Her feet slammed into the cobble stone road, her heart pounding in her chest.
Voices echoed in her head, the whispers, clawed at her sanity, pulling her closer and closer to the edge.
‘Coward! Go back.’
‘No! Run away!’
Her nails dug into her palms as she ran, her breath burning in her lungs, searing her throat while the storm overhead rumbled menacingly, threatening a downpour.
‘She’s scared. Look at her. Afraid…’
“What do you want!?” The scream tore from her throat as she staggered to a stop outside a cathedral, “What do you want from me?”
Her voice cracked and echoed, bouncing off the ruins around her. Everything was in shambles, some debris even smoldering despite the cold weather, but if it was because of the time of day or season, she couldn’t tell you. Nothing made sense. She wasn’t sure it ever would again…
The voices taunted her every waking moment. Haunting her. Mocking her.
‘Running away from things she can’t see. But we can see it, can’t we?’
“See what? What can’t I see?” She spun around, tangled blonde locks whipping her wind worn cheeks like flails, “Where are my friends?”
‘Little birds fallen from the nest and can’t get up. How sad. Too sad.’
“Why won’t you answer me?” Her fists slammed into the wooden doors of the cathedral and she pushed them open, managing the squeeze herself through as small an opening as possible. Her skin was peppered with bruises and cuts, her skirt held together by a knot she had made in the fabric and her shirt was in tatters, but she had no time to worry about modesty.
‘She’s going the wrong way.’
‘No. Right way. But she won’t get back out.’
The shadows shifted around her, melding into horrific figures that lurked along the walls, reaching for her, trying to grab at her. To pull her back to them.
A tear fell, leaving a trail through the dirt and soot on her face, “Where is everyone?”
xXx Over the Edge xXx
She woke with a pounding headache, her chest tight. Everything was dark and nothing made sense. What she felt was meant to be up was actually down and the sense of vertigo made her nauseous whenever she tried to orient herself.
“Where am I?” Her voice sounded hollow and she looked down (up?), she noticed how much of a wreck she was. She was half buried in rubble, the stones leaving ugly scratches on her skin when she moved. Each piece was sharp and the sudden jolts of pain would keep her alert enough to try sort through what had happen, “The wave…”
She wracked her brain to remember what had led her to where she was, but she couldn’t think past seeing a wave of darkness approach her at the guild doors. It was on her impossibly fast, faster than she would have imagined. It was on her so quickly she couldn’t even yell out a warning to her guild mates.
A sudden light drew her attention and she used her arms to shield her eyes, welcoming the darkness the shade provided.
“Lucy… You’re awake.” The soft voice settled a warmth in her chest and she peeked through her arms, noticing Mavis on the beam before her, upside down. She blinked, once, twice. Making sure she wasn’t seeing things, “You haven’t gone insane… yet. But you have to find a way out of your entrapment as quickly as you can or the Madness will come for you.”
Lucy blinked, looking around. The beer hall was above her… or under her? And somehow, she was stuck in rubble pile on the ceiling, “Mavis… what’s going on? Where is everyone?”
The First Master didn’t answer, a troubled look on her face as she surveyed her guild.
“Master Mavis?” Lucy struggled, trying to wriggle herself free.
“There isn’t much that I’ve managed to find out. But this is a world made of Madness. Somehow, a mage got hold of a very dark spell. I saw the wave too. And it matched what I’ve read about in the past. This is the Realm of Carmina Burana*. And it’s a very dangerous place to be exposed to.” Mavis turned to watch Lucy struggle, only her foot still trapped in the stone, “It’s like the Edolas that you saw, however, no magic works here for those that have been exposed to the Insanire… the Madness, for a long time.”
“That… doesn’t make much sense.” Lucy huffed, pulled her leg free suddenly and she fell, her back slamming into a wooden beam. She groaned, digging her nails into the wood to stop her falling all the way off and to the floor below, “That hurt.”
Mavis floated down to her, walking along the ceiling beam, “It doesn’t have to make sense Lucy. This is a world of Madness. It eats away at your sanity, makes things different. It chips away until you’re raving mad and unable to think. And then you get stuck here. And you’ve already been here a long time Lucy. Until you expel your magic, the rate of erosion with be high.”
The First Masters’ words ricochet through her head, unable to process what she had just been told, “I’ve… been here for a long time? How? I mean, I would have had to eat, wouldn’t I?” Lucy patted herself down, pinching her exposed skin to see if she’d lost weight.
“In this place, you don’t need food or water. You don’t even need your body. This place takes your spirit from your body and brings you here. Once your mind snaps, your body dies. And the mental erosion starts the second you wake up.” A sense of foreboding lodged in her throat and Lucy could feel herself start shaking, “Only those with magic were pulled into this world. Those with strong mental bonds or strength of Will are sleeping somewhere in here. The others will be used as fuel. You need to find as many people as possible Lucy. You need to wake them up and figure out a way home.”
“But what if… what if I go mad first?” Lucy stared at Mavis wide eyes, fear evident in the young Masters green eyes.
“Then we’re all doomed.”
xXx Over the Edge xXx
Just thinking about Mavis’ words made her head hurt and the voices picked up in volume, their hurried words bombarding her fragile mind. She had been running for days, or what felt like days. What had once been Magnolia was now a in a state of perpetual gloom, with the sun and moon neither rising nor setting, so the concept of time no longer existed.
‘She hasn’t given up. Brave… or stupid?’
“Shut up!” Her voice bounced off the ruins of the Cathedral, the dark stone taunting her, begging her to lay down, to rest. But she knew she didn’t need rest in her current form, that it was all a lie.
She glared into the shadows, ignoring the shattered glass on the floor that dug into her bare feet. Something called to her from the far end of the room, past all the destroyed pews and charred books.
‘She’s found him. She did it… how?’
Lucy ignored the voices, marching through the chapel. Nothing had tried to kill her yet, and she prayed that it stayed that way.
‘He’s already tainted. He’s mad. All mad.’
This put Lucy on edge, the voice jittering in excitement.
‘The madness has him! He’s lost!’
The deeper into the shadows she walked, the more she noticed small golden sparks the spontaneously appeared around her. They were faint, only noticeable once her eyes had adjusted to the gloom that filtered through the broken windows. The little sparks sometimes stung her skin, giving her small jolts of energy.
She staggered when she was suddenly showered with golden light and she hissed, even the voices crying out in pain from the sudden light. The familiar crackle of electricity pulled at her, begging her to get closer to the source, not even the faint growl she heard dissuading her from her goal.
“There’s someone else here.” She let a small smile slip onto her face, squinting into the light. She saw the outline of a man, a fur coat on his back with his head against his chest. What little magic she had left was drawn to him, tugging at her until her feet moved. She couldn’t feel the sting of electricity against her skin or the way it made her hair stand on end, her mind focused solely on her guild mate.
“Laxus?” Her voice shook, hand reaching through the electrical field, ignoring the way it burned her skin, “You need to wake up? Laxus!” Her palm made contact with his chest, his shirt open and torn, allowing her to feel his skin under hers.
The man roared, his muscles flexing as his head shot up. His eyes glowed orange, his pupils virtually slits. One hand wrapped around her forearm and squeezed. She could feel the bones straining, pain finally penetrating the haze in her head.
‘Break. He wants to break it. He’s mad.’
“Laxus! Wake up!” Her hand curled into a fist, the flesh bubbling and ripping under where his hand held her, “Wake up!”
He suddenly stopped, the magical surge dissipating, lightning settling around them with only the occasional spark jumping out of the sea of yellow. The field around him died away, the burning of her arm finished along with his rampage.
‘Saved him? Impossible. He was mad.’
“Not mad. He isn’t mad…” Lucy smiled as Laxus blinked, confusing marring his face and pulling his eye brows together on his forehead, “Just sleeping. Madness hasn’t claimed us yet. Not yet.”