond warrior than a doctor.
Makarov had nearly forgotten that the two children were still there until Rogue spoke up, still nestled into Acnologia’s cloak. “He knows medicine, too,” he brought up shyly. “And it didn’t taste terrible.”
“Ah, does he now?” he responded to Rogue kindly. The insight was interesting. It confirmed that the man had prior experience with some of his guild members, and it also gave credence to the claim Makarov still found absurd, but now increasingly possible. “Did Acnologia help you out too, lad?”
The child nodded. “Yeah. When I was sick.”
Rogue had never been sick for as long as he was in the guild. Makarov had not considered that the three children had experience with the doctor beforehand until now, but it was making sense. Factors he hadn’t considered were now sliding together into full view.
“Ac-nii makes really good stew, too,” Wendy brought up. “Bone broth is also good medicine, but it’s yummy.”
Random though it was, what Wendy said confirmed his suspicions: Acnologia wasn’t just involved with these kids, but actively so. Makarov had guessed the three were siblings of sorts, mostly due to mannerisms, but Rogue and Gajeel looked largely similar. Wendy was the odd one out, but at calling Acnologia her brother, Makarov could believe the resemblance, though distantly.
Perhaps Makarov had been overly paranoid. Gajeel had mentioned, once, that it was not he who looked after the younger ones. Anyone who would care for children with this level of comfort was not typically the wild sort.
“Are you Wendy’s and Rogue’s caretaker I’ve been hearing about?” he asked, wanting confirmation.
“Yes.” Acnologia seemed to loosen at this turn of conversation, a small yet genuine smile easing into his otherwise harsh features. “Gajeel and Natsu too. And Happy and Charle for that matter.”
He thought he was finally on top of things, but there were more surprises to be had. “Natsu and Happy?” Makarov knew the two were intent on making their own house out somewhere. Based on the fact that they were still well, fed, and hygienic, Makarov had assumed they were successful. He had considered the possibility that they abandoned their project altogether.
Acnologia remained impassive at this, despite Natsu and Happy not previously being his charges. “They have a room upstairs, so it counts.”
“He snores as loud as Gajeel does,” Rogue supplied.
“It’s true,” the older man added easily to the child’s input.
It was all bizarre, and Makarov still wasn’t sure what the implications were, but it was becoming increasingly apparent that this strange man cared deeply for these children. That, he could respect.
So, Makarov laughed, feeling the tension begin to ebb away. “Sounds like them, alright.” There was one more test, however, just to be sure. “Anyway, Acnologia, was it? Why do you want to join Fairy Tail?”
Acnologia only paused a brief moment. It was a candid moment of thought, not previously considered, but it was quick enough to be an easy answer. “The kids like it here.”
He was a still a lurking question, but if what he said was true, then he was looking towards the future. “Welcome to Fairy Tail!”
Makarov hoped he wouldn’t regret it.
There were no major incidents upon allowing Acnologia to join the guild. In fact, the man was only at the guild to take a job or to speak to the kids. Or, more curiously, to inquire people about the location of a fifth—another dragon slayer.
Makarov was beginning to wonder if there truly was something about this designation of magic that he needed to know. It was something that was climbing to the top of his list of things to investigate, but Acnologia managed to once again top the list come December—for two reasons.
One, upon Gildarts’ return, he and Acnologia got into something of a brawl. This wouldn’t have been anything special, for Gildarts would fight anything, except for the fact that Acnologia, according to Enno, won. Which is to say, he took a hit from Gildarts like it was from an untrained child.
Two, Laxus disappeared for an entire week before the S-Class trials. It wasn’t abnormal, really, but he wasn’t at the dorms and he wasn’t on a job. He just vanished, until the day of the trial came. Makarov wouldn’t have been any wiser on the matter had it not been for passing comments made between Laxus and the dragon slayer children upon his return, indicating a familiarity with the training he apparently made beforehand. The conclusion was mildly perturbing: Laxus, his aloof grandchild, had spent the week with Acnologia. He might have even trained with him.
It was all baffling, and it urged Makarov to once and for all settle the matter of Ivan’s death. He doubted Laxus knew, else he might have never associated himself with the air mage. Makarov couldn’t help but to fear, now, that if Laxus were to find out, he would never forgive him for letting Acnologia into the guild. Makarov knew his relationship with Laxus wasn’t the best, but he didn’t wish for any animosity between them; he had merely never wanted to replace Ivan as his father. No child needed that confusion in their life. A motherless child himself, Makarov knew that much well.
Makarov did not want to be overly mistrustful of any member of his guild, but matters needed to be sorted, and there was only one person he knew to start with.
As usual, Porlyusica was neither thrilled nor distraught to see him. “Don’t just stand there,” she chastised. “Come in.”
He had known Porlyusica for many years, so he knew how to address her: quickly, and to the point. It didn’t make mustering the topic of conversation any easier, however. Makarov lamented, now, how he had shunned this subject entirely when it had first happened, but he had thought it would be better to not dwell on matters he couldn’t control.
Porlyusica had already poured tea by the time he found his voice. “Ivan’s death… You found Laxus that night, didn’t you?”
She eyed him warily, likely aware of how much he had hoped to avoid this conversation. “What is this about?” she asked, ever the shrewd one.
He sighed. He was much too old for this. “This mysterious doctor, by the name of Acnologia, came to Fairy Tail recently. I have reason to believe he was involved in Ivan’s death—his murderer, even.”
It tasted so foul to say it aloud. Ivan might have been a troublesome kid, but he didn’t deserve that.
Porlyusica gave him a long, hard look—something she excelled at. She set her tea down with a heavy sigh. “You only just now figured that out? I was beginning to think you’ve successfully ignored this matter.”
Makarov knew he could find answers with Porlyusica, but he didn’t think they would be so blatant. “You mean he was killed?”
There was a moment of silence. Porlyusica was not the secretive type—more so the type to avoid a subject altogether—but she now the air of a woman with a secret she was contemplating. She finally looked back to him with another characteristic sigh.
“Acnologia did kill Ivan,” she confirmed, as if it was only an unpleasant matter and not a severe one. “It was a chance encounter, and dare I say, for the best.”
For the best? Before Makarov could contemplate her arid words, she continued.
“Ivan was never a good man. You know this, Makarov. But he finally went and hurt his boy. For better or for worse, it was Acnologia who happened to notice. Whatever scene he encountered, it was bad enough for that brute to involve himself. Ivan never stood a chance, if he angered Acnologia to that extent, I’m afraid.”
“What are you saying? How do you know this?” There were many allegations being thrown about, all with certainty. He couldn’t trust any of this without merit, even from Porlyusica.
“He told me. Makarov, it was Acnologia who brought Laxus to me. It was also he who buried Ivan, if you ever bothered to go see it—and the monstrosity Ivan had created.”
He…had gone to see the grave. He had assumed—mistakenly, apparently—that Porlyusica was responsible. Makarov couldn’t bring himself to look through Ivan’s belongings, however. The day it happened, Porlyusica had been abrupt on the matter, but it was shocking to all involved. However, there had been an accusatory tone the woman held for the deceased son that Makarov had ignored—wanted to ignore—and it was only all the more obvious now.
There was a part of him that knew just how troublesome Ivan was. How close to the edge. Maybe…beyond the edge. He didn’t want to believe it until he had to. Death had merely given Makarov the excuse to ignore it forever.
Though perhaps it didn’t.
Still, the matter of Acnologia was surprisingly straightforward. Though the man had been nothing but calm and efficient since joining the guild, knowing he brought in his son’s killer left a cold pit in his stomach.
Would this be the straw that broke his relationship with Laxus?
“Does…Laxus know any of this?”
Porlyusica snorted. “Of course he does. Unlike you, he asks questions. He knew this since he was a boy, as well as every deed he dared to observe in that wretched ruin of Ivan’s.”
Laxus trusted Acnologia despite knowing this? Makarov wasn’t sure if that spoke more to Acnologia’s trustworthiness, or to the extent of Ivan’s crimes.
It also begged the question of what exactly happened to Laxus that night. It had been the effects of shock that were most apparent, and that had been what Makarov assumed had been the worst of it. The shock had awakened his magic—in a rather ugly manner, unfortunately—resulting in Laxus taking damage from his own lightning.
Or had there been something else?
“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me what happened to Laxus, will you?”
“Patient-doctor confidentiality, Mack.”
Why did he bother asking? “Of course. Fine, answer me this, then—is Acnologia dangerous?”
Makarov wasn’t one to renege on his word. Acnologia was a member of Fairy Tail, and that was that. However, if he had cause for concern, he would continue to watch Acnologia closer than most—and he would do what had to be done, should it come to that.
Porlyusica only laughed. “Dangerous? Of course he’s dangerous.” She looked at him with half an amused smile, the other half of her expression austere as ever. “Makarov, I tell you this as Fairy Tail’s guildmaster: I’ve known Acnologia for decades. He’s always been dangerous, but he hasn’t been a threat in a long time. The only thing he is a threat to, is whoever or whatever hurts those kids of his. I’ve seen only a fraction myself of the length he is going to for them, but I know that he is living for them now.
“So, no, Makarov—so long as you treat those kids with any shred of decency, he’s not a threat to you or the guild. In fact, you’ve might have gained a more powerful ally in him than you realize.”
Makarov had sensed Gildarts’ rather massive presence long before he reached his office, but he chose until the man had entered to raise his head in greeting. “Gildarts. What brings you here? Headed off again already?”
“Nah, not quite yet. I wanna’ handle a few more stuff locally before I pack up again. I was just wonderin’ who you were considering for the S-Class trials.”
Right. It was only October now, but the trials were coming up, and Gildarts could likely be gone by then. The trials were a private matter, but current S-Class mages—especially one of Gildarts’ seniority and caliber—were privy to the preparations, if not directly involved. “It’s still early to tell,” Makarov began, “but I think Cana is still a promising and versatile mage. Erza and Mirajane are moving up quickly as well. Mest has potential, too, I believe.”
Gildarts raised a brow at him. “What? Not Acno?”
He knew about Gildarts’ first drunken encounter with Acnologia nearly a year ago, but nothing past that. Not anything to warrant this interest and recommendation. “What about him?”
“Not gonna lie, Master, but Acno is probably more powerful than me. We’ve sparred a few times, in between my jobs, and he gives me a run for my money.”
Acnologia could handle Gildarts in a full spar? Porlyusica’s words came back to him, and the picture was intriguing to say the least.
Still. “Power is hardly the only requirement for S-Class. You know this well, Gildarts.”
Gildarts shrugged. “Yeah, yeah, I know. He might be a grouch, but he looks out for guildmates—especially the kids.”
“Well, the ones he personally cares for are a given, I hope.”
“All of ‘em, really. I heard from Macao that he tossed those Twilight Ogre grunts that were messin’ with Levy, Jet, and Droy, and he scared them off real good. That was just the other day.”
Makarov frowned. He hadn’t heard about this. If another guild was pushing their luck, he should have been notified. He wasn’t sure if he should be relieved or offended that Acnologia had been brought in instead.
Gildarts did raise a point, however. He had been willing to let Acnologia be, but Makarov had not associated himself overly with the man. However, even from passing glances, it was clear he was a high-class mage, and he had a protective streak, despite his “grouchiness,” as Gildarts would say.
Perhaps, Makarov was being too stingy with second chances.
The S-Class trials of X779 came, and as always, Makarov enjoyed watching the candidates struggle, for struggling was the true mark of a challenge.
He released them into the mountains above Magnolia late in the evening, well aware that they would have to camp in the harsh conditions for a night before moving towards the harbor. Makarov himself slipped away on the scant mountain path he had scouted beforehand, taking but a quick nap on the train to the harbor, being prepared to beat the candidates to Tenrou so he could properly welcome them there.
All of the candidates were monitored, of course, through lacrimas he had connected to the partners’ wristbands. This may be a challenge, but he had the means to step in should anything get dicey, and Gildarts had agreed to hover around the mountains in case of emergency as well.
It would be a difficult week for them, but that was the entire point of the trial.
Yet, Makarov woke up from his short night of sleep only to blink in shock at the location of Acnologia and Gajeel.
Acnologia had already made it Tenrou.
Either some level of trickery had happened, or Makarov had been underestimating Acnologia more than he previously thought.
Acnologia passed the trial. He completed all the objectives, and he even did so with flourish. Yes, he had faced a good deal of threats—some naturally and some at Makarov’s own intervention—but he handled them with efficiency, and his partner never received even a scratch.
Against all of Makarov’s initial concern, he would make a fine S-Class mage.
The ceremony atop the Tenrou tree had already been completed, but Acnologia approached Makarov once more.
“There’s something you should know. Just…going forward.”
“Oh?” There were many enigmas about the man, but the largest issue between the two of them had already been set out on the table, albeit indirectly. Both knew of the others’ knowledge, however.
“I’m a dragon.”
Makarov stared at the man, looking all parts sheepish yet serious at the statement. “Come again?”
“I’m not human. Or, not entirely human—I once was. I’m a dragon. For instance, I found the island so fast because I flew out from the mountains.”
“So, you know transformation magic?” Still, all night was a long time to hold a transformation, especially one that granted flight.
“No. I am a dragon. Have been, for four hundred years.”
Never mind that he claimed to be a dragon—a creature that was only in fairy tales (how fitting)—but the man with a body in its prime was older than he was?
Acnologia had the audacity to merely shrug at that bombshell. “It’s odd, but I figured you should know. The kids know, too. Or, my kids—the dragon slayers—at least. And Laxus, Lisanna, and Levy, but I’d rather not grow that number unless I have to. It’s awkward.”
For a while, Makarov was dumbfounded to silence. The claim was absurd, but so much so that it had to be true. It made sense, strangely enough. His power, his speed—the fact that there have been several instances when he had allegedly slept for days on end.
At the end, he could only laugh.
Fairy Tail surely was a home to the strangest, most wonderful creatures.