Author's Note: I know Ib is an old game by now, but having seen another Fairy Tail x Ib crossover that discontinued like 3 years ago when it barely just started, it got me thinking, and this random little fruit of spontaneity is the result.
A few disclaimers beforehand. First, it's been a while since I've watched/read Fairy Tail, so while I do have a general gist of the characters' powers and personalities, I may make some pretty bad lore mistakes or fail to make appropriate references. Do tell me if I make a character act too OOC. Second, consider this a slight AU from the canon Ib setting, there will be minor modifications to the "rules" to adapt it to what I have in mind, but the basics are the same. Third, I don't know what the demand for this concept will be, and I do have several other more invested writing projects to work on, so don't expect too frequent updates and don't be afraid to comment/favorite/follow to show you want more! Finally, the generic disclaimer, I do not own any of these characters and they belong to their respective creators.
With all that out of the way, let us begin!
The young man stared intensely at the sculpture, slowly tilting his head to get a different angle as if that would give him some sort of epiphany, but alas, nothing came to him. "…I don't get it. What is this thing?"
"Uhh… I'm not sure, but I bet there's some kind of hidden meaning behind it!" His blonde female companion replied with certainty and tried to decipher the secret of the sculpture, a finger on her lower lip. "Hmm, let's see… It's called Wariness, so the pink ball might symbolize… Uhh… A heart? It could be trying to say that if you're not wary of others, you'll end up getting hurt! Or maybe it's something else…"
"Lucy, I'm pretty sure that's just a ball with knives stabbed in it." The blue cat peeking out from the girl's bag spoke up.
"Shh, not so loud, you're not actually allowed in here, remember?"
"Happy's right though, it just looks like someone sculpted a giant ball and thought it'd make a nice knife rack, which it doesn't if you ask me." The young man agreed with his feline friend, crossing his arms and still staring at the sculpture with a focused expression. Lucy just shook her head at her companions' lack of culture with a smug grin.
"Like you two'd know anything about art, Natsu. Not everything is just what meets the eye!"
"Oh yeah? Then what does that wind chime-lookin' thing over there mean, Miss I-am-so-cultured-because-I-write-stuff?" The boy referred to as Natsu challenged his friend and pointed at the next display, which looked like some kind of giant three-branched wind chime with the colors of the rainbow; upon closer look, the title of which was "Taste-Cleansing Tree".
With confidence written all over her face, Lucy stared at the "Tree". And stared. And stared some more.
A bead of sweat rolled down the side of her forehead.
"Lucy, just admit it's just a wind chime-lookin' thing."
"W-Well, I didn't say ALL artworks have deeper meanings, some don't need them and are just made to look pretty! In fact, being aesthetically pleasing is just as important if not more so than some up-for-interpretation message! Ah, we've barely been here ten minutes and I'm already feeling more refined~"
"So would you say that this tree cleansed your taste in art?" The innocent yet somehow mocking voice coming from her bag made the blonde's lower eyelid twitch.
"Shush, you damn cat…" She grumbled and sighed, "Anyway, we should probably go back to investigating, we're not getting paid just to look at exhibits! Ah, if only…"
Indeed, the two mages from Fairy Tail (three, if you count the cat) weren't at the art gallery just to relax. The unofficially named Team Natsu had taken on a request to investigate a series of missing person cases that's been happening there recently; in particular, ever since the Guertena exhibit was put up. There had been many rumors about the reclusive artist Guertena Weiss, most prominently rumors that he managed to create living art, not just magical manifestations like those created with Pict Magic, but self-sustained beings with their own souls. Despite the lack of solid proof, every time his works were displayed somewhere, there would always be a few visitors or night guards who'd make claims of supernatural activity, hearing a cough or a meow where there's no one else around, seeing a painting blink or change expressions, etc. Now that two people have actually gone missing though, one child and one night guard, the staff decided it's finally time to ask for help, a call that happened to be picked up by some of the strongest mages in all of Fiore.
Natsu Dragneel, also known as the Salamander, is the sole wielder of Fire Dragon Slayer Magic; slightly tanned skin hints at the nature of his power, and the short spiky pink hair on his head almost reminds one of flames. He wore his usual garb, a one-sleeved gold-trimmed black longcoat that exposes the arm with his guild tattoo, secured around the waist by a leather brown belt, plus white knee-length trousers with black ribbon ties, a thick black wristband on his left wrist, black open-toed sandals, and of course the white scale-patterned scarf he received from his adoptive father, Igneel, who happened to be an actual dragon.
His female companion, Lucy Heartfilia, princess of one of the wealthiest families in all of Fiore (though she's run away to become a mage), utilizes Celestial Spirit Magic, the ability to summon powerful familiars from another realm to assist in all manner of tasks. Her long blonde hair does give off the appearance of a noble, though her choices of fashion is anything but. A blue waistcoat with detached sleeves over a v-collared white tube top with a blue heart-shaped design in the middle, practically designed to show off her large bust (which she's very proud of), all of which are gold-trimmed like Natsu's coat, as well as a black mini-skirt and black leggings leading down to, surprisingly, brown boots that are actually practical for adventuring and fighting. Some sort of studded cylinder with a star-shaped pendant is secured onto a white belt, as well as a satchel in which she keeps her celestial keys (which she needs for her magic).
Finally, the team mascot hiding inside of Lucy's bag because of a no-pet policy in the gallery, Happy the cat, or more accurately, the cat-like species known as Exceed. A blue feline of cartoonish proportions, he can speak like humans as well as summon a pair of wings, even capable of using magic for highly accelerated flight. As a cat, he finds no need to wear anything other than a green neckerchief.
These three are not the only members of Team Natsu, but the strongest among them (though Natsu would never admit it), Titania Erza Scarlet, left to go hunt some kind of giant monster terrorizing a nearby town, and Gray Fullbuster the ice mage got dragged off by Juvia for a date he promised her offhand to get her off his back at one point some time ago, pity the poor fool. The two remaining members who did join Natsu and Lucy on this job were currently on the other side of the gallery, admiring a beautiful sculpture of a red rose.
"It's so beautiful, isn't it? I wish I could make something like that…" Wendy Marvell marveled in wonder at the work of art. The youngest member of Team Natsu at only 12, not counting the cat, the innocent and harmless-looking girl is also known as the Sky Sorceress, sole wielder of the powerful Sky Dragon Slayer Magic that has blasting people with hurricanes as one of its more mundane uses. Her long sapphire-blue hair is tied up in twintails by two red animal ear-like hairpieces, while two side bangs still hang down on each side of her face, and her clothes consist of a red and white long-sleeved top somewhat resembling a prestigious school uniform with an orange ascot around her neck, plus a black frilled skirt with a small white trim running around right above the end. Black thigh high socks and gray open-toed sandals complete the look.
"We're on a mission, Wendy, focus on the work at hand!" A female voice came from her backpack, one belonging to another talking cat, Carla. Of the same species as Happy, Carla has white fur instead of blue, as well as smaller more feminine eyes. Also unlike her male counterpart, she does bother to wear clothes, a uniform similar to Wendy's own but blue and with a red tie instead, plus a red ribbon wrapped around her tail. Like Happy though, she can grow wings and fly with them when she wants to.
"S-Sorry…" The timid girl apologized to her ever serious partner before cheering back up. "Still, Guertena was such an amazing artist! It's such a shame a lot of his works have been lost to time…"
"Hmph, some of it's good, the rest are just weird." The feline remarked, unimpressed, "More importantly, have you found any clues yet?"
"No… I'm not even sure what to look for…"
"Any shady individuals, for example? Leftover belongings from missing people? Or just anything strange in general? The receptionist did say that the paintings might have something to do with it, but I think it's just dumb rumors. If there's any truth to these 'living paintings' then there should be proof by now."
"Hmm…" sighed Wendy. Exploring the gallery was fun, but their investigation is really going nowhere. "Maybe we should meet back up with Natsu and Lucy first and discuss what to do next…"
"Fair enough. Let's go."
"Ah, there you are! Did you guys find anything?"
The pink-haired young man shrugs at the petite girl jogging up to him. "Nope, nothing out of the ordinary, unless you count melting blue people and headless mannequins."
"M-Melting blue people?!"
"He means one of the statues we saw." Lucy clarified when the Sky Sorceress gasped in horror, "But yeah, we couldn't find any clues. You?" The blonde asked, but Wendy shook her head sadly. "Hmm… Looks like it's time to rethink our strategy then..."
"What was that, Natsu?" The blonde snapped out of her thoughts to look at her friend, who's currently staring at the giant mural they've stopped next to.
"That's what this thing's called. I can barely even tell what it's a painting of, it looks like a bunch of five year olds went to town with a paintbrush!" The Salamander remarked unimpressed, causing Lucy to shake her head dramatically again.
"It's called Impressionism, you pleb. It's meant to be vague and chaotic instead of realistic, creating a dream-like image. Anyway, let's-" Just then, the lights flickered, cutting her off. "…Ooookay, that just happened. Anyway, as I was saying, let's-"
"Wait, something's wrong."
"Huh? What is it, Carla?" asked Wendy as her feline partner popped out of her backpack and gestured for everyone to stay quiet, so they did… and the world was just as quiet. Gradually, Wendy came to the same realization as her peers: "…What happened to everyone else? I can't even hear any footsteps…" She noted, her own voice barely a whisper, and it was a very alarming discovery as those who wield Dragon Slayer magic have enhanced senses, including hearing. For her to say she can't hear anyone else in the gallery when moments ago there were a half dozen visitors right nearby… Lucy looked towards Natsu, who looked fully alert and shook his head to confirm what his fellow Dragon Slayer said.
"W-Well… It shouldn't even be near closing time yet, but let's go back to the entrance. Maybe something's happened outside." The blonde suggested, looking nervous herself, and with no better calls of action the investigation team headed through the gallery back for the entrance, sure enough finding not a single person along the way. Soon as they descended the stairs down to the main lobby, the lights flickered again and outright shut off this time, leaving them in the darkness only lit by dim light from the windows. Before they even reached the doors themselves, they could already tell something's horribly wrong.
"Hey, the weather forecast didn't say anything about heavy fog, did it?" Natsu remarked while the group's urgent footsteps slowed to a halt. Beyond the glass doors that once led to the bustling streets of Magnolia, there is now nothing but a sea of white fog. Without another word, Lucy ran up to the doors and tried to pull them open, but they didn't even budge an inch. Even with help from the two strength-enhanced Dragon Slayers and the Exceed, the entrance remains firmly shut.
After a few tries, the team finally gives up and backs away. "What's going on? There's no way a gallery door can be THIS strong, not without a magical seal! And what happened to the outside? Is something attacking the city?"
"Guess we're gonna find out! Stand back, I'm getting this thing open the FUN way!" Natsu called out with a sneer and charged at the doors again before anyone could protest, fist raised; half-way there though, the Salamander suddenly looked at his fist in surprise and ended up faceplanting straight into the doors (which still didn't budge).
The blonde raised an eyebrow while Happy and Wendy hurried over to check that he's okay. "Uhh… Do I even want to ask?" Lucy looked at the young man confused, but Natsu's attention was on his own fist rather than the slight pain on his face. "…Natsu? What's wrong?"
"My fire magic. I can't use it."
"Like I said, I can't use my fire magic! I'm trying but it's not working!" The Salamander's expression grew increasingly frustrated as he tried again and again to summon his flames, but nothing happens. Fearing the same has happened to herself, Wendy gulped and faced the door.
"L-Let me try! Sky Dragon's Roar!" The Sky Sorceress took a deep breath and blew, sending a hurricane blast straight at the door, only for the gale force winds to bounce right off the glass and spread away. "It… It worked?" She blinked in the aftermath, not expecting her own magic to work herself, even if it didn't do anything to the doors anyway.
"Our wings are working too!" Happy announced, pointing out both his and Carla's wings that require magic to be summoned and flown around with.
Thinking to herself for a bit, Lucy attempts her own magic as well. The Celestial Spirit Mage fished a key from her satchel and flourished it: "Open, Gate of Taurus!" she commanded and stabbed the key into the air, turning it as if opening an invisible lock.
"Hey what the hell, why aren't my keys working?"
"If we can use our wings and Wendy can use her magic, then it's not like magic is universally sealed here. Something is selectively blocking off your magic only, though for what reason I don't know." The white-furred Exceed deduced.
Lucy sighed in disappointment before remembering how potentially dangerous their current situation could be. "…Alright, let's calm down and think this through. Right now we're trapped inside the gallery with no one else around, the building's magically sealed so we can't get out, and both Natsu's and my own magic are blocked by something. What to do…"
"I'd say first thing's finding a way outta this place, right?"
"That's obvious, but how-"
"WENDY!" Both Natsu and Lucy turned towards the scream at the same time; Wendy was sitting on the ground like she'd fallen over, staring up at the nearest window with wide teary eyes while Carla was trying her best to comfort her. Something was dripping down the glass from the outside…
"I-Is… Is that blood?!" The Celestial Mage recoiled as well, while the bolder Natsu approached the window instead, inspecting the "blood" through the glass.
"Natsu, I don't think you should get so close-"
"This doesn't look like blood." The Salamander interrupted his cat, causing everyone to look at him, "The hue's too bright, and the viscosity… I think it's paint."
The revelation caused everyone else to collectively breathe a sigh of relief. "Paint, huh. Phew, I was getting really worried there…" Lucy remarked as she helped poor Wendy up, "Wait, how do you know so much about blood?"
"We've been in tons of brutal fights by now, I think we'd all know what blood looks like."
"Not to that kind of detail…" The Celestial Mage sighed, though considering the Dragon Slayer's heightened senses it's not that weird. "Back on topic, for now all we can do is find a different way out of here. Let's split up again and search, Natsu, Happy and I will go back upstairs, while Wendy and Carla look down here. If that's paint then this could all just be some kind of sick joke by someone, but still, be careful. If anything happens, shout and we'll come running. Sound good?" The others nodded with lack of a better plan and split up into their respective teams, setting off to investigate the abandoned gallery.
The halls were eerily silent, save for their footsteps. Lucy couldn't help but shiver as she looked around at the murky gallery, the distance cloaked in darkness. Without anything more than the pale light from the windows to show the way, a hand reached down to grab the cylinder at her belt and activate it, causing a stream of glowing water to erupt from one end, lines of golden energy sparkling at regular intervals. Despite its liquid nature, the water remains self-contained like a solid rope and even curls back into itself. The Fleuve D'etoiles, literally River of Stars, is a magical whip gifted to her by one of her contracted spirits; while normally a weapon, it'll make a good enough light source for now.
"You really think this is a prank?" Natsu asked while checking the paintings for hidden buttons behind them, not that any of the frames were even removable from the wall.
Lucy just shrugged. "I dunno what else it could be. What, you have a different idea?"
The Celestial Mage sighed. All this being some kind of super elaborate prank sounded unbelievable even to herself, but what else could be happening? Unless… No, it can't be, that's just superstition- "Huh?"
"Found something?" Natsu looked back at his companion and followed her gaze to the nearby window, half expecting more red paint, but there's nothing there.
"I… I think I just saw someone walking past the window outside!"
The floating blue cat gave her a funny look, "Outside? But this is the first floor!", but Lucy shook her head and insisted.
"I know that but I'm not kidding! I seriously saw a silhouette walk by!" she said, and went over to said window, trying to peek out into the emptiness as best she could. "Hello? Is someone out there?" The young woman asked loudly and received no response for a few seconds, but then…
Both Lucy and Happy screamed and recoiled, forcing Natsu to race over and catch the girl before she fell over like Wendy earlier. Glaring at the window, the Salamander charged once more and threw his fist at the glass proper this time, but the punch once again bounces off harmlessly even with his enhanced strength. "GET BACK HERE, YOU BASTARD! LET US OUT, THIS ISN'T FUNNY!" He roared anyway, to no further response. What Lucy saw may have been a trick of the eye, but there's no mistaking the hand that just slammed at the glass from outside, nor the handprint it left behind.
"GUYS, ARE YOU OKAY?!" Wendy's voice wafted up from downstairs, to which Lucy shouted back reassurance.
"WE'RE FINE, DON'T WORRY! Happy, you okay?"
"Y-Yeah…" The feline answered even though he's still shaking. Lucy breathed out and returned to the window to inspect the handprint, prepared for any more surprises, though none came.
"…This is paint too, isn't it?" She asked and received a nod of confirmation. "If the staff wanted to make this a secret haunted house, then they did a really good job. Now that I think about it, the job might just be a ruse to lure someone not faint of heart to test their new attraction, huh. That's what I'm hoping for anyway…"
"Whatever this is, I'm gonna give the mastermind one fiery knuckle sandwich when we're through with this!" the Salamander growled, and the trio returned to their search.
The Sky Sorceress and her Exceed friend spun around, but there's no one there in the dark and silent hallway.
"…Carla… W-Was that you…?"
"I wish…" The flying cat mumbled before calling out more loudly, "Whoever you are, come out already! This joke has gone on for long enough and we want no part of it!"
Hesitantly, the two walked over to where they heard the cough and inspected the area for anything that could've been left behind by whoever it was that made that cough. When Wendy looked at the painting on the wall though…
"U-Uhh… C-Carla? You might want to l-look at this…"
So the Exceed did and read the title plaque.
'The Coughing Man'.
"…Carla? Those rumors… Could they…?"
"…This has to be a sick joke. Let's keep going."
"This is getting weirder and weirder." Lucy shook her head. They had just witnessed an orange fall out of a painting of fruits, and they're 99% sure that picture of a black cat meowed at them. The Celestial Mage isn't sure what else could be waiting for them in this gallery-turned-haunted-house. Their search for a hidden contraption or exit had also been fruitless so far, and now they've ended up in front of the Fabricated World mural again. Happy was quick to point out a change that had occurred since the last time they were there:
"Hey, the painting's leaking something!"
Sure enough, a splotch of blue paint is dripping from the bottom of the frame. Just as Lucy cautiously peered closer to examine it, Happy screamed and even Natsu jumped while the sound of paint splashes could be heard on the ground. Lucy spun around to look, and her eyes widened in surprise. Written in big red letters on the ground was a word:
C O M E
Before anyone could say a word, Lucy heard some kind of scribbling noise behind her and slowly, almost reluctantly, turned back around to look at the blue splotch. Except it wasn't just a splash of blue paint anymore, but words.
"Come down below, friends. I'll show you someplace secret." She recited, just as Wendy's voice came from downstairs again, as did Carla's, only this time it wasn't directed at them.
"W-WAIT, SIR! COME BACK!"
"WENDY, WAIT! DON'T GO ALONE!"
The trio looked at each other and raced for the stairs, but when they got down to the main lobby where their friends' shouts came from, there was no one.
"WENDY! CARLA!" Lucy's voice echoed through the gallery to no avail. The Fire Dragon Slayer also strained his ears to listen…
"…No footsteps, nothing. It's like they disappeared too…" He shook his head, worrying for what had happened to the two. Lucy tried to stay optimistic.
"Let's not panic… Who knows, maybe they found an exit? It sounded like Wendy saw someone and followed them, maybe it's whoever trapped us in here? Let's look around down here some more, they can't have just vanished into thin air, there has to be a secret door somewhere…" The young woman suggested, even though she didn't sound too sure of herself, so the crew searched every nook and cranny of the lobby, the receptionist's desk, the guest book, the poster, the walls, the windows, the entrance… then moving on to the rest of the gallery's ground floor. Soon as they left the lobby, it didn't take long to find something.
In the first room was one of Guertena's most famous works, the 'Abyss of the Deep', a thin and irregular canvas painted to resemble the depths of the oceans, along with the head of a deep sea monster poking in from the side, like a cross between a moray eel and an angler fish, teeth-lined maw open in a leering grin. The way it's placed on the floor with no frame, the painting looked like an actual abyss which someone could fall into, the beast patiently waiting for its next meal, daring its prey to come closer… But that wasn't what's most notable to the mages right now. What caught their eye was the part of the surrounding railing that was missing, and the two blue shoeprints leading into the canvas.
Natsu was the first to approach their discovery this time, kneeling down to inspect the prints, then, almost on a whim, poked the mural with a finger. It passed right through the surface as if it was water. It even felt like water…
"Whoah…" Lucy watched with her mouth agape as Natsu proceeded to shove his entire hand into the "water", then… "Gah! Natsu what are you doing?!" The young woman exclaimed shortly before Natsu yanked his head back out of the painting with a splashing sound, but without a single drop of water on himself.
"Huh, I could breathe just fine in there. More importantly I think I saw something way at the bottom, I bet it's the exit!" He excitedly announced, and Lucy tried it for herself, kneeling down and sticking her head into the canvas. The water felt cool to the touch, and sure enough, she could breathe in it and see some kind of light at the very bottom of the abyss. She could also see the sea serpent in all its entirety, a humongous beast that made her shudder, but it was still like a statue. She pulled herself back out, touching her hair that didn't have a drop of water on it.
"You might be right, Natsu, nice work! Maybe Wendy came through here too! Alright then, you guys ready?"
"Uhh, I don't do well with water… or giant sea serpents…" said the cat, but Natsu was quick to reassure him that he'll be fine, the Salamander's usual cocky grin back on his face. Lucy felt a lot better too, now that they found the hidden exit. Once they get out of this dumb (but admittedly well done) prank, she's going to buy herself a nice big parfait to relax with, she's earned it.
On the count of three, the two mages and one cat jumped into the abyss together…
Scribble, scribble, scribble… urgh.
She looked down at her just-finished drawing disapprovingly. So many years and she's barely improved. If only father was still here to teach her how to draw like him… Not that it matters, there's no one around to look anyway. Well, there's the dollies, but they're very easily impressed… and the busts, but they never even emote other than cry sometimes… and the mannequins, but they don't have eyes to see with… and her big sisters who don't have any of those problems, but lately she's been wondering if they're praising her just to make her feel better. It's not like she herself minded her own art skills originally, but since those two came and left… She wanted something to remember them by. She wanted to paint them, to replicate them on canvas so they'd stay with her forever, in a way, but she's just not good enough… Ah well, she has an eternity to practice afterall…
How long has it been anyway? Months? Years? It felt like an eternity ago, but she remembered it like it was yesterday. They had gotten along so well… Then he found out the truth. Red Eyes should've gotten him, but he escaped. Then he was chosen over her… Why? She gritted her teeth. She thought they were friends… No, they were friends, but Ib still chose him over her. Why? What did he have that she didn't? Was it because he's human? Was it because they've met each other for longer? Was it love that trumped their friendship? What was it? Why? WHY?! WHY WHY WHYWHY WHY-
She froze. Something's changed.
The gallery has a life of its own. It adapts to outsiders, changes. She learnt this when they first came, and it was minor back then, a few new paintings that formed from their essence (they've vanished since they left…), the puzzles and doors resetting. This time though, it was far more drastic. Something fundamental had just changed about… everything, even herself. She felt a power within like never before… but more importantly, this change meant one thing.
A second chance.
She got up and smiled.
This time, she WILL succeed.