word count: 2316
total word count: 2316 [event wc met]
1. A Little Night Music [+1 skull token]
2. Witch's Brew [+1 skull token]
3. The Tunnel Of Terror [+1 skull token]
Althea had found that she was spending a rather excessive time in Magnolia.
Of course, from her perspective, it had been several years since she walked the Fiorian city streets. However, the world she left interpreted her prolonged absence as a much shorter period than she did. One worry Althea had refused to acknowledge while wandering the Aetherial Wastes was whether or not there’d be a Magnolia to return to in the first place. There was no possible way for her to keep track of the amount of time she spent traversing the void, but she had enough confidence to say it was definitely longer than a year. For all she knew, while she remained trapped in that dimension, time in Earthland passed by infinitely faster than hers. By the time of her return, she could've been met with nothing but millennia-old remnants of the buildings she spent her carefree time scaling. But here she was, dressed in a plain, white hoodie and baggy jeans, silently watching pedestrians pass by from underneath a lacrima-powered street lamp. Things weren’t exactly the same as they were in her memory, sure, but it wasn’t too different either. The store signs had changed, but the paved roads themselves curved and winded in the exact same ways.
Either way, it all just turned up to be a waste of energy. No matter the outcome, just not thinking about it was the right choice. The gears in her head grinding and turning even harder than they should didn’t have any effect on things that were already predetermined. Pulling her hoodie over her head and tucking her hands into her pockets, Althea abandoned her spot beside the streetlight, melding into the crowd as she idly followed the flow of traffic. The moment she had set her eyes on the azure Earthland sky after spending all that time in the Wastes, she swore that she would grow strong enough to never find herself craving the warmth of its sun ever again. Yet, here she was, once again forming a strong attachment to Magnolia as if she had never left. No, she wanted to pretend like she never did. Althea bought a studio apartment and loitered around on rooftops she used to frequent in the past. She even wasted her time trying to understand menial and everyday objects. Granted, that last point was actually something she should continue working on, but the rest were just born from a desire to relive simpler days.
Really, there was pressing work for her to be doing at this very moment. A full moon was hanging in the velvety black sky, but there wasn’t a moment where her services weren’t in some form of demand. And in that demand, Althea consistently found growth in her abilities. Although she heavily refined and tuned her magic while in the Aetherial Wastes, there was an extreme lack of any targets to test her skills against. If there was any one thing she would permit herself to miss experiencing, it would be the clash of magic and wills found only on the battlefield. Despite the seemingly endless expanse of the Wastes, there was a paltry amount of aetherials actually populating it. Within her time there, Althea ran into enough aetherials to be counted on just one hand. And mind you, that isn’t a mutilated or mutated hand either, just the standard human one with all five of its fingers.
However, the blonde was jolted out of her thoughts by the sound of… music? What the heck? For a moment, the aetherial thought there might be some form of musical concert underway, but as she drew closer and the music rang louder, she quickly found her guess to be incorrect. Magnolia’s plaza was decorated with lovingly crafted jack-o-lanterns of various shapes in sizes, taking up a place in corners or beside benches. Fairy lights fashioned to resemble candy corns were strung above the chatting civilians, and Althea could spot small ghost and bat wall decals plastered on buildings. Next to a fountain in the plaza’s center, she found the source of the music: a large boom box decorated with orange and black streams of thin paper.
“Oh, it's Halloween?” She muttered to herself, suddenly realizing that all the zanily dressed pedestrians she had observed during her retrospection weren’t actually zanily dressed at all. In contrast to her everyday clothing, they were simply wearing costumes appropriate for the holiday. For a moment, Althea was slightly confused about how she hadn’t noticed earlier but quickly realized that some people out there just dressed as if every day was Halloween. I mean, even she used to wear a school uniform every single day, year-round. Althea had never even attended a public or private school of any kind, she just couldn’t bother finding other things to wear. That, and because of the whims of a certain water dragon that Althea no longer has any connection to whatsoever.
But before she left Magnolia for a prolonged period, Althea opted to relax for one last night during the celebrations. Strolling up to one of the festival stalls, one manned by someone outfitted as a traditional witch, Althea pointed to the pot of punch she was stirring. “A drink?”
The witch let out a low cackle, pausing her stirring to give the aetherial a look down with her squinted, green eyes. “As long as you don’t blame me if something odd happens~ Keheheh…” Seemingly unbothered by her extremely… questionable demeanor, Althea simply nodded. The witch let out one last cackle before finally pouring a sample of her concoction into a plastic potion bottle and handing it to the young woman. “Enjoy… if you dare.”
With a dull expression, Althea replied only with a silent nod before taking her drink and going on her way. After all, from how she saw things, acting suspiciously was only a part of the Halloween fun. If you’re going to dress up as a witch, it wouldn’t really make sense if you didn’t act the part, would it? Anyways, it was nice for the lady to share some of her bright red juice after the mage merely asked. Althea was half expecting her to require some kind of payment of sorts. However, as she chugged the drink in one go, she quickly began revising her opinions of that “kind stranger.”
She felt a sensation akin to floating, and upon looking down at her feet, realized they weren’t there anymore. Well, they weren't exactly gone, her two human appendages had just been replaced by a vague, ghostly wisp. And considering that Althea could now see straight through her hands, she could only assume the rest of her body had undergone a similar transformation.
Step one for her to test this new state of being: confirm her surroundings. Without an ounce of hesitation, Althea threw her empty plastic potion bottle at a random civilian.
“Hey! What the hell??” A lanky man dressed in a skeleton costume, complete with a mask, whipped around and gave the aetherial a glare. However, upon realizing that the pale aura surrounding her wasn’t just some advanced light trick, his anger quickly faded into confusion. Tearing his gaze away from the young woman, he whispered something to his friend before they both hurriedly disappeared deeper into the crowd. Due to the sudden outburst, many other festival goers had paused their activities to glance Althea’s way, and every one of them expressed some mix of fear, confusion, and or intrigue at her appearance. But with this reaction in mind, Althea was able to deduce that although she was see-through, she was still a physical presence on ‘Earthland.’ The mage had a firm grasp of the amount of ethernano she had left to sustain her summoning in this dimension, and she was far from being close to finished. However, if this phenomenon had some relation to aether, Althea doubted that she would be able to interact with people, and they in turn would be capable of reacting. The only problem was with all these gazes… She didn’t have any issue with catching the attention of others, but there was a place and time to be incredibly conspicuous. On the upside, however, she now had a Halloween costume… The downside, it was far too realistic. She’d need to get this undone as soon as possible.
Turning around, Althea speedily made her way right back to the witch who had initially given her the bright red concoction. “What is this?”
The witch let out the same low-pitched cackle she had several times before, “Didn’t I warn you? Drink… if you dare. Now that you’ve already taken a sample of my brew, there’s no turning back…” Althea’s hand twitched, ready to resort to a more ‘hands-on’ approach, until– “Well, there’s no turning back up until tomorrow morning. It wears off on its own, so just have fun with it during Halloween. I tested this batch on myself last night, it’s perfectly harmless.”
“Okay then.” The aetherial said before drifting away (literally) from the stand. She was slightly surprised by her own lack of patience. Usually, she saved consideration of any hands-on approaches for a more… private setting. What would people think if a Fairy Tail mage randomly attacked someone? Well, that wasn’t actually one of her concerns anymore, but finding jobs would be complicated if she were to ever get kicked out for misconduct. Additionally… it’d just make things awkward with the guild. No need to take unnecessary actions that would only hurt her in the long term. And the ghostly state wasn’t that big of a deal, so the blonde might as well just continue her night as if nothing happened.
After wandering around Magnolia’s streets for a good chunk of time, Althea finally came across something that caught her eye. An ominous tunnel was set up at the edge of town, and from her magic sensory, there was some kind of magic at work within it. Hovering closer, she could finally make out a worn and battered sign reading ‘Tunnel of Terror,’ hanging loosely over the cave’s maw. Considering the lack of any attendants for this particular attraction, Althea simply walked on it. She wouldn’t be interrupting anyone’s fun in the tunnel… probably. Well, if she did run into a group that entered beforehand, she would just add to the festive Halloween atmosphere, right? A specter walking around a dark, spooky cave shouldn't be too out of place for the holiday.
As the aetherial made her way deeper into the cave, a place where the moon’s luminescence could only reach through cracks in the wall, white fog lapped at her ghostly feet. However, this clearly wasn’t the source of the magic Althea had sensed before, she could hear the soft hum of some machine that was probably producing the effect. But something that wasn’t the product of any sort of special effects was the sound of running water coming from deeper into the cave. Not bothering to speed up the pace of her walking, Althea finally came to a set of rudimentary wooden boats at a dock. As if to eliminate any doubts she had about their nature, there was a hastily made sign posed next to the dock reading, ‘Board the boat and journey deeper into the Tunnel of Terror!’
Jumping aboard a boat, the vessel seemed to automatically detect her presence, because it automatically began drifting along the current. Things started off as uneventful until her boat began approaching a mysterious purple barrier that was practically glittering with magic. And once the young woman made contact with it–
A crimson halo, wallowing in the pitch-black sky.
Althea was surrounded by emptiness. A space full of nothing. The white void of the Aetherial Wastes.
A false heart dwelling in the depths of a manufactured body.
She looked down at her hands only to find them in their normal state. However, it was as if the color in them had been sucked out, leaving behind only a harsh monotone blend of whites and blacks.
Was your heart not in it this time?
The mage let out a sigh, her expression displaying a proper emotion for the first time all night; boredom.
I guess you really do hate it~!
“Kinda underwhelming.” So this was the source of that magic? Well, the illusions might be effective at scaring most people, but the magic was unable to truly deceive all of Althea’s senses. If she was really back in the Aetherial Wastes, she would have a very distinct sensation telling her so. After all, when the spirit was reverse summoned to the dimension, no one needed to stand around and explain where she was for her to understand the situation right away.
Who the hell thinks of the cold when they're trying to make it warm? Honestly, I don't know why I bother myself with you anymore.
In order to elicit sensations of fear and anxiety, the magic put her into a small playset resembling the Aetherial Wastes before replaying some unpleasant memories for her. It was impressive how it completely took her out of reality, but it’d be easy to dispel as long as she could remain calm.
Make this blithering fool your apprentice, alright?
Oh? Has the presence of the obelisk attracted something odd?
Kyahahah! I can feel my ego fading, is this what death feels like?
And then, all at once, the delusion disappeared along with the persistent voices. Althea hadn’t even started dispelling the illusion yet, so the ride must’ve just come to a conclusion. Gone was the endless expanse, and back was the boat floating peacefully down a river. Letting out a sigh, the aetherial reclined in the boat, enjoying the rocking sensation from the lapping waters. It hadn’t succeeded in scaring Althea, but at least the ride across the cave river was pleasant.