Kia stared around the quad. It looked very different now the sunlight had gone completely. Luna pulled her out of the doorway and towards a small table laden with spare masks. Koralia picked up the nearest and had it immediately taken out of her hands "No no no. That doesn't go at all! You want this one!" Luna replaced it with a hot-pink one that covered her face from nose to crown. Koralia hadn't had time to take a look and so she ran her fingers over it, discovering decorative patterns sculpted into the mask that went swooping across both cheeks and forehead. Larger swirls at the sides curved back neatly into almost elfin points over the ear. Investigation complete, her gaze returned to the grounds of Alfea.
Beneath a clear night sky, sprinkled with beautiful stars and centred on a beautifully bright full moon, there seemed to be a fairyland. Dotted over the walls and strung between poles hung coloured lights and lanterns that set a cheerful but muted glow over the neat grass. Nearly all of Alfea's students and staff were out as well as Red Fountains, and everybody was dressed up and masked. Some students seemed to have dressed in full blown costumes instead of formal wear and suddenly curious about everything, Koralia's eyes searched eagerly for the most interesting ones. There wasn't anything much like this on Merend.
Luna was guiding her forwards; it was hard to make out people's faces in the half dark with only the stars and the dim pools of colour for light, but that must have been why they'd thought having a masquerade party for the Midnight festival would be fun. Someone danced past wearing a mermaid's shimmery cape and gown; her mask's straps suggested delicate seaweed fronds. She was closely followed by a second girl, whose hair was swept up high on her head. She looked like some storybook heroine, a heavy belt laden with golden fruit swung from her hips. Turning her gaze back towards to the sound of a horse neighing, Kia saw another fairy, hand-in-hand with a specialist, wearing a cleverly made horse's head which was moving and whickering above her shoulders as if it were real. Although it was strange, it was equally beautiful. Koralia wondered who it was under it and if they'd made it themselves; maybe they could get bonus points in charms class for such a neat enchantment? As if hearing thoughts about school Luna pulled on her hand a little harder as they reached the dance floor.
Almost half of the quad had a dance floor laid over it, probably conjured. There were more lanterns over it than anywhere else but they didn't lift the light levels above ambient. They floated on nothing and some even faded in and out like incredibly slow, soft disco lights. Boys and girls, in costumes made more intriguing by the coloured patterns cast on them, were dancing to orchestral music.
"What's that?" Kia asked, gesturing at the area to their left which had disappeared into walls of high, dark leaves, which met both the pink outer walls of Alfea and the edge of the dance floor. Luna smiled back "It's a hedge maze." She answered "The idea is to go in and find the centre. It's a challenge...See, just next to it; they've got better lights for the games." Where she gestured there were several tables set up in the last quarter of the quad, before the maze. The closest one to the dance floor was a long table of finger food and drinks; but instead of food the rest of the tables held either boards or stacks or cards. There was a surprisingly large number of students playing or teaching each other how to play. Some of the games were familiar to Kia, like the Drasti towers and the carved figures of Ceriduous gnarls, but some were totally unknown. Her eyes were drawn towards one that two specialists were playing; it consisted of black and white spheres that floated above a black and white board. They were both utterly riveted on the game, as were the three fairies sitting beside them.
"Why?" She was properly curious now "I thought the festival was just...about midnights?" It sounded vague even as she said it. Luna beamed at her "Oh, it is! The games are just something they've put out to stop people getting bored of waiting for 12 o'clock I guess. Or maybe to distract them from it."
The pink haired fairy waved wildly at a couple of girls talking to two specialists on the dance floor. Luna strode elegantly across to them and as Kia caught up she recognised the twins by the costumes she had seen them leave in. Xylie had spelled silver streaks into her soft brown hair to match the long, sleek silver and teal silk dress she was wearing. Her mask had so many patterns cut across it that it seemed like a fine cage, whereas Nicolette's was almost painted on, a butterfly shape that shimmered just like her pale grey and golden gown. Unlike Xylie's dress, hers was short, puffed out from the waist, with gathered sleeves. However they had both picked their gowns to match well with their eyes and hair.
That meant that Lance and Jake must be the costumed specialists next to them. The one standing nearer Xylie had some impressive shoulder-sculpts, beetle-like, which trailed shining chains over his suit's shoulders like strange epaulets. She was trying to work out what the second specialist's costume was, when Nikki tilted her head in her direction and asked Luna "Who's your friend?"
"Ah, she's a second year from potions club." Luna grinned before Kia could answer it was just her. She said nothing though, just smiled at her friends and decided to let Luna have her fun. It was probably going to be a little joke they could all share towards the end of the night, that she had been here all along...
"I was so excited when they announced this event, a midnight festival is so close to the star festivals of home." Xylie grinned at them and began describing it. Luna nodded enthusiastically and was explaining a similar festival on her own home planet when the second specialist asked Nikki to dance again; that told Kia that it was Jake.
The couple twirled off into the middle of the dance floor and were lost a second later in the sea of masks, skirts and capes. The remaining group of friends found themselves drifting towards the refreshments table which, between dance floor and grass, was an agreeable place to stand chatting. Several other groups were milling around the long table, also sipping their punch and watching the dancers and game-players.
The girls from their dormitories easily recognised Luna by her pink hair and their friends were often stopping by them between dances. When she joined them, Krysten was nearly unrecognisable but Nate had found her anyway and was jokingly complaining about her dress, and hair.
"Pink? You had to wear something that would clash with my hair, didn't you?"
"Don't try it! I felt like pink, and so, Pink." Was all Krysten said, gesturing at the ruffled dress with a theatrical sniff, and promptly burst out laughing as Nate pulled an exaggerated mock-snobby face in return.
Luna had been nodding approvingly at Krysten's rose-spelled tresses and threw in "Oh come on Nathaniel, you can hardly talk you're wearing...Metal?" She poked his duct-tape jacket with some confusion, not having seen the substance before.
"Yeah, but it's awesome AND it goes with my hair." He replied, shaking his ginger curls.
Catalina popped into the space besides them with the usual spray of blue bubbles, clad in a slim seafoam and bluebell gown, and picked up a glass from the table "Who's got the ladle? I'm so thirsty..." Kia passed it to her. Catalina gave her a quick glance but was distracted as Luna asked "Jonathon?"
"What? No way, he can't keep up with me on the dance floor!"
"It's not like we're disco dancing this time...He should be fine! Waltzing is pretty slow compared." Dawn added. Kia nodded her agreement.
"Pft, well anyway....Ok I admit it! I'm not even sure who I've been dancing with, what with all the masks" Cat grinned "But I don't really care, it's just nice to be trying all this fancy footwork stuff...It's been a while." She drank deeply and sighed to herself. Luna couldn't leave it alone though.
"Are you sure you don't want to dance with Jonathon? I bet we could find him, if you wanted to..."
Koralia tuned out at that, until Dawn, whose butterfly covered dress was fluttering in time to the music as she tapped her feet, spotted a familiar blonde boy and squeaked "Oh! Zared is here. I didn't think he was coming..." The girls all looked over at once, which started Nate laughing again.
"Well? Do you want to dance with him or should we hide in the hedge maze?" Cat asked, interrupting what Luna was steering at by grabbing Dawn's hand. Another pop of blue bubbles and they reappeared further away, halfway between the maze and Zared. He must have recognised them as he left his friends, making a beeline for a very suddenly very pink Dawn.
"Who's that next to him though, in the white tux?" Krysten asked Nate "I don't remember a red-mohawk patrolling Red Fountain..."
"Oh, it's Cameron. He dyed his hair 'cause he found a rooster mask, see it?"
"Ach! Just because I ASKED doesn't actually mean 'spoil all the disguises for me'!" Krysten complained. They began having a jokey argument about it while Kia tried to avoid Luna's eye, knowing the love-fairy would be trying to get her to dance with Cameron now.
Suddenly Aly tripped past, grabbing Krysten's arm to pull her along, despite how tiny the red-head was in comparison "Quick, away from Leo!" Aly gasped. She was not even in any disguise, swinging her mask by its ribbons. Krysten giggled and took to her heels with her friend. Nate yelled 'Oi!' and chased after them, leaving Kia and Luna laughing.
The night went on enjoyably. No-one recognised Kia and Luna kept playing along with it, answering the rare questions of who her friend was with 'She's a girl from another class.' Kia was still wondering what the point of that was, the main reason Luna had given her for attending the party was because her friends had wanted her there, so shouldn't she be letting them know she was? But she was enjoying it; Luna had been right about that. Not feeling sleepy anymore, despite the late hour, she danced with specialists who asked and one of them, wearing a black mask and a bird-cage over his head, had then taught her how to play the Solarian turn-twist board game. She had spotted the specialist who was supposed to be Cameron a couple of times by the buffet table but despite Luna whispering she had heard he was trying to find her for a dance, she hadn't gone to ask him so far. Neither of them had spotted Detrius and Luna was very happy to be avoiding him.
They played the Twist-turn game for a while and when Luna took off to dance with the others for a while, Kia switched to a one-person game, staying absorbed in it. Every now and again, she would glance up to watch people dancing. Even the teachers were out...Although most were clearly supervising, they were all in costume. A tall, thin woman she guessed was Griselda, the way she was striding around and glowering, through an executioner-style hood mask, at student couples she deemed were standing too close gave her away. Faragonda was mask-less and wearing a dress made of swathes of crimson ripples, dancing happily with a huge man with a long white beard, who Kia didn't recognise. Unless he was Codatorta in an old-man costume but she couldn't imagine him in one, from what Cameron had told her of their strict teacher's pride.
Midnight drew nearer without Koralia realising, but even concentrating, she did notice the change in the atmosphere; the almost furtive flurries of activity, couples taking hold of each other's hands as if they were about to dance again but not doing so...She saw a lot of people were turning someone to face them, quiet smiles springing to life in the half dark. Koralia wasn't sure what was going on but she didn't think she liked it, feeling suddenly exposed under the brighter lights of the games area, even in her disguise. She rose from her chair contemplating sneaking off back to the dormitory before anyone tried to her involve her in whatever everyone else was so distracted with...But too late. She felt her hand being grabbed and then Luna was towing her towards the crowd "What's going on Luna? Where are we going?"
"To find Cameron! It's nearly time for the countdown!"
"Countdown?" Kia tried not to trip on her skirt as Luna bustled between the almost deserted tables, in the direction they'd last seen Cameron's red mohawk in.
"What's traditional, what countdown?" Koralia asked again, totally confused…It must have to do with why people were quietly finding each other. She spotted Kellan taking Ran's hand and smiling at her surprise…And someone who must have been Leo, in a puffy-shouldered prince costume, trying to take Aly's. She growled and shoved him away into the dark opening of the hedge maze, before skipping off singing.
"The midnight kiss! It's like, the whole point of this festival!" Luna answered joyfully.
Koralia dug her heels in at that. "What?" She couldn't imagine that sharing a kiss at midnight was something either school would want to encourage its students to participate in…But it would explain why Griselda had been stalking around with a face like a smacked fish.
Luna followed her thoughts nearly perfectly this time. "Yeah, Gris isn't too happy about it either, but I heard last year a ton of specialists and fairies sneaked out to have their own secret dance and midnight kiss in central Magix...So this year, Alfea's threw a masquerade on the grounds. If the student celebrations are here, they can at least chaperone us." She gestured around at the crowd. They'd stopped by the hedge maze. Koralia folded her arms now that Luna had let go of her, mulling over this new information. "Right…That explains a lot. I don't want to kiss Cameron though." She answered.
"Come on Kia!" Luna laughed playfully.
"No Luna, I really don't want to..."
"It's nearly midnight, you have to kiss him!"
"I'm not going to!" Kia frowned. There was no 'have to' about this. She'd said no, quite clearly. Why was Lunalia not leaving the subject?
Then her attention was caught by the small ball of dim light forming in Luna's hands, contrasting against the darkness. Thin wisps of magic flowed from Luna's skin to create it. "What are you doing?"
"It's just a mild compulsion spell." Luna explained with a mischievous smile. Koralia's eyes shot wide open at that and she hastily stepped away.
"Don't give me that look. It's only because you're so shy! You shouldn't be worried about these things. It's part of the festival to give someone a kiss at midnight..."
"Luna...I'm NOT alright with this! Don't you dare put that on me!" Kia said heatedly. This was the last thing she had expected...
"But the countdown will begin soon! Do you want Cameron to go without his midnight kiss?" The pink-haired fairy cajoled.
"I don't want to kiss anyone!" Kia snapped back, shaking her black ringlets "I already said that, can't you just let it be?" already guessing at Luna's counter to that, she added "Yes, I also said I didn't want to go this festival at all and when you got me here, I did have had fun. But this...This completely pushing it! Am I your friend, or am I just someone to do whatever you say?"
She could see Luna frowning at her behind her mask and realised the girl didn't get what she meant. Or, she seriously hoped that was the case. If Luna did understand everything Koralia was feeling and would have spelled her anyway, she was seriously concerned about what being Luna's friend meant. She tried to explain.
"I think I understand why you wanted to do this. It's a big, romantic evening and I know you want me to find a boyfriend. But I don't like anyone that way!"
"That's NOT true" Luna muttered reflexively, but Kia ignored it. It was true to her, the only person she really liked was so off-limits the merish girl didn't count him.
"Trying to spell me into kissing someone, when you know I don't want to...You might think it's funny, or I'll get over it because it's 'what's best for me'...But it's plain manipulation. How do you think that makes me feel? No-one wants to be controlled like that. You're my friend...If you do it now, you do it in the knowledge that it's totally against my wishes. And it means you don't care how I feel about it at all." Koralia looked down at the ground, her voice small. Her eyes had started prickling with tears, it really did hurt; the idea that Luna might magically force her into something just because she thought Kia should do it, even knowing how she felt about it. And a kiss might be a small thing, supposedly, but once you started forcing someone into doing what you wanted them to, where did you stop? Would Luna end up spelling her into a relationship just because she thought Kia's life should have one? Didn't Luna see how horrifying the implication of just one compulsion spell was?
"I hope you only went this far because you got carried away with the idea...I really don't want to kiss anyone, and I want even less to be forced into it. If you care about me as a friend and not just what you think is best for me romantically, please, don't do this."
Luna's stance shifted, and she let the hand with the spell fall to her side. "I—Jeeze Koralia...It's just a little spell…" She muttered but there was something in her tone, in the way that her head was hanging just a bit... "I'm sorry." She said a moment later. "I didn't...I didn't mean anything like that."
Kia breathed a sigh of relief and made herself look up and smile at Luna "You...You weren't thinking. You just got over excited...There's no harm done. But..." she eyed the spell uneasily. It was still growing, and she wouldn't feel safe till it was gone. "...Can you get rid of that?" She didn't want to see a compulsion spell for a long time.
Luna started and looked down at her hand "I thought I dispelled it." She answered, and shook her hand. The spell, now a bit larger than a tennis ball, dropped and fell to the ground. It bounced once and then rolled towards Kia, who hastily stepped back as it came to a stop between them. Both girls eyed it warily through their masks.
"It should have faded away by now..." Luna stated.
"Maybe we should get a teacher to look at it?" Kia asked nervously, looking out over the crowd of dancers and trying to identify a staff member...Trickier than it should have been. She couldn't see any of them at the moment.
Just then, a red haired girl in a matching mask and a pink dress charged out of the crowd with a happy yell and gave the round spell a massive kick. It screeched forwards across the ground and hit Kia's shoe, before rebounding…and then rising straight up in the air, its previously dim glow blazing brightly. Koralia gasped and whipped around, racing away from it even as the activated spell began to zoom after her.
"Why did you kick it WHY WOULD YOU KICK IT?!!" Luna nearly screamed at Aly, who shrugged, only a little perturbed by it all.
"You had a glowy ball, were you not playing a game?"
"That. Was. A. SPELL!"
"Oh." Aly whirled in Kia's direction, skirts flaring "Run run run!" She happily cheered on the unknown girl Luna had been talking to without a clue what was going on, while Luna cursed and tried to work out how she could possibly counter-spell it when Koralia had disappeared into the hedgemaze...