Strength It Takes

Chapter Twelve

"So, she just…collapsed?" Levy asked hesitantly. Next to her, Erza nodded, her face grim and her arms crossed over her armored chest. Across from them, Natsu sat in subdued silence, his eyes trained on the wall to his left and his lips pressed into a grim line. To his left, Gray looked from Erza to Natsu and back again, concern evident in the rigid set of his shoulders. Master Makarov sat on the surface of the table, his arms and legs crossed and his eyes dark as they stared sightlessly over Levy's head.

Eventually, Erza spoke, breaking the tense silence. "She claims to have seen the dark mage from…from that mission."

Levy's eyes widened and her hands tightened in her lap. She had been briefly filled in the basics of what had happened to Lucy and Natsu on their last missions a few days after their return and Lucy's recovery. When Lucy had recounted the, obviously edited version, of what had happened, Levy had been struck speechless. Ever since Lucy had joined the guild, Levy had come to see her one of the strongest people she had ever known. Perhaps not as physically strong as Natsu or Gray or as talented in battle as Erza, but the strongest when it came to conviction and will. But ever since the Incident, as Levy had come to think of it, Lucy hadn't seemed the same. Sure, she still smiled, still tried to laugh like she had before, but it wasn't the same. The spark had left Lucy's eyes and her shoulders hadn't been as straight and proud.

Levy had had hope that, with Natsu's help and the support of Fairy Tail, Lucy would return to normal.

Now this had to happen and set all her potential progress back to the beginning.

"I believe her." The declaration was made by Natsu, who had turned to stare at the silent Master. His face was shadowed and his voice a deep rumble, sending chills down Levy's spine. She had only ever encountered this side of Natsu a handful of times and none of them had boded well for the person he perceived to be the enemy. When Natsu was serious, he was very intimidating, to be sure.

"Why is that?" Master Makarov didn't even bat an eye at the defiance in the dragon slayer's voice.

Natsu turned away and looked torn. "Earlier, when I was checking up on her, I smelt something…it smelt like him. The dark mage."

Erza's eyes swung to Natsu's face, her face registering her surprise. "But…that's impossible! You killed him, didn't you?"

"I don't get it either, but I know what I smelled. There's no mistake about it," he said firmly, his shoulders tensing further. Gray laid a hand on Natsu's tense shoulder.

"Maybe you were mist-"

Natsu threw off his hand and shook his head roughly. "No. There's no way I could ever forget that bastard's smell. It was him."

Levy's face seemed to twist in confusion for a moment. If the mage was dead, how was it possible that Natsu smelt him on Lucy, only hours after she claims to have seen him? Whatever scent the dark mage had left on Lucy from their missions should have disappeared hours after their encounter, weeks ago. Something nagged the back of her mind, calling to her attention and making her sit up straighter.

"You're sure it was the same scent. The exact same?" Levy asked after a moment of silence. All eyes turned to the script mage but her eyes were trained on the dragon slayer. He nodded strongly.

"Like I said, no mistake about it."

"What are you thinking Levy?" Master Makarov asked gently. Levy shook her head slowly, her eyes narrowed in thought.

"I'm not sure. There are some mages that are capable of bringing the dead back to life, but only their spirits, not the body itself. If that was the case here, Natsu would have smelt the rotting flesh and there wouldn't be any similarity. But maybe…" she trailed off before her eyes widened. Her gaze was sharp when it fell on Natsu again. "Natsu, when you smelled it, did it seem to be coming from a certain part of Lucy? Somewhere on her body?"

Natsu frowned as he thought about it. His face cleared as he nodded slowly. "Yeah, actually. I wasn't sure but…I think it was coming from the bite on her neck."

"Bite?" Gray asked, his brow furrowing. "What bite?"

Natsu's mouth twisted into a look of disgust as he bit out, "The bastard bit her before I got the chance to kill him. Right on her shoulder, by her neck," he lifted his hand to indicate on the curve where his neck met his shoulder. "Last I saw it, it was still pretty nasty looking. But when I asked Lucy about it, she just tried to cover it up and wouldn't answer my questions."

"A bite mark? You're sure it was a bite?" Levy asked urgently. When Natsu only nodded, her face paled and she got to her feet shakily.

"Levy?" Erza asked. "What is it?"

"How was Lucy when you last saw her?"

Natsu got to his feet as well, his gaze trained on Levy's. "She was sleeping. Why? What's wrong?"

Levy bit her lip and ran a hand through her disheveled blue locks, looking unsure. "I'm not entirely sure but…if I am right, then it means that Lucy is in danger."

"In danger?" Natsu asked, leaning forward. "What do you mean?"

"There's a dark magic that is very old that I read about once. It's something that dark mages do when they are about to die or think they are going to die. The Council outlawed it decades ago and destroyed all the material on the ritual, but a few books were left, only two in all of Fiore. It's a transfer of their magic into the body of someone else, preferably another mage but not always, by the exchange of blood. After the dark mage dies, the portion of their magic that was transferred into the other mage's blood slowly begins to eat and chip away at the other mage's magic until…"

"Until what?" Erza asked urgently.

Levy's eyes were troubled when they scanned the faces of everyone gathered. "Until the dark mage has taken full control of the other mage. Essentially turning them into the dark mage."

Lucy…Lucy…open your eyes…

She groaned, her body shivering. She was so cold. And she hurt everywhere.

Lucy…open your eyes…

Why? It hurt to open her eyes! All she wanted to do was go back to sleep. She felt warm when she was sleeping.

I'll make the pain go away…if you just open your eyes…

Make the pain go away? If the pain went away she could go back to sleep…Blissful, warm sleep.

Open your eyes now and the pain will be gone…I promise.

Her chest grew tight as she fought for consciousness. Her eyelids felt as if they were pinned by lead and her eyelashes fluttered as she struggled to do as told.

I can't…too hard…

Don't you want to sleep? Do this and you can sleep all you want…

Panting, feeling as though the air was too thin to breathe, Lucy cracked her eyes a sliver. When she wasn't immediately assaulted by light, she opened them a little further until she was staring into a familiar oppressive darkness. She felt her stomach drop and the bitter taste of fear claw its way up her throat.


She struggled to sit up, to move at all, but every movement sent a wave of white hot pain through her limps and she eventually fell back, panting from the effort. A cold sweat broke out on her brow and her eyes were sightless with panic.

Why couldn't she move? Why did it hurt so bad?

Let me take control and the pain will go away…and you'll be able to sleep

Distantly, Lucy felt something cold press against her mind and shivered, her eyes squeezing shut once more. God she hurt so badly! And she was so tired

Give me control and you can sleep as long as you want…Just let it happen…

The cold press against her mind increased and a blinding pain shot through her whole body, making her arch and scream.

It hurt! It hurt so badly!

Don't fight it!

Her lips trembled and she whimpered, her muscles going slack. As soon as she stopped struggling, she felt the familiar, warm draw of unconsciousness and almost smiled. Sleep…All she wanted to do was sleep…

She heard the sound of deep laughter as a voice crooned in her ear a moment before she knew no more.

Yes, that's it…Sleep, little one. I will take care of you…

(AN: Hey, sorry it took me so long to get this out. For some reason, it just would not cooperate. And I'm still not fully satisfied with how it turned out. But how was it? Was it believeable or was it too far of a stretch? Thank you to those of you that reviewed, your words touch me every time. I adore you all!)