2: Sudden Acquaintances

"Why, of all people, did I have to end up with that spiky-headed creep?" Lucy says aloud as she stumbles her way through the dark, tangled forest. She really has no idea where she's going, but she can only hope it's the right general direction. She keeps her senses alert so that nothing dangerous would pop out of nowhere and put her in real danger. For some reason, this feels a lot different than any other job she's been on before, and not just because of her weakened magic. She's fought monsters, demons, dark mages, and countless other threats in the past, but the idea of the enemy actively trying to murder her sends pangs of anxiety through her gut. In the back of her head, she seriously doubts any of what that Voice said, but if he was really telling the truth, then this situation is a lot more serious than she wants to think, a situation where losing a fight means death for real.

Lucy racks her brains thinking of all that she knows about Laxus Dreyar. She never really got to know him personally, but her impression isn't too good. Yeah, he did save her and the rest of Natsu's group back at Tenrou Island, but he also sort of took her hostage with the rest of the girls back at the festival… Not to mention that when he did actually speak to her, it was usually him making stupid little quips about her boobs or ass. Basically, the guy was an arrogant jerk through and through. But he had power, and he knew it. Even though Lucy would have preferred to be with a member of Team Natsu or Levy, she feels confident that Laxus can handle things on his side without any help. She can only hope that his magic hasn't fried his brain too much…

Lucy's thoughts are broken when she hears twigs snapping on a path just ahead of her. She ducks behind a thick tree trunk to observe what's happening. A huge, dark shape barrels through the trees, sending leaves scattering and snapping roots and branches in its wake. When she realizes it isn't after her, her body relaxes a little. But then anxiety creeps back into her. If it's running that fast, it's probably chasing someone. She decides to follow its path and figure out who it's after. Even if her powers were basically useless right now, maybe she could help in some other way.

She is careful in keeping her distance, but finds herself losing sight of the lizard-like monster more and more as it plows through the trees faster than she can follow it. Lucy doesn't hear any shouts or screams, so maybe the person it's chasing doesn't feel threatened. She follows the creature's path toward a small clearing, but quickly ducks down when she sees it suddenly pause. The monster makes a horrific gurgling noise before it falls flat on its side, with greenish blood oozing out of its face. The victor, a slender, armored shape holding a broadsword, pauses for a moment to look at the monster before turning and darting away into the trees.

Wait, was that…? She is about to cry out "Erza!" but realizes that shouting might be a big mistake. If she had already seen one giant monster, who knew how many other ones were prowling about in the nearby area. If that really was Erza, she might not be able to reach Lucy in time to save her from whatever unwanted attention her shouting would attract. And Lucy knows that she can't face a monster of that size and speed alone without her magic.

Speaking of magic, she thinks, I'd better test it again. She holds out a key and conjures a bit of magic as if she were about to summon, feeling her energy flowing a little better. It still might not be enough to fight, but she was getting warmer. Maybe Laxus isn't an idiot after all. He might be doing the same thing I am. Lucy figures she should keep going in this direction. A steady path might be the best choice.

As Lucy continues to make her way through the woods, her mind keeps going back to Erza. She was probably looking for her partner as well, but who could it have been? She must have been closer to the person than Lucy was, considering she was at least able to requip. Lucy's thoughts shift to the present. There's thirty of us in this mess. That's most of the guild, except maybe four or five…but how did we get here? Maybe Warren's in this too, so maybe he's going to contact us all at some point so we can figure out what the heck's going on. There might be some way to get out of this weird Dimension without playing their ridiculous game and getting killed.

Lucy can only hope that things work out for the best. For now, though, her priority is to find her partner and think of a plan later.

Natsu, can you hear me? A pause. Natsu! Come in!

Natsu takes a few moments before responding, as if confused for a moment. Warren? Is that you?

Yes, it's me. Where are you? Warren Rocko, Fairy Tail's resident telepath, is leaning against an ancient tree, well hidden by the thick roots that encircle him. He has his fingers pressed against his forehead, but the effort is a bit strained as he contacts his partner, Natsu Dragneel of Team 14. I don't know how long I can keep this up. Do you have any idea where you are? Any landmarks that I can look for?

Uh…Lemme think…There's a big tree over here…and a few rocks over there that look like a smiley face…

That's no good. I'm in the middle of the woods, too. There are some mountains some distance away on my right, but I can't see them clearly. Can you see them at all?

There is a pause on Natsu's end as he climbs a tree to get a better look. When he reaches the treetop and pokes his head out of the leaves, he says, Yeah, I can see some mountains off to my left. They're pretty far away. Looks like there's also a castle or something behind me.

All right, Warren says, I saw the castle off to my left as well. I'm probably closer to the mountains than you are. It would probably be best if I stayed here and you found me, since I'm really not one to be slaying monsters…

All right, says Natsu, which way do I go?

Let's say the mountains are to the north of us. That means you're south of me. If they're on your left, you're facing east and the castle is west of your position. That means you should head to your left, toward the mountains. If you get closer, I'll let you know if my connection gets stronger. I'll try to keep this up as long as I can, so please hurry.

Got it, Natsu says as he climbs down the tree and takes off into the dense undergrowth.

Gildarts Clive rubs his eyes as he meanders through the hazy marsh at the far southern end of the Dimension. He's starting to get a bit pissed about stepping in muddy holes and getting his dirty clothes even dirtier, but he tries not to let it get to him. Of course this Event thing had to happen after a long night of drinking. He had heard bits and pieces of what the Voice said, but mostly because he didn't care to pay much attention to it. All he really cares about now is getting out of this filthy swamp and finding somewhere he can take a nap and sleep this off.

He glances at his wrist again, still confused as to what it says. Team 6: Carla. The name keeps repeating itself in his head, but it still isn't clicking. When he had first looked at the stamp on his arm, his groggy eyes had read "Cana," but when he saw otherwise, his heart had dropped. Now, he still can't figure out who the heck this Carla person was. He doesn't remember any mage in the Guild with that name. Unless…

"Hey, you! Over here!"

The shrill female voice brings Gildarts to some sense of attention. "Wha…? What the hell are you shouting for?" he says, looking around for whoever had called out. He spots a small white figure, looking grey-blue in the moonlight, rapidly flying toward him. It pauses a few feet away, its winged shape floating between his face and the moon, silhouetting it against the light. The little creature crosses its arms and huffs. "So you're the one I was looking for."

"Oh? And who are you, exactly? One of those flying cat things, right?"

"An Exceed," she corrects. She holds up her right paw, showing the dark tattoo with Team 6: Gildarts Clive on her wrist. "My name is Carla. And you're going to help me find Wendy."

"Oh!" Gildarts lets out a laugh. "You're that girl's kitty cat. I suppose I'll help you, as long as you can carry me out of this stinking swamp."

Carla crosses her arms again. "Fine. Just don't get dirt all over me, you hear?"

Gildarts scratches the back of his head and grins. "Sounds good to me. You carry me outta here, we find your girlie, and then we'll go and grab Cana too while we're at it."

As Carla flies behind Gildarts and grabs his armored shoulders to lift him, she says, "You stink of booze."

"Can't help it," Gildarts says as Carla lifts him with difficulty out of the marsh. "A man's gotta have a little fun now and then, y'know?"

Carla sighs and shakes her head. Of course I'd end up stuck with this half-plastered nutjob.

Oh, come on, get out of my way.

Cana Alberona is hiding behind a bush along the side of a vertical cliff, hoping that the flying creature that prowled the area would move on. She isn't going to be able to move out if this stupid thing doesn't get out of her way, and she still isn't sure how effective her magic will be at this rate. As much as she dreads it, she'll have to go looking for her partner, a guy that she doesn't know too well but still gives her the creeps just about every time she sees him. She looks at her right hand, which is currently clutching a few useful cards in case she needs to fight in a pinch. On her wrist, half-hidden by her metal bracelets, are the words Team 2: Bixlow.

The flying, hairy creature looks in Cana's direction and seems to notice her this time. With a loud screech, it dives at her, claws raised to attack. Cana can only hope that her magic will work properly. She lays a card on the ground and sends a wave of summoned fire at the monster, which engulfs it and sends it screaming to the ground a hundred feet below her.

There. Problem solved. And my magic's working just fine, too, so maybe I won't have to look too hard. Cana carefully makes her way down the cliff face, sidling along narrow strips of earth and occasionally jumping or sliding down larger gaps. Finally, she makes her way to the ground, entering the darkness of the forest below. Her nerves tighten as she crouches down and checks the area for danger, moving quietly and taking care with every step. She has no idea what might be hiding around each bend in the path or under each boulder or tangled root. Cana has only gone a few dozen feet when she pauses, sensing something strange about the area. Her eyes dart all around and she clutches her cards tighter, ready to strike at any moment. Suddenly, she feels something tap her shoulder from behind. Cana screams and backs up to face her new enemy, but notices a broad-shouldered human figure standing there, palms raised to ear level. Five squarish shapes levitate behind the person's head, bobbing slightly up and down in midair.

"Whoa, calm down there, sweetie," the light, jocular voice says.

Cana lowers her cards and squints at the figure, unable to make out who it is in the darkness of the forest canopy. She recognizes the voice a little, though, but not too familiarly…

"Bixlow?" she asks. "That's you, right?"

"Yep," he says. Five shrill voices echo his word.

The sound of the dolls' voices sends a shiver through Cana's body. She doesn't exactly feel comfortable with a guy like this as her partner, although she can't exactly say why, especially because she hardly knows him. Or maybe it's because she hardly knows him that she doesn't feel at ease.

Bixlow seems to sense the anxiety in her soul. He stretches out his arms to his sides. "Hey, relax a little. It's just me."

"Just me! Just me!" the dolls echo.

"Hey, I think you're making her nervous, babies. Cut that out." He then speaks to Cana, crossing his arms. "I ain't gonna bite you or anything. No sense in getting all worked up over some little game. In fact, I think it's gonna be fun."

"Fun, eh?" Cana raises an eyebrow. "I seriously doubt that anything that involves dying is fun, but to each his own, I guess." The tension in her body is starting to relax, although she still feels a bit wary toward him.

"It's only fun if you let it be," he says. "C'mon, let's go find some people or something. Right, babies?"

"Right!" they chime.

Cana reluctantly follows him. She puts a hand on her face and shakes her head. How did I get myself into this mess…and is there anything at all to drink around here?