Disclaimer: I don't own Fairy Tail.
Author's notes: How's everyone doing? I deeply apologize for the late update. School really drives you nuts. My computer broke down so all progress I made disappeared. That includes the latest revisions, about ten percent progress of the next chapter I've written and drafts of my other stories.
For my reviewers, those who alerted, favorite and read my story; thank you so much for supporting my story. And so! I present to you, chapter Six of Twist in Time. I leave my great thanks for this chapter and the rest to my beta, Hazuki Goldair. She's really one amazing gal. I love her.
Lucy grunted as her bound hands were yanked by her captor.
She was so demanding a bigger portion of the reward when she finished the mission—after she wrung her friends' necks.
"So what's the plan?" Gray asked, joining the huddle. "How are we going to find the missing townspeople?"
Lucy closed the book she had been reading. "This used to be a tourist town. A few missing tourists wouldn't be a surprise, but the whole town, tourists and residents alike, have disappeared. So many people missing and not a single suspect on the Rune Knights' radar."
"And you were saying something about dealing with a group, not some single madman. You called them some dark guild…" Gray paused, forgetting the name Erza had mentioned before.
"Death Reapers," Lucy reminded him in a bemused voice.
"Yeah!" Gray snapped his fingers, recalling the name. "Death Reapers. You were saying they were behind it? What a creepy name for a guild. Wait a sec…this is an unsolved mystery. That means others have tried to complete this mission, right?"
The red haired mage nodded. "That's based from what I heard from other people," Erza said.
"That means the other mages before us gathered some kind of information that we can use, right?"
"I wish that were the case," Erza answered, a frown on her lips. "Many have attempted this quest, but most never returned. Those who did gathered little to no information, claiming there were no clues to the mystery behind the kidnappings. After much deliberation, the quest was changed into an S-rank."
"I just hope there will be a decent fight. It's been awhile since I've had a strong opponent. So how are we finding this place? Any ideas?" Gray asked Lucy.
"I have one. We just need to time it right," she answered.
"Time it right?"
"Yes. You see, there's a clock tower in this town that is different from the rest of the architecture. This tower, I heard, is special. It isn't made from normal stone, but a special material called moonstones. They have magical properties that absorb the moon's light and convert it into magic."
Lucy's words struck a chord in Gray's memory. "Is it something like what happened on Galuna Island?"
"It's similar. Do you remember Moon Drip?" When her teammates nodded, Lucy continued. "The difference with moonstones is that it gathers a huge amount of magic for a specific purpose. With enough moonlight, the converted magic on a tower of that size could do some powerful things."
"Like what?" Gray asked, afraid that he wouldn't like the answer.
"Forbidden magic," Erza murmured, opening her eyes. "You're talking about one of the seven forbidden magics, yes?"
Lucy nodded."It's forbidden now. Not only did it prove difficult to use, since the materials required are too expensive or near impossible to find, but the aftereffects could be catastrophic."
"How expensive?" Gray asked.
"Supposedly, one sack could cost anywhere from five to eight hundred million jewels."
"That's messed up," Gray commented. "Just what kind of people would even consider such a thing?"
"I honestly don't know," Lucy replied. "But most of them would be people without good intentions."
"Yes, I can imagine a dark guild would want such powerful magic," Erza remarked.
"Although I have to wonder how this dark guild managed to build the tower in the first place," Lucy added.
"Probably had a financer. Maybe they paid a few bribes to a group of corrupted Rune Knights in exchange for turning a blind eye," Gray theorized.
"Getting back to the issue at hand, the mages who implemented this magic used it to help their illicit activities."
"Wait, you're talking about the Space-Time magic. It uses doors that connect two disjoint places by using special gate magic. That's what caused the Iowa incident" Gray recalled.
"Yes. Space-Time magic creates something similar to a black hole when overused. It damages the natural flux of magic by sucking in excess magic, but without preserving the conservation of mass," Lucy explained. "In the case of the Iowa incident, it sucked away enough power to destroy the atmosphere of that region. Thus, the Magic Council was forced to step in and add it to the list of forbidden magics."
Incredulous, Gray asked, "So the Death Reapers are using this Space-Time magic? But why? Wouldn't teleport magic be less costly?"
"While that's true, teleport magic is harder to use on a group of non-mages—for instance, an entire town that has gone missing. And thanks to the odd black hole behavior of Space-Time magic, it's near untraceable. The perfect device for rogue mages. However, the artificial and unstable properties make the prospect of a black hole dangerous, so to safeguard against this, the one who activates the spell usually determines a specific time of day when the passage is accessible."
"Sounds dodgy to me." Gray folded his arms, unconvinced. "So what you're saying is that if we can find the appointed time that this Space-Time magic opens the passage, then we can use it to find the missing townspeople."
Lucy smiled. "It will lead us right to them."
"It will lead only one of us," Erza corrected.
Lucy and Gray looked at the requip mage in surprise.
"What do you mean only one of us?" Lucy asked. "What about the other two?"
"One will scout ahead while the others follow. We had better hurry if the magic's appointed time is approaching…" Erza trailed off as she revealed three sticks in her left hand. "Shall we see who will be our lucky scout?"
Gray exchanged glances with Lucy. "Ladies first."
Liquor-breath accosted Lucy's nose as a greasy-haired man grasped her chin, chewing his cigarette like a toothpick. He stared at Lucy as though she were the last piece of flank steak for sale at the market. She wished she could punch the sick smirks off the faces of the despicable men, but that would ruin the ploy of her being the "kidnapped victim". I swear, if Erza or Gray don't get here before one of these slimeballs touches me…
Her thoughts were distracted, as the cigarette man said, "Pity she has to be sacrificed."
"Especially one so good looking," another said in a deep bass voice.
"Can't be helped. It's just too bad we can't have a little fun first," the third man commented in a nasally voice. Lucy's skin crawled. "You know, sweetheart, it's hard for me to ignore a woman in a little red dress. It's so…tempting." She resisted the urge to throw up her breakfast as she felt the man pat her bum lightly. Why, oh why did Erza make me wear the red cocktail dress?
"You know what the boss said," the second man reminded Lucy's perverted captor. "The sacrifices can't be touched."
His nasally companion groaned, removing his hand from the blonde's backside. "I know, I know."
At the order of the deep voiced man (whom Lucy determined was the leader of this group), the foul-smelling male pulled on the rope to force Lucy to walk.
Lucy had no idea where she was being led, blindfolded as she was. She felt that the path she walked on felt like stone, rather than the squish of mud and crunch of leaves from earlier. The smell of fresh rain and pine trees was replaced with a musky odor. The warm summer's day now felt like the chill of a late autumn evening.
Once again, Lucy was thankful that the men who had "caught" her weren't mages, since that meant a smaller chance of being discovered. But if they weren't part of the dark guild, then they were most likely hired mercenaries, which of itself could be dangerous.
Whatever the case, Lucy was concerned that this dark guild was pulling out all the stops to keep their involvement in the multiple kidnappings hidden. If they didn't want to be discovered, then there was a very good chance that they were up to something much worse than what she previously anticipated.
As Lucy pondered, the men shared bawdy jokes and the luck they had finding such easy prey. "I thought for sure we would be out all day trying to find this month's sacrifice," the cigarette man said. "Though I admit she's a bit weird for wandering around a deserted town in such finery. Get lost on the way to your high society party, princess?"
Lucy bristled at the insult. What was with people calling her weird? Her clothes weren't that strange—she actually really liked the white jacket that covered her bare shoulders and arms. And her favorite scarf complimented the outfit very well as a necessary accessory, though her captors had found another use for it in blindfolding her. Maybe the mid-calf, high heeled leather boots weren't very sensible, but was it a crime for a girl to look her best to get herself captured? She was just thankful that Erza didn't insist on her wearing the bunny suit. Again.
"Does it really matter how she got there?" the leader of the mercenaries asked. "Just be glad that with her, the plan can be completed."
"Then Lord Zoldeo can finally pay up!" the nasally man grunted.
The cigarette mercenary tugged on Lucy's rope, inhibiting her from moving anymore as he said, "We're here. Guess this is where we part ways, girlie. Unless…" His liquor breath grew stronger in Lucy's nose as he moved to whisper beside her ear. "I can save you the pain of being sacrificed if you come with me. We could have a good time together."
Lucy could imagine the dirty smirk he wore, and wanting to wipe it off his face, she stomped on his foot, the heel of her boot digging in to his metatarsals. He roared out in pain, while his companions laughed at him and complimented their captive.
"She's got spunk, that one!"
"Good to know the airhead can defend herself."
Lucy heard the rank-smelling man cuss out his companions before he approached her once more. "Why you—" She felt the rope slacken and gave a startled scream of agony as he yanked her hair. For the next few minutes, Lucy whimpered in pain as he dragged her about, trying desperately to raise her bound wrists to fight off his powerful grip. "Wenches like you like you deserve all the wrath of hell. Lucky for you, that's what you're about to get." Lucy bit her lips as she tried to hold back the tears that threatened to leak.
The mercenaries just laughed at her misery as the outraged mercenary continued to pull her hair with one hand while opening a gate with the other. Lucy cringed as the rusted metal screeched open.
"Enjoy your paradise," he sneered, shoving her through the gate. Lucy lost her balance, falling to the rough ground amid the mercenaries' cackles and the screeching of the gate as it closed.
Groaning in pain, she tried to sit up, which proved difficult with the blindfold still tied around her head. When she finally succeeded and no longer felt her brain spinning inside her skull, she fingered her familiar set of keys. Briefly, she wondered why they didn't take her belongings or check her bag for weapons, as she found her whip still in its place. Nitwits, the lot of them, she scoffed, before opening Cancer's gate.
"You called, ebi?"
Lucy turned her head at the sound of his voice, her vision still impaired by the blindfold. "Could you help get me get out of these bindings, please?"
Without a word, the spirit cut the rope around her wrists and removed the scarf from her eyes, securing it once more around her neck.
"Finally," she sighed, stretching her arms in the air. She groaned in relief as she was able to move her aching joints. "Thanks, Cancer!" Lucy grinned, relieved to be free from her restraints.
"Would you like me to fix your hair, ebi?" the crab spirit asked, snipping scissors in each hand.
"Um, thanks. But maybe next time," Lucy answered.
"Until then," he said, vanishing to the celestial realm.
With her sight restored to her, Lucy blinked several times, a soft gasp escaping her lips as she took in the scene before her.
It was a city, but unlike any that Lucy had seen before. As far as the eye could see, tall gravity-defying structures rose into the air, black roads intersected and overlapped one another in a jumbled mess, and self-powered vehicles that traveled faster than trains hurtled along these roads—did they even use magic? The dark sky was illuminated by glowing balls of light everywhere. And it appeared to be all encased in a giant dome with a small opening at the center, which allowed natural light to filter in.
Only after she had taken in the strangeness of the city did she notice the oddity of the people. They wore bizarre outfits, styled the same but in varying shades of gray, brown, and black. It was like nothing Lucy had ever seen in all her years shopping at Heart Kreuz—the trendiest store in Fiore. They walked in unison, expressionless as they followed a pattern that seemed programmed in their brains. Lucy was perturbed as she walked into one of these streams of people, and their only reaction was to move around her. No yells of outrage, no annoyed glances, just the same monotonous expression. It was as if they couldn't see Lucy, even though they had no problem walking around her like some statue placed in the middle of the walkway. But the creepiest part was their skin color. While they appeared human, their blue skin made it obvious that they were something else.
Her eyebrows furrowed as a strange scent assaulted her nose. It wasn't unpleasant, but it smelled faintly like smoke. As Lucy looked around, she noticed fumes emitting from the self-powered transporters and from a few buildings as well. That's when Lucy realized there was nothing green. Not a single tree or a hint of grass. Everything looked and smelled drab. It was like the city was doing its best to snuff out the very existence of Mother Nature.
Lucy ran back to the iron gates she had come through. She laid her hand flat on them, knocking a few times, her hands roaming to find a handle or something that could open them. When her search proved futile, Lucy sighed in defeat, leaning her back against the gate.
Locked in, huh?
She scanned her surroundings. Was this the only entrance? How did anyone leave? Or… Lucy shook her head at that thought, not wanting to consider the possibility. It was time to get to work; she could figure out an escape later. First off, she needed to find the client.
How to find him or her was another problem altogether. She tapped a boot as she surveyed the mob of moving people. Minutes passed, and when nothing better came to mind, Lucy decided to just ask someone.
That proved difficult as she still seemed to go unnoticed, even as she walked among a stream of people. "Umm—excuse me, could you —" No one would stop long enough for Lucy to say more than that. What's wrong with these people?she thought, just as someone from behind unexpectedly pushed her to the ground.
Okay, maybe they can see me, she thought bitterly, rubbing her bruised bottom. She looked for the rude passerby who had shoved her, ready to make her complaint known. But whoever it had been, he or she was long gone. Lucy pouted as the river of people passed her by without so much as a glance.
She resisted voicing the insults that threatened to burst from her mouth, dusting the dirt off her clothes with exaggerated motion in her annoyance.
Trying again, she asked, "Could someone give me directions?" Still no answer except for the passersby moving along.
There was something wrong with this city—despite the blue skin of the people, the foreign architecture and otherworldly machinery. Near the entrance to an alley, she could see a group of young men, staring nonchalantly at the moving mass of people. Maybe she would have better luck asking someone who didn't seem so intent on walking in a mindless march. Approaching them, she asked, "Excuse me. I'm trying to find someone. Could you help me?"
Dark eyes roved up and down her body. Lucy couldn't decide what she wanted to do more—slap the pervert for his leering gaze or whoop for joy that someone was actually paying attention to her. Deciding that getting answers was more important than punishing a common pervert, Lucy started to lay on the charm. Her first weapon of choice: the shy smile.
These guys are too simple, she thought triumphantly as one grinned maliciously. The one with the leer licked his lips before opening his mouth to say something—a cheesy pickup line, no doubt—but stopped when his companion tapped his shoulder. His eyes widened in surprise as he looked between her and his friend who waved his arms in a 'no' signal, pointing to Lucy. The pervert looked annoyed—like he was told there would be no more ice cream. He gave a dejected sigh as he looked away. In a matter of seconds, her existence was dismissed once again.
What is going on here?
Shocked at the pervert's sudden disinterest and angry that her feminine charm had been so effectively snubbed, Lucy flushed red. Why are they ignoring me? She glanced down. Other than her somewhat impractical attire, nothing was wrong with her. Unless they were racist, as she was the only person in the vicinity without blue skin. She knew she wasn't hideous. She looked around and this time found a vendor. He seemed a decent sort of gentleman with a grandfatherly face and lots of laugh lines.
As she approached, the man's welcoming aura turned to trepidation. Worried that she might scare him off, Lucy tried asking in a calm, gentle voice, "Excuse me, I was wondering if you could…" she paused as she watched the man glance left and right repeatedly, a sheen of sweat visible on his forehead, "give me directions." The man looked everywhere but at her. Lucy gave an exasperated sigh as she left the old man. She noticed the relief cross his face as she left.
Lucy was frustrated as she walked around, attempting conversation with several passersby. The only reaction she got was to be avoided like a contagious disease. Several agonizing hours passed before Lucy had to sit on a bench by a deserted fountain when her legs threatened to fall off.
"Something's seriously wrong with this town," she mumbled to herself. Resting her elbows on her knees and holding her head in her hands, she gazed at the cobblestones at her feet. The occasional native would pass by, laughing at some joke that seemed to make sense only to the inhabitants of this nonsensical place.
She had been expecting to find a gloomy headquarters. Instead, she winded up in a town—like any other town with people going about their daily lives. And ignoring the tourists who just wanted to ask for directions. Something is going on here, Lucy thought. How can an entire city's population—blue skin or not—act so lifeless? What does it have to do with the Death Reapers? She knew her captors were part of the dark guild. If their purpose was to gather people for a ritual, why did they leave her here alone? What was this place? Were they going to be part of the ritual? Or were they already…
Lucy glanced at the dark, covered sky. Beneath the open center of the dome stood a sinister looking tower. It was also the only place where the most light seemed to emanate from within the city. It didn't take a genius to guess that the tower played a part in all of this. Sitting up straight, Lucy thought of the possibilities that tower presented when she noticed black markings on the back of her hand. Where did this come from? The blonde stared at the pattern of a black swirl surrounding an ominous flower, wondering if it had always been there and she had been too absorbed in everything else to ever notice such an important change to her physical appearance. Her thoughts turned foggy as she briefly dismissed the idea that it was something alien and needed to be rid of quickly.
Her thoughts were interrupted as her face abruptly met the ground. The celestial spirit mage was annoyed. Did people from this town enjoy pushing people as some kind of pastime?
Ready to let loose a verbal assault on the offender, Lucy opened her mouth to say exactly what she thought about people who treat complete strangers like absolute garbage, but stopped when a disdainful voice asked, "What's a newbie doing here? This is a respectable place." Lucy gaped as a plump woman wearing a beaded green dress and an expensive looking fur-wrap around her shoulders sat on the bench Lucy had previously occupied. Even with her light blue complexion, her haughty manner and gaudy clothes reminded Lucy of a selfish noblewoman who spent more time judging others' lack than trying to assist them.
Finally, Lucy spoke, outraged after a night of being treated like invisible trash. "Why'd you push me? That was extremely rude, no matter the excuse." Lucy rubbed her twice bruised posterior as she stood up and straightened her clothes. She hoped she didn't get anything dirty on it. It would be a shame to ruin the pretty shade of red with splotches of muck.
The woman ignored her, continuing to rest on Lucy's bench. That made the blonde even angrier. "Hey, I'm talking to you. Piggy old hag!"
The woman glared hard enough to make the blonde flinch. It was creepy, really, but Lucy refused to back down and returned the glare.
The pompous woman finally broke the silence, with an offended retort. "How dare such a thing talk to me; what's more, such impudence coming from one whose existence is that of a speck of dust. What have the guards been doing, letting such riff raff out and about in public?" Lucy raised an eyebrow, annoyed that she was being treated like some stray rabid dog that needed to be locked up. Her anger simmered in her veins. What was this woman talking about? She was the one who had pushed her to the ground. If anyone should be offended, it should be Lucy, not this beast of a woman.
"The audacity to stare at me in such a way!" the woman screeched. "Have you no shame?"
Then she heard them—their whispers, the surprise evident on each of the passersby's face around her.
"Ohhh, look, dear! It's another one."
"What's that doing here?"
"But everyone knows they're not allowed outside."
"It must have escaped."
"Security has gone to the dogs."
"Insolent little thing, ain't it?"
It took Lucy a moment to realize they were talking about her. Looking right to left, she could see everyone gazing contemptuously at her. Their disgust was palpable and the blonde unconsciously took a step back. She was flabbergasted. Just ten minutes ago they ignored her like she didn't exist and now she had their undivided attention. She wasn't so sure she wanted it after all.
What was up with this town?
Lucy yelped as large hands shoved her to the ground, keeping her immobile. With great effort, she managed to turn her head so that air could reach her lungs. Her eyes watered, alarmed at the harsh actions. This doesn't make sense. Why are they doing this?
"This should take care of it," one said, using his hands to hold hers down tightly, making the blonde flinch from the harsh grip.
"Are you alright, madam? It didn't hurt you, did it?" She saw a woman attempting to comfort the condescending woman who had pushed her earlier.
"Can't believe they let one as dangerous as this out of their sight," another one remarked, as he held her legs while Lucy struggled to free herself.
"What's…going on here?" Lucy murmured, trying to get a grasp of the situation she had landed in.
"Have you called the guards?" she heard someone ask as he paced in front of her.
"Yeah. They'll be here shortly."
She could have used her keys, given enough struggling to reach her belt. But these were civilians. Lucy wasn't about to unleash her magic on unsuspecting, innocent people. Besides, Lucy couldn't reveal her ability to use magic. The mission depended on it.
Sirens pierced the air. Lucy heard the screech of metal doors opening and closing, and then the uniformed march of a small group of people towards the fountain.
"We'll take it from here," a gruff voice announced.
There was a collective sigh of relief. "Oh, please, do," one woman insisted. "We were all scared when that…thing…suddenly spoke." Lucy felt the woman's gaze on her as she added, "It talked like…like it was one of us." The woman gave an incredulous laugh. "Can you believe it officer?"
"It was crazy. Had it not been for our quick actions, it would have harmed Ms. Mary," a man commented, proud of his contribution to help save one of the most refined ladies in the city.
Lucy felt the hands release her, only to be replaced with cuffs on her wrists. Well, that seems to be a recurring theme today, she thought drily.
"I didn't do anything wrong," Lucy protested as she was forced to stand up. The eyes that looked at her were a mix of revulsion and fear, though they refused to meet her gaze.
An officer grabbed her jaw harshly. "This one's unique," he mused, unfazed as the captured girl glared back at him.
"We'll make sure it behaves properly," the first officer assured the crowd.
Lucy was indignant. Why did they keep treating her like some kind of thing?
"Thank you, officer," several citizens murmured with relief, already leaving the area like nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. The celestial mage stared blankly ahead of her, scheming of ways to escape even as she was pushed by two officers towards a four-wheeled machine. One of them opened the door and gestured for her to get inside. Lucy emphatically shook her head no.
One of her escorts muttered angrily, "Get in the car peacefully or we'll be forced to—" He never finished his threat as an explosion knocked them all to the ground. Smoke quickly filled the street, filling the lungs of everyone who breathed in too much.
"What's going on?" one yelled between coughs. The hands that held Lucy loosened as the officer became preoccupied filling his lungs with clean air.
"I can't see anything!"
Lucy had no idea what was happening, but she wasn't about to let this chance to escape pass her by.
"Is it an attack?"
"Captain! It's the rebels!"
Lucy wasted no time. While their attention was diverted, she could get away. Though she herself was blinded by the smoke, instinct and adrenaline kicked in as she tried not to breathe in the strange smoke. Just as she was ready to run, the cuffs clinked to the ground.
A hand latched onto hers, dragging her along. Given no time to think, her only reaction was to follow the direction of the hand that led her.
By the time the smoke cleared, the police force determined that they were safe from attack.
"Officer Jenkins, report!" ordered the captain.
"A few bruises, sir, but no casualties. It appears to have been some kind of prank," the officer said. "No rebels to be found."
The captain nodded as he took in his scattered team, some struggling to get up as their legs were entangled with each other. "What about the girl?"
Officer Jenkins gulped. "Er…she's missing. Sir," he added as an afterthought.
The man quivered beneath the menacing aura of his commanding officer. "What?!" he burst out, his mustache quivering. "Incompetent. Useless. Jenkins, you're dismissed." With a salute, Jenkins fled the scene, praying this would not affect his chances of promotion. The captain began to relay his orders to the rest of the taskforce. "Men, call headquarters. Connect me to the tracking department. It must have been one of those damn rebels. They won't have gotten far. One squad will come with me to search the surrounding area. Send a squad each to search sections E and F. Even if they run, there's no escaping Master Zoldeo's plan. However, if those fools think they can mess with this city's law enforcement, they have another thing coming," he muttered darkly.
"Sir!" a junior lieutenant ran up. "We managed to make contact with the tracking department."
"And?" the captain asked impatiently.
The lieutenant gulped. "They said they lost track of the girl."
The captain cursed under his breath. "What else? Do they at least know where she disappeared?"
"Somewhere near 34thstreet."
Thoughtfully rubbing his chin, the captain said, "Close that road. Stop all activity and evacuate the citizens living there. We're going to capture them." Having given his orders, he walked past the civilians who saw what happened. They appeared worried that their law enforcement had just been outsmarted, their horrified expressions distraught that something potentially dangerous was loose on the streets. "One more thing, lieutenant."
"Gather reports from the eyewitnesses." Pretend that everything was all right; keep the unsuspecting townsfolk calm.
Their worries were miniscule in the grand scheme of things. No matter how anyone attempted to resist, the same inevitable future awaited this people. However, it was best not to let them know that.
"Where are we going?" Lucy asked her rescuer for the seventh time. And just like the previous six times, he ignored her—just like the blue citizens she had just escaped from. What if he's one of them, she thought. But as they walked through the sewers, Lucy's intuition told her that his silence was for reasons very different from the strange inhabitants of this bizarre city.
After what seemed like an hour of mucking in the waste—I can't wait until I can take a nice, long soak in a hot bath—Lucy bumped into her rescuer, realizing belatedly that he had halted. "We're here," he announced, studying a siding of metal. His voice sounded high-pitched and scratchy, like he hadn't reached puberty—
"You're just a kid! Don't you realize the situation is dangerous? This is no place for a child," the blond mage ranted. He paid her no mind as he knocked on the metal siding. "What do you think you're doing? There's nothing…" she trailed off as an opening appeared. On the other side was a dimly lit hallway with a second cloaked person waiting for them, though this one had the build of a bulky man.
"Yeah, the last one," the boy answered.
"Excellent work, m'boy."
If there was one thing Lucy had grown to hate, it was being ignored. Being talked about like she wasn't even there was worse, and it made her blood boil. In an aggravated voice, she asked, "Could I get some answers now? Such as—oh, I don't know—who are you, what are we doing here, and what the heck is happening out there?"
The older male glanced at her, revealing he wore a mask that covered the top half of his face. But through the eye holes, she could see that his eyes were narrowed, as if he hadn't expected the blonde to speak her own mind. His eyes from what she could see were staring at her with deep thought. "My apologies, miss. You must've had a rough day. But it's all right now," he paused, giving a reassuring smile. "Let's get you settled down before explaining. I'm sure you're very confused about everything."
The child walked ahead, as if he hadn't heard the older man say anything. "You must excuse him," the man said, noticing Lucy's confusion at the boy's abrupt departure. "Everyone around here is feeling edgy nowadays." He smiled apologetically, trying to make up for the boy's inhospitality.
Bewildered, Lucy stared at the man as he placed a brown shawl around her shoulders. "I'm sure you're scared and confused," he said, "but I assure you that you'll be safe here." He gave a reassuring smile. Lucy grabbed the ends of the shawl, more for comfort than warmth, as she smiled in return at the kind gesture.
"This way, miss," he bowed politely before walking the same way as the boy. Lucy followed close behind.
An hour later, Lucy was sitting on a couch, drinking a refreshing cup of tea. She was in an old office, occupied by tables stacked with disorganized piles of paperwork. Lights flickered from time to time. A decrepit ceiling fan creaked slowly in circles, as if one jostle would bring it crashing down. Lucy shared the room with others in cloaks wearing similar masks to her rescuer and escort.
"So—"she began eagerly.
"You want explanations?" asked one behind the largest table, sitting in a chair with her legs crossed. Despite the cloak that hid the person's figure and the mask that altered voices, Lucy knew it was a woman. At Lucy's nod, the woman continued, "Well then, where would you like me to start?"
"How about something old fashioned, like introductions? Who are you people? What are you doing down here?"
The woman smiled. "I'd love to explain, but you really aren't that interested in finding out who we are, right?"
Lucy was a little irked that this woman refused to answer. Deciding to let it slide for now, she asked, "How about with this town, then? The people here are strange. No one would look at me let alone answer my questions. They treated me like an invisible diseased person. Why?"
"Belnika, explain." The smile never left her face as the woman called on someone else to be spokesperson.
"Me?" A calm, appealing voice responded, blinking twice at the sudden address. Lucy turned automatically to face the speaker. The woman sat with perfect posture, her back straight, hands resting on her lap, and ankles neatly crossed to the side. Blue bangs peeped from under the hood, framing her soft indigo eyes as she gazed serenely at Lucy without the hindrance of a mask. She gave a graceful nod toward the celestial mage as she murmured to herself, "That would be the proper thing, hmm?" The way she smiled gently at Lucy reminded the blonde of her deceased mother. "The answer to why they ignored you is right there on your hand," Belnika began.
"This?" Lucy raised the marked hand. Belnika nodded as Lucy studied the markings. Her eyes widened as she noticed the mark looked different. "It's bigger now. And the pattern changed."
"It's the process for newbies around here," Belnika explained matter-of-factly. "Whoever kidnapped you should have said something about it."
"Eh? Oh, those jerks. But…" Lucy paused, her brows wrinkled in confusion. "All they did was blindfold me, push me around a few times, then left alone in this bizarre city. Besides that, they didn't say anything relevant." Maybe I shouldn't have pissed them off, Lucy thought as she stared up at the ceiling.
"That's it?" Belnika asked in surprise. She shook her head as if she was disappointed in the mercenaries' incompetence.
Lucy looked back to the blue-haired woman. "Yeah. So…what's with this mark?" She raised her hand, revealing that the markings now reached the wrist.
"That mark…" Belnika trailed off as she looked to her boss for reassurance. Receiving a nod, Belnika removed her hood.
Lucy audibly gasped.
Shaking out her wild blue hair, Belnika removed her cloak. She wore a sleeveless blue dress, with a side slit that ran from thigh to ankle. She looked as picturesque as Levy except for two distinct things: the markings that spread over her arms and legs—similar to the ones on Lucy's hand—and the pale blue shading of her skin. Lucy began to realize there was more to the blue skin than she first thought.
"This mark is something that everyone gets upon entering the city," Belnika explained, sitting once more. "What it means is this: you've begun the process of becoming one with the city."
"Becoming one?" Lucy cocked her head to one side. She gripped her cup of tea in unease.
Belnika nodded as the boy who had saved her from the corrupt police force removed his mask and cloak to show his own marks. The most prominent marking that was visible to Lucy surrounded his right eye.
"You might say it's like an illness," he spoke in a monotone, as if he was plainly quoting facts from memory. "These marks grow all over the body. When it does—"
"—You become one of them," Belnika finished.
"One of them? What do you mean?" Lucy asked.
"Come with me," Belnika said, standing again. "I think it would be better if you see it with your own eyes." Together, she and the boy walked towards the door. Lucy followed them hesitatingly, unsure what Belnika meant or where she intended to lead them.
As the three passed through various rooms, Lucy noticed how some people wore masks while others sported the black markings on different parts of their bodies. She even saw a few quickly hide their blue-tinged hands.
These people contrasted from those who lived aboveground. While the blue-skinned people who inhabited the city acted like normal happily oblivious humans—disregarding the strange discrimination—down here, the people appeared to be shouldering some great burden. Their sorrow was evident even through their welcoming smiles directed at Lucy. It was as though they emphasized with Lucy, as they glanced surreptitiously at her marked hand. Lucy's own eyes lingered on her hand. Just what on earth is this mark? Does it really hold such power over the people of this city?
After passing many doors, Belnika stopped at one that seemed no different from the rest. "This room," she said, placing a hand on the door to support her body as she leaned on it, "well…it's not pleasant, but what you'll see here is the fate of those that stumble upon this city."
Lucy's stomach squirmed as she heard the groans and cries of pain that leaked through the door's cracks. Belnika opened the door and gestured for the blonde to enter. When she did, Lucy couldn't prevent the gasp that escaped her lips. Hands covering her mouth, she stared wide-eyed at the rows of beds—each occupied by someone who cried out in agony—complete with restraints as the patients squirmed and thrashed in attempt to relieve their discomfort. Horrorstruck, she realized the infirmary's occupants had a common "diagnosis".
Each person had marks similar to Belnika and the rest, however the patients seemed to be feeling the effects as the strange markings moved across their skin. From the patterns eked out swirls of blue that gradually overtook the natural pigments of their skin.
"Follow me." Hearing Belnika's voice snapped Lucy from her thoughts as she hesitantly followed the two to another room, feeling helpless as the sounds of pain continued to torment her even when she could no longer hear them.
The room Belnika led them to next was much smaller, and Lucy dully noted that the walls prevented any noise from neighboring rooms to be heard, even if she could still hear their echo in her own mind. Belnika sat cross-legged at a desk table, folding her arms across her chest, silently waiting for the shell-shocked blonde's reaction.
"What…" What's going on? Lucy wanted to ask. First, there was the strange mark that appeared on her wrist. Then, it grew as time went by, until it slowly spread across the entire body. Then this place, where people bore the same marks as the one spreading across her hand resided, was some kind of sanctuary.
"This is what happens to those who enter this city. Once you reach the same state as them…" Belnika's eyes glanced in the direction of the infirmary, before closing her eyes in defeat. "There's no going back. Rather than anything, there's no escaping this city's illness once you've entered it."
"But, aren't you okay? I mean, you guys seem to be doing well. The people in this underground place have lasted as much as the ones above, right? There's got to be a cure to this illness," Lucy insisted.
Belnika gave a self-deprecating laugh. "I wouldn't call this a cure. It's more of a temporary solution." Belnika removed a small vial of white liquid from her pocket. "It slows the process, but it doesn't cure anyone."
"But you saved me, right?" Lucy said, looking to the boy who still hadn't said a word. "I'm a new victim that you helped. If you've given up, then why did you bother rescuing me?" Lucy shook her head. "No, you haven't given up yet. Otherwise you wouldn't be telling me all this."
"Helping you avoid the tower was the boss's order," Belnika explained. "Hoping for a permanent cure…some people are too afraid to give up their only hope. The thought that they can become normal again—return to their homes and forget this ever happened—is the only thing that keeps them going."
Return home?Lucy wondered. The thought came to her that maybe these people could be the missing tourists and townsfolk. Of course !she berated herself for her forgetfulness. "That's right. There's something else I wanted to ask," she exclaimed. "From what you said earlier, does that mean no one used to live in this town? Or have they always been here?"
"Curious about their origin, eh?" Belnika said, a soft smile on her lips as the boy stared anxiously. "People who come to this town will forget. Forget truth, forget reality, and forget what happened to them and how they came to be here. From what I've gathered, this town came into existence the same time that group started kidnapping people. The same group responsible for your kidnapping."
"The mercenaries? Are they the same ones responsible for the missing people of Shimutse town?"
"Shimutse?" Belnika exchanged glances with the boy, feeling a sense of déjà vu at the town name.
"That's where I was before I was kidnapped. I…um…happened to be walking around this strangely deserted town when I got caught," Lucy stammered. Well, I let myself be captured, but they don't need to know that, she thought.
"Shimutse, eh…" Belnika murmured, ignoring Lucy's look of confusion. "That's right. I was there taking a vacation before landing in this hell," Belnika said to herself, as if she was remembering a long-forgotten dream.
"It was just one vacation," the boy finally spoke, "when things suddenly changed."
"I was just walking around, minding my own business, when someone attacked me from behind. When I woke up…" Belnika trailed off, "I was here and nothing was the same." Belnika was staring intently at something not present in the room before releasing a sigh. "Sorry, I didn't mean to get off-topic. I just remembered how I got into this mess. I guess, the same thing you experienced happened to me," she explained, confirming the blonde's theory.
"But does that mean you were being stupid since you were kidnapped?" the boy mumbled loud enough for Lucy to hear.
"I wasn't being stupid," Lucy objected. "You're one to talk. Didn't the same thing happen to you?"
"I'm a kid," he shrugged nonchalantly, as if that made all the difference.
"What I want to know is who hired those kidnappers," Lucy said. "Why would a dark guild need to abduct hundreds of innocent people to turn them into blue-skinned ignoramuses?" It was a rhetorical question, but Belnika and the boy stiffened when they heard her ask herself that.
"How do you know that?" the boy asked suspiciously. "Who are you?" The look on his face worried the blonde.
"I'm—" Lucy stopped as a handgun pointed at her, hearing the click as the boy removed the safety.
"Niebel! What are you doing?" Belnika shouted, alarmed when Niebel continued to point the gun at the young woman he had rescued only a couple hours before.
Lucy's throat felt tight as she managed to calmly say, "That's a dangerous thing you're holding. Could you put it away before someone gets hurt?" She wanted to take the pistol from his hands, but she warily noticed his twitching finger at the trigger.
"Stop it!" he hissed. "Belnika, you heard what this woman said. She knows something that she's not telling us! She's—"
"A victim like everyone else," Belnika broke in gently. "Put that gun down."
"But—Belnika! She might be their spy!" He now held the gun with both hands, steadily aiming at the blonde's torso.
"Why do you think that?" Belnika asked tensely. Lucy watched the exchange, nervous but unafraid.
"Is it really just coincidence? Look how easy it was to rescue her from the police squad, how calmly she's accepted the strangeness of this city, how she isn't freaking out despite knowing what we're turning into? She must be leading us on. Any second now, everyone…" he paused, panic and fear evident in the way his hands shook as he continued to wield the pistol.
Belnika looked at Lucy thoughtfully. Several seconds passed before–quick as lightning—she punched Niebel's stomach. Caught off guard, the boy reflexively dropped the gun as he doubled over from the powerful blow. Using a foot to slide the weapon away from the now unconscious boy, Belnika placed him gently in the chair she had been occupying. Lucy released a sigh of relief, causing the blue-haired woman to look at her as she held her hands to her chest and kept her eyes closed.
"I do apologize for that. I hope you didn't feel threatened too much," Belnika said as she used her palms on the table to support her weight.
"Mmm, no. I'm fine!" Lucy assured, brown eyes blinking open as she smiled.
"Everyone here has been on edge since, well…you know the situation we're all in, if what you said earlier is any indication," Belnika mused. "Once the mark completely takes over someone's body, that person experiences something like a rebirth. He loses who he used to be, his past, his present—everything that defines him—and becomes…"
Becomes one of them, Lucy thought, recalling the conversation from earlier. "Then this place and you people...you form some kind of resistance group in this town?" Lucy guessed.
"If only things were that simple," Belnika sighed. "At first, we were hopeful of finding an escape, working together to find a permanent cure. But then…after what happened a few months ago, we realized it's too late. Now we're simply waiting for the inevitable. Though I have to admit, what you said earlier really does seem suspicious," Belnika said, changing topics.
"While Niebel overreacted, his doubts have some merit. Your actions do not coincide with those of every other victim. Never panicked, never showed signs of disorientation. You behaved as if something unexpected wasn't out of the norm. At every single turn, you have been irrationally calm," Belnika commented, moving a step forward every few words, forcing Lucy to back up from the accusatory glare of the other woman. Lucy squeaked as she found herself trapped between the steely-eyed woman and the door they had entered through.
Placing a hand against the door on either side of Lucy's head, Belnika demanded, "Who are you? You aren't really a victim like you want us to think. Rather, you seem like—" she paused, studying the blonde seriously, "—a spy. Or like you knew exactly what you were getting yourself into."
Lucy tried to avoid Belnika's inquisitive stare. Her throat constricted as she tried to speak. "That…" she began, exhaling slowly as Belnika urged her to continue. Lucy wished the woman wasn't invading her personal space so much as she said, "…depends on if you people are who I think you are, and if you can take me to him."
She could have told Belnika that she was a mage, here to help free them from their situation. But she had realized that these people who had already given up hope wouldn't believe her. Their fragile state of mind would prevent them from accepting Lucy's word alone. She'd just have to be careful about what she said, and prove it to them through her actions.
Belnika's eyes narrowed as she scrutinized Lucy, taking several seconds to size up the girl. Lucy looked back nervously, hoping the young woman would take the bait.
To Lucy's surprise, Belnika suddenly moved back a couple of inches, shaking with barely controlled laughter. She had to place her hands on her stomach as she began to laugh heartily. Just when Lucy believed the girl had finally lost her senses, the blue-haired managed to say between bursts of laughter, "You're really something, aren't you?" Lucy's brows knitted together in confusion. "This is the first time I've met someone like you," Belnika said once she reigned in her laughter, wiping excess tears from her eyes as she looked at the pouting blonde.
"I'm serious," Lucy insisted.
"You do know where you are, don't you? Do you realize the situation you are in, little girl?" Belnika asked, arms folded across her chest.
"I know enough, judging by you and this place," Lucy huffed. "And I resent being called a little girl."
"Then you realize this place and its occupants are armed left and right. We didn't exactly rescue you, you know," Belnika confided.
"Frankly, I don't care who you people are," Lucy retorted. "I'm only interested in one thing, and your situation is part of it. I know you'd rather not hear anything about it…" Lucy paused, looking at Belnika as she recalled how the woman reacted when she voiced her opinion about their situation. Seeing the markings that covered Belnika's skin, she continued, "I know your predicament is being controlled by the dark guild known as the Death Reapers."
Suddenly, Lucy could barely squeak as Belnika used a hand to grasp her throat. The humor disappeared from Belnika's eyes as she asked, "Who are you really?" Lucy could only wheeze in response as the hand that held her down didn't ease in pressure.
Belnika glanced at Niebel still unconscious in the chair. " Could it be?" Belnika mused, biting her thumbnail. Several seconds seemed to last much longer before she let go of Lucy, who immediately massaged her abused neck. This didn't last long as Belnika grabbed Lucy's arm and opened the door at the same time. Seeing Lucy's bewildered expression, Belnika said, "We're meeting the boss."
"W-what about Niebel?" Lucy glanced back at the room where Niebel remained, but the blue-haired girl continued to pull her toward a new destination.
"He'l be fine," she reassured. Lucy just gazed at Belnika, silently conceding while her mind ferociously worked out what had caused Belnika's sudden change and what it could lead to.
They walked fast, practically sprinting past the same doors and people Lucy had first seen. Belnika paused before a new door, as if torn between knocking or barging straight in. Deciding to go with the latter, Belnika yanked Lucy after her. The room was empty save for a masked woman seated at the only desk, wearing a knowing smile. Either a person invading her office was a common occurrence or she had expected for this to happen.
"Finally figured it out?" she guessed.
Belnika said nothing as she closed the door and made her way to stand directly before the smiling woman. Lucy was startled as Belnika slapped her hands against the table, crying out, "I'm against it!"
"Against what?" the woman responded enigmatically.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about," Belnika snapped.
"I'm afraid I really have no idea," the boss woman sang lightly.
"Don't mess with me!" Belnika shouted. "You know what happened last time."
"Are you referring to our cute little guest?" she remarked, smiling at Lucy while ignoring the heated gaze of Belnika's blue eyes. Lucy wordlessly looked on.
Belnika gave an annoyed sigh. In a small voice, she argued, "How many people have already tried? How many of them were unable to do something? And you think this…little girl will be able to do what no else could!" Lucy wrinkled her nose in distaste at the less than hospitable description.
"I would be careful of what I say if I were you Belnika," the masked woman reprimanded, studying Lucy with an interested eye.
"Don't be ridiculous! You're an incredible woman, a fact you're well aware of. That's why we've followed you all this time, but this is…this is—" Belnika glanced at Lucy as if to dare her to prove otherwise, "—ridiculous! That girl couldn't possibly do anything to help us."
"I'm right here, you know," Lucy muttered indignantly, peeved that the two women continued to ignore her.
The leader of the rebels just smiled bigger, which seemed to rile up Belnika even more. Standing up, she removed her cloak—revealing a voluptuous woman fitted in an elegant emerald cheongsam. Glossy black hair was held up in a loop at each side of her head, with the braided ends hanging loosely. She had the air of a refined, intelligent woman who never revealed her secrets. But like everyone else, the same black marks covered her body, though in Lucy's opinion it seemed to enhance her ethereal beauty.
She pulled a Chinese fan seemingly out of nowhere. "But this girl isn't just anyone, Belnika." Opening the fan to cover the lower part of her face, she slowly approached Lucy. "This girl is a mage. From Fairy Tail, no less."
Belnika's eyes widened. "That's…impossible. After all our attempts, even if the Magic Council itself came, they wouldn't be able to put an end to this. What makes you think she will be any different?" she protested.
"You underestimate the strength and determination of a Fairy Tail mage. I have faith that if it's Fairy Tail, then this town's problems will come to an end." the older woman persuaded, glancing at the blue-haired girl out of the corner of her eyes. Turning her full attention back to Lucy, she said, "We've been expecting to hear from your guild, but I'm surprised they didn't send Titania as I requested."
"Oh, Erza's here. I'm sorry I can't give you the details though. Just know that we have a plan," Lucy assured, a slight quirk gracing her lips. "And you are the client?"
The woman in charge nodded. "I sent the request years ago. I must confess, I'm intrigued how you allowed yourself to be caught and made into a victim while your mage status remained unnoticed."
"That was Erza's part of the plan," Lucy said breezily.
"So this was all planned?" Belnika marveled, remembering the townspeople's reaction to this new arrival, how fearless and strong she seemed. When Lucy nodded, Belnika couldn't resist saying, "That sounds absolutely insane, and so unbelievably awesome at the same time." Did this young blonde woman understand beforehand that she risked becoming like the rest of the town's occupants? Wasn't she scared that she would be discovered by the enemy? Even so, she was extremely lucky to not have been found out, or she wouldn't be talking to them right now.
"It's not that surprising considering Fairy Tail's reputation for accomplishing the impossible," the boss lady conceded, fanning her face. "But I must admit, this isn't the usual way Fairy Tail goes about things. Then again, maybe I should have expected it."
"I couldn't be sure how everything would turn out. It was luck more than anything else that you guys found me. Erza might have had an idea, but she didn't mention anything to me," Lucy added.
"Well, enough chitchat," the woman said abruptly, closing her fan with an audible snap. "I'm sure there are things you need to know before we start?"
Lucy's eyes widened slightly at the brusque change of topic, but she gave a nod, saying, "I have a gist, but I need to confirm a few things about this town and its purpose."
"That's what Titania asked you to do, Fairy Tail mage?" the leader asked.
"Not exactly. But for starters, I'm Lucy," she introduced herself. "Lucy of Fairy Tail."
"I'm this town's former mayor and the current leader of this resistance. But you can call me Minerva," she said, shaking hands with the blonde mage of Fairy Tail.
Belnika looked between the two. A part of her couldn't help feel a bit of hope at what this exchange meant. But another part doubted any good would come of this. What dreadful situation is going to happen now?
Belnika couldn't help but shake her head at the baffling scene before her. Beside her, Minerva wore her infuriating smile, as if she was satisfied with everything that had happened. They were hiding in an alley, watching the panicked people running as if they were being chased by walking corpses while various police squads attempted to calm what was quickly turning into an uncontrollable mob.
"I didn't give her enough credit," Belnika whispered. "To think she caused this much of an uproar in such a short amount of time." She shook her head once more in disbelief as she observed several newly damaged buildings emitting smoke from various places—courtesy of the resistance group to give the blonde mage her needed distraction.
Minerva gave a satisfied nod before turning in the direction of a comrade's home which served as a temporary base. Knowing she was expected to follow, Belnika paused, eyes straying to the ominous tower at the center of this messed up city. It was useless, really, to expect anything to come out of that girl's efforts. Nevertheless, Belnika found herself following the mage using a widely unknown route. She wasn't worried about the girl's safety, she kept telling herself. She just wanted to see what this girl was capable of. What made her believe so strongly when Belnika herself refused to harbor any hope.
Minerva smirked slightly when she noticed her director of medical research had disappeared from sight. Things are about to change in this town where the real people are hidden within themselves, Minerva thought with conviction. Soon, they will finally awake.
"You think Lucy will be okay on her own?" Gray asked as they floundered through the forest. After misplacing his favorite purple polo shirt three times during this hike, Erza had forcefully tied the shirt around his waist in hopes that it would stay put.
"She'll be fine as long as everything goes as planned," Erza answered, eyes never straying from the path in front of them.
"Speaking of our plan, don't you think it's weird we sent Lucy undercover? We've never done that before. I much prefer our usual style," Gray insisted. His definition of "usual style" of course meant barging in and demanding information from the poor soul who was spotted first. Instead, they had to quietly trail Lucy and her captors. Boooooring.
Erza disagreed. "This is an S-class mission that has gone unsolved for five years. Under these circumstances, going undercover isn't out of the norm."
"I still don't see why it was necessary," Gray maintained. A suspicious look came across his face as he asked, "Did you get the idea from that action movie you've been obsessed with recently?"
Erza remained silent for several moments before commenting lightly, "Lucy has more decorum than the wild men of Fairy Tail. Unlike you, she doesn't have a penchant for mayhem and destruction in order to complete a mission." Gray gave a nervous smile as the scarlet-haired mage had completely ignored his question, proof that he had hit the reason spot on.
Unexpectedly, Erza hauled Gray behind the trunk of a large tree. When the ice mage had stopped protesting the sudden assault, he could clearly hear the crunch of leaves as someone walked through the forest. Without a sound, Erza and Gray listened to the conversation that every few words set them even more on edge.
"The plan will soon be complete."
"I heard some newbie riled up the resistance enough to come out of hiding. Now they're being chased by them."
"I heard that too. Apparently they caused some kind of stampede."
Erza's vice-like hold on Gray became tighter at every passing second.
"Really? Hard to imagine considering how that place has been kept neatly for so long."
"Yeah. Seems like someone managed to stir up some additional trouble during the rebels' attempt."
"You would think after what happened last time they would have known better."
"I thought so too. But supposedly a mage got themselves caught by one of the scouting parties and used that to infiltrate the city."
"Well, with Master Zoldeo's plan at fruition after five long years, it doesn't make a difference, right?"
"I guess so." The voices faded out as the two men walked out of the Fairy Tail mages' hearing range.
"So…correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I just heard Lucy created some mayhem and destruction," Gray snorted. Lucy—the one who always criticized her teammates for the mess they would unintentionally leave in their wake as they performed a job—had purposely wreaked havoc.
Erza remained unresponsive as she began to walk in the direction of the two men.
"Oi!" Gray called, annoyed at being ignored as he ran to catch up to the requip mage.
"Things are spiraling out of control faster than I anticipated. We must hurry," Erza explained cryptically.
"What? Where are we going?" Gray demanded, trying to match his teammate's brisk pace.
"To that place," she answered vaguely.
Gray gave up trying to get a straight answer from Titania of Fairy Tail. Sooner or later, the situation would be explained, so he wouldn't press the issue. He just hoped Lucy wasn't in any trouble.
Lucy had begun to regret her decision after making her way through the panicked crowds. If their shouts of terror and tendency to elbow their neighbors in order to save themselves hadn't been bad enough, the town security failing to control the masses made everything worse and much more chaotic. Lucy was just thankful that none of the officers seemed to notice her as she focused her sights on her final destination—the brilliantly lit tower at the city's center. When she was several hundred meters away, she noticed how the top of the tower actually seemed to touch the hole at the domed roof.
Lucy reached the tower without incident. Mentally giving herself a pat on the back, she studied the overwhelming structure before her. Several dozen stories of black marble rose ominously into the inky sky, slightly reflecting the light from within its windows. Surrounding the grounds of the building was a wall of thick iron about two and a half meters high. The obstacle would pose no problem for the mage, even without magic. Using a small boulder conveniently situated next to the wall, Lucy jumped, hands grasping the top of the wall. Pulling herself up and over, she landed with a soft thud before looking at her surroundings. She immediately gave an awkward smile.
"Oh. Hey there," Lucy waved nonchalantly to the soldiers lined up in formation, their rifles threatening that they were prepared to shoot at a command.
The man who stood in the middle of the first row smirked. "How lucky I got to greet our lovely intruder."
Lucy was caught off guard. She was sure the rebels had caused enough disorder to distract all security personnel, giving her the necessary cover. So then how did they know her plan?
As though he could read her thoughts, the man's smile grew. "We anticipated the rebels would try something like this. I admit, I never expected they could pull it off in a few hours' time. Unfortunately, this plan was set to fail from the start. Well, unfortunate for you, mage of Fairy Tail."
She couldn't stop her eyes from widening.They knew? Had they known all along?
"We've always been prepared for a mage to try to interfere with Master Zoldeo's plan," the commander informed the flustered blonde. "But even if that hadn't been the case, your capture was inevitable."
"What do you mean?" Lucy asked sharply.
Using a hand to gesture toward the celestial spirit mage, the man continued to smile darkly as a soldier moved forward to apprehend her. Instinctively, Lucy moved her hand to the belt she had adorned shortly before the plan had been set in motion. The man tsked. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, mage." A resounding chorus of gun safeties being removed echoed through the courtyard as dozens of barrels were directed at her. "Even if on the slight chance you could fight against us with your magic, it's already too late for you."
He pointed to the mark that had by now completely covered her arm, spreading faster than ever as a blue hue became abundantly clear. All of a sudden, Lucy felt the unbearable pain and couldn't prevent a hiss from escaping her lips. Glaring maliciously, the man taunted, "Bet you didn't know that the marks grow even faster on mages. Something to do with the inherent magic in your blood that enhances the properties of the curse magic." He shrugged, ignoring the fierce look in the brown eyes of the mage as she gripped her marked arm—as if that would stop it from spreading.
Allowing herself to be bounded—there should be a limit to how many times a girl should be subject to such harsh treatment, she thought—Lucy made no resistance as she was shoved towards the tower's entrance.
"Time's running out, little girl. Soon, the rebels will be caught. If anything, you actually helped to hasten the process. Congratulations. How does it feel to be responsible for this city's imminent destruction?" As she was led past him, he whispered, "To think a traitor among your precious rebel friends is the reason you were caught." Lucy's eyes widened, but she did nothing as she was forced to walk between the soldiers who served to prevent any escape.
Beyond the wall, a reticent boy stood, the familiar marks on his arms contrasting starkly against his pale white skin. From the hood shadowing his face, he mumbled, "It's better this way. Fighting against it is useless. No one can stop what's to come."
Hidden behind an abandoned car, Belnika gazed despairingly at the boy who had sealed their fate.
End of Chapter Six
AN: As for the next chapter, I'm not sure when I'll update. Hopefully, while School isn't that much of a pressure yet, I'll be able to write the chapter. If not, expect me to write it during Christmas break. I do hope you enjoyed the chapter. The next chapter should prove to be interesting.