"We must find the others immediately!" Erza yelled with determination, and set off at a run towards town, Lucy half a second behind her.
aAa LINEBREAK aAa
Lucy ran with Erza, only pausing for a split second to pull off her other sandal and tuck it into her back pocket, before resuming her run, blonde hair streaming out behind her like a golden fan.
The rubble cut and pulled at her bare feet but she ignored it as best she could and upped her speed, breath coming in short pants and gasps that ripped the conspicious silence around her.
The ground was swathed in white clay - the shattered houses, ground to a fine dust that flew up in plumes behind her as she ran. They were nearing the town centre now - the town hall - their guild hall, maybe? - rose up ahead of her like a giant's rising head, blocking the sun's sleepy smile that shone out fro the horizon's roiling tide.
She felt uneasy in the shodows that tickled her bare, feet, and, as they slowed to a walk, she sneaked closer to Erza, reassured by the small smile she sent her way.
A loud disturbance found them then - swearing in the distance, muffled by the bulk of the hall ahead of her.
Curiously she turned to peer around the corner, and, upon seeing Gray and Natsu bearing down upon her, scrambled to get out of their way.
Instead she fell into their path - briefly she saw Gray's face change to shock before he took a running leap over her head, only just managing to clear her, but running into Erza instead, who caught him in one steel-inclad arm, resulting in a loud clang and "Oompf!"
Natsu didn't have nearly as much elegance - he ran straight into her, and she felt the contact as he grabbed her waist in an effort to steady them, instead overbalancing them, causing them to roll over and over in the dust until at last the earth stopped spinning before Lucy's eyes. She was slumped over something.. solid?
She looked down and gulped in embarassment - she straddled Natsu, his arms trapped around her thin waist in a vice-like grip. Her head was tucked in the nook between collarbone and neck, hair splayed across his jaw and face. His strong arms gripped her to him, and his eyes were squeezed shut against the dying of the light.
She brushed her hair from his jaw, fingers lightly trailing across his skin, before she remembered herself and snatched them back.
"Natsu?" She murmered.
"Mmmm?" He said, arms tightening on her waist, one eye cracking open, his familiar lazy grin pulled his razor teeth straight.
"You can let go of me now." She said, now painfully aware of how his tight grip on her pulled their faces within a few inches of eachother.
"Oh." He said, but his arms only loosened a fraction. His dark eyes burned into hers, and she felt a flush crawl onto her cheeks. They stayed that way for what felt like minutes later, just staring at eachother, drinking in eachother's eyes, until a poorly muffled snicker resounded from behind them, and Lucy turned to see Gray elbow Erza with a wide grin on his face.
She could of sworn she had never seen Natsu move so fast - in one swift movement he dropped her like she had burned him and rolled to his feet, leaving her sprawled on the dusty ground, scrambling to get her wits about her.
He whistled a tune and turned his face away, eyeing up the building with far too much interest, and she couldn't tell if the red of his face was a flush or the sun's lingering touch.
Gray snickered once more, before stepping forward to help Lucy to her feet, perpetually cold hands grasping her own now-sweaty ones, delicately pulling her to her feet and assembling her safely back on the ground.
"All right, Lucy?" He asked, but his tone had a hint of mischief running like a smooth undercurrent beneath the seemingly innocent question, and all she did was playfully hit his chest and walk away with a smile, face now a beet red.
Erza stood strong and sure, watching the shenanigans, a small smiling gracing her curved lips the only tell that she knew what had just happened. She cleared her throat and drew them all together into a tight huddle, making sure that her armoured shoulders were between Lucy and Natsu, who was pointedly not looking at her.
"Right", Erza said. "What do we know, before we going rushing headfirst into this?" She skewered Natsu with a pointed glare. He chuckled uncomfertably and dropped his gaze the to smashed floor.
Gray stepped forward slightly, and when he spoke his voice was low and dangerous.
"We have until sunrise to get our shadows back, or we'll either die or succumb to the dark. I'd rather die", he spat in disgust.
"Ok", Erza said, nodding her head sagely. "So, what we're going to do is-"
Her voice was cut over by a dark chuckle that resounded and bounced around them like a puppy calling to play.
"Planning? What - not sure you'll be able to win, Fairy Tail?"
They spun away from one another, and searched for the voice - eventually they saw him.
Asinath stood on the apex of the hall's roof, cloak roiling and waving in a tidal wave of shadow, flowing down his back like dripping blood.
"What have you to value from losing anyway? After all, I do have your shadows.."
With that he twitched one pale, slender hand, and a shadow drew up from the ground, until it was as tall as Lucy - in fact, it was Lucy's shadow!
It was unearthly, seeing it there - all if someone had cloned Lucy and coloured her in completely black, an unearthly silhouette that danced in and out of their vision, a dark apparition.
Lucy let out a shout of anger and jumped at the shadow - her fingers grasped, then slipped through the dark, leaving a trail of black through the air, like ink coiling and twinging through water. The shadow leaped away, mouth open in mocking laugh, and Lucy yelled in frustration and took a running leap at the shadow, until both were rolling on the ground in startling flashes of the black of Lucy's shadow, and the white of Lucy's clay-streaked skin.
Finally Lucy pinned her dark mirror image, and straddled her, hands pinning her arms above her, face white streaked and angry. Her hair was coming lose and fell around her face in graceful streaks and she bared her teeth at the silhouette below her.
She glanced up and saw Erza, Gray and Natsu watching her from a few metres away with strange expressions on their faces. It was Natsu, subtle as ever, who finally said it.
"Damn - that's so strange, two Lucys... It's like Edolas all over again.." He trailed off and continued to watch her, face slack for once.
She was still watching him when she felt the tugging on her wrists and knees. She looked down quickly and saw her shadow dissolve, the black crawling and racing across her skin like a poison.
She reared back onto her knees, scrambling away from the shadow, hands despreately trying to brush off the dark the seeped across her skin in an oily scar. It creeped up her legs, and swirled up her arms to clasp at her neck with frozen fingers. She turned her eyes to Natsu in horror, and saw them all reaching for her.
A jolt caused her to look down, and she saw now how she sank into the ground, the shadow eating her, swallowing her up to the waist like quick sand.
She yelled in terror and reached for her friends, who were now reaching for her, feet pounding a matronome beat against the ground like the galloping of her heart. As she felt it overtake her face, turning her skin as dark as her shadow's, reaching, cloaking, hiding her eyes, she screamed, and as her sight fled from her she caught one more glimpse of Natsu jumping towards her, arm outstretched, mouth stretched in a void of desperation.
She could feel the sliver of breath as he yelled in desperation, the tug of his hands through her hair, grasping then slipping, finding no hold, and then the ground swallowed her and she was gone, leaving Natsu kneeling forlornly on the ground, harsh breath tearing holes in the still sky.