The arrival at the train station in Hildegard jolted everyone awake, the train slowing down before stopping abruptly. Lucy's eyes opened and she immediately flipped her head to look out the window. Outside was a small, calm, nearly empty train station; she assumed that there were very little trains coming to and from this place. The sky was a clear blue, the occasional cloud lazily floating by.
Natsu rolled off of her lap and onto the ground, hitting it with a thump and a groan. Even though it would take a little longer to be back at one hundred percent, he looked better already. Gray already stood outside on the platform - did he seriously exit through the window? Lucy sighed and walked outside properly, stretching her legs. The temperature, though not bitingly cold, was shockingly chilly and the blond mage regretted her clothing choice - mainly the short skirt and tight top she generally wore. Erza exited the train shortly, dragging Natsu by the scarf and Happy by his green pack.
A tall figure stood a distance away from the group. It was holding a white sign: Fairy Tail Mages.
Gray was the first to spot this, saying, "OI! Team! Someone's expecting us!" and pointing at the sign.
However, the figure heard this shout and ran over, sign blocking its face and body - everyone thought it was a man based on height.
The figure reached the group, dropping the sign and panting.
"Hello, everyone - I am - Nobuko Barrett..." she said.
Lucy was shocked - this woman was tall! Nobuko stood up and Lucy realized she easily looked over Gray's head without heels. Differing from most of the Fairy Tail girls, Nobuko was fairly flat in front, though a teeny bit larger than Levy. Her waist was thin, barely curving into hips, and her legs were long, lean, and visibly muscled.
Nobuko smiled. "Welcome to Hildegard!" Her red eyes didn't seem dangerous, more bordering a rusty orange and reminding Lucy of a lit hearth. Suddenly, Nobuko whipped her head to face Natsu - on the ground, whining - and her attitude shifted dramatically. She pushed her glasses up with her midde finger and a dangerous aura surrounded her. Her words were covered in ice: "This pitiful pinkhead the best you goofs can send?"
Although Nobuko's orbs were covered by the shining glasses' lenses, Lucy could guess her eyes suddenly were a lot sharper.
Leaning in, she tilted her glasses down, glaring into Natsu's obsidian eyes as he trembled backwards. Gray was slowly backing up and Erza seemed impressed, even as Lucy positioned Erza between her and Nobuko. Nobuko grabbed Natsu, picked him up, and began squealing. "YOU'RE SO CUUUUTE! HOW COULD I STAY MAD AT YOOOOUUU?!"
After putting Natsu down, Nobuko began leading the group through the quiet town, talking lightly as she navigated the streets.
"So, not many people are out because they think the girl is some kind of god punishing them for their sins - despite her not killing anyone - and they are just being cautious. Many of us Hildegardians are very superstitious, but not me. Clearly. So we have an inn over there, it's our only one, and next to it is a restaurant. There are shops scattered around, of course, along with markets. Because we grow our own food, the surrounding area is mainly farmland, then forest." She continued blabbering on and on about the area, occasionally flicking her very light blue hair over her shoulder and adjusting her bangs. A few times, the group passed some townspeople, and they would always look in awe at the wizards - cityfolk. New people were rare in a small town like this. Plus, they had a flying cat with them.
Lucy rather enjoyed the quaint scenery and tranquil town, which was a nice break from the hustle-bustle of Fairy Tail and Magnolia. Erza seemed to share her opinion, looking around happily, brightening up even more when she heard there was a bakery. Gray didn't really seem to care too much, only wanting to finish the job, and Natsu was walking alongside Lucy, seeming to be bored with the peaceful air.
Finally, they reached a tall building that stood out from the rest, with more ornate decor and a balcony on the second and third floors.
Nobuko entered the building and the secretary at the desk - a pretty young thing - stood up. "M-Ms. Barrett! They're already here?" Discreetly, the girl closed whatever was showing on her Movie Lacrima and covered her papers.
"Yes. Please pull out the files I told you about and prepare tea for the guests." Nobuko continued walking past her, then turned to the wizards. "Oh, are you all hungry?"
Natsu's face sparkled at the word. If they weren't careful, he might eat all the food the town had to offer! Gray nodded and said his thanks, as did Erza and Lucy. Unfortunately, as Nobuko walked into the elevator, Gray stripped down on accident. The secretary had a bloody nose and fainted at the sight, even as Erza smacked Gray and Natsu laughed his guts out. In seconds, Gray had gathered his clothes and shoved them on, flying into the elevator and using Natsu as a shield against a certain angry redhead.
They rode up the elevator to the second floor; luckily, the ride was too fast for Natsu to get too sick. Nobuko stepped out of the elevator first and strode to the desk sitting near the floor-to-ceiling windows, her chair facing the group.
The office seemed very neat and cozy: to Lucy's right, four sofas were arranged around a glass-top coffee table, and to the left were slick, black filing cabinets took up the wall. On the walls hung a few portraits of people important to Hildegard, along with shelves displaying knickknacks and awards. The walls were a light cream, as was the ceiling, trimmed with gold. The wine-red carpet spread everywhere, matching the sofas' velvet tone.
Lucy sat down in the left middle mahogany chair, in front of the matching desk. Gray plopped down on the left end, Erza on the right end, and Natsu took the last seat, Happy perching on his shoulder. Nobuko stood behind the desk's swiveling leather chair, arm resting on its back. A few moments of awkward silence passed.
Nobuko whipped the chair around and collapsed into it, spinning in a few circles. "Aaah~! I'm so tired!" she groaned. "Everyone keeps panicking, and when it's not that, it's the fountain or the street conditions or-"
Cutting Nobuko off from another rant, the elevator dinged, signalling the arrival of the secretary with a cart of snacks and beverages. The secretary zipped up to Nobuko's desk and quickly unloaded the cart's load onto it. A carrier of macarons, a few biscuits, tea, cream, sugar, coffee, saucers, cups... they were being killed with kindness - not that Lucy was complaining. She discretely put a few macarons into her purse for later as the secretary bustled away.
Nobuko stopped spinning around, halting abrubtly. Shadows dramatically covered her face, fingers folded in front of her nose, even as Natsu and Erza obliviously devoured the sweets. Lucy fiddled with the teapot, pouring some into a cup and adding a couple scoops of sugar, then the blue-haired woman across from them spoke. "This girl herself is not a problem, but her presence to the townsfolk is problematic. Please eradicate this disturbance."
Gray cleared his throat. "Do you mean kill her, or what? The request said no killing."
The dramatic tension dissipated immediately as Nobuko looked up and smiled. "Oh, I mean, take her back to your guild and stuff. You guys can decide what to with her after that."
Natsu, Happy, and Erza both looked up, mouths stuffed with cake, biscuits, and chips (where did those come from?). "Hrrm?!"
Nobuko giggled. "Did I forget to mention it? You're supposed to take her home with you. Can I see a copy of the requ-Thanks!" Lucy handed the request to Nobuko, who glanced at her own writing for a few seconds. She tossed the paper away and rubbed the back of her neck. "Sorry~! I really did forget!" She burst into embarrassed laughter.
Lucy sweatdropped. "Well, that's fine and dandy, but I am NOT paying for her train ticket home."
The mages looked at each other, contemplating how this would work. Gray rolled his eyes and said, "I'll cover it."
"GREAT!" Nobuko clapped her hands. "Now that that's settled, why don't I disclose the account of what happened? Then you can go settle down at the inn, get a good night's sleep, and go find the mystery girl?"
Everyone else nodded, and Nobuko proceeded to explain what happened with the girl. There was some kind of black fire that didn't burn, merely "drained"; burning ice, the color orange in addition to normal types; unexpected speed and strength for someone in her condition; and finally, she seemed to be able to materialize and dematerialize on will, as well as taking on animalistic features for combat.
Natsu began to quiver slightly. Lucy, noticing, nudged Natsu lightly as her other three teammates discussed the girl's combat style. "Ne, Natsu, what is it?" Lucy whispered lightly, only loud enough for Natsu's enhanced hearing.
"Nothing." he whispered, onyx eyes flicking to her brown ones. "She just sounds so... familiar."
After a decent night in the inn (complete with a good dinner and hearty breakfast), the wizard team met up with Nobuko, who escorted them to the discovered ruins.
"So, here they are!" she chirped. "Like we said, it just seems to be ash and... ash. We found metal traces, along with silicone and a few other things, while the request was out, so it's-sorry, was-probably some sort of research facility. Is it alright if I leave you all here?"
"Yes, of course! Thank you for escorting us here, Ms. Barrett!" Lucy smiled. Gray grumbled in the back, shirtless already. Definitely not a good morning for him.
With that, Nobuko promptly began to sprint away in her sneakers, easily going out of sight in little time.
Natsu began to sniff the air, inhaling deeply. He shuddered. "This place... it smells wrong."
"How so?" Erza asked. Gray began to wander off, yelling for the girl to come out. He soon disappeared into the trees.
"It smells like a lot of people died here. Painfully. And the emotions..." Natsu growled, holding his hand to his head.
"Um..." Happy pointed in Gray's direction. "We've lost one."
"..." Everyone went silent, then groaned. Gray's voice in the distance sounded out. "OI! Found somethin'!"
"...Well, shall we?" Erza said, striding towards Gray's voice.
Soon enough, the company came across the stripper of their group, who was peering into some sort of den. "There's something in here. Can't see very well, though. It's shadowed-"
Natsu started. "Wait..." he muttered. Looking away, he muttered. "I know this smell... sort of..."
Gray shouted into the alcove, "OI! Who are you?"
Black fire streamed out of the hole in the ground, sending him flying backwards. An unnaturally pale hand - like sunlight hadn't shone upon it for years - shot out, digging its fingers into the ground. Long, feminine fingers - musician's hands.
A disheveled, scraped girl dragged herself out, amethyst eyes narrowed, pronouncing bluish bags underneath. She bared her teeth from behind full lips, growling as her canines sharpened, the rest of her teeth following suit. A trail of darkness snaked out from her being, towards the group of mages, who stared at her in shock. The girl's chest, barely clad in what looked like a ruined hospital gown, heaved - she was clearly having trouble breathing.
She opened her mouth to speak, those lifeless eyes unchanging, but stopped. Her gaze fell on the fire dragon slayer, the dull unawareness replaced by recognition.
"Nat...su?" her hoarse voice croaked out, surprisingly deep. Her teeth retracted and the surge of incredible magic disappeared, leaving a broken girl sagging and smiling - a doll someone had restitched and restuffed too many times. Her hand reached out to him-
-he opened his mouth-
-Gray and Erza yelled-
-and she fell forwards, unconscious, collapsing. Gray reached out and caught her, just before she hit the ground.
Lucy looked at Natsu in shock. "Who... who is this?"
"How do you know her?" Erza asked as she set one of Adreanna's arms around her neck, Gray doing the same with the other.
"Igneel raised her with me. I haven't seen her since... since... How did I forget?"
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