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Generated: Jul 17, 2021 3:06 AM
Post last updated: Jun 28, 2016 4:38 PM
More Than One Kind of Artifact
Annie and Twins in Henshin
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Part of the problem with being a magical girl is that while you get some level of intuitive understanding of how your spells work, it's rarely perfect, and you have to find the rest out by experimentation. And some experiments would be disastrous if they happened to go wrong.

For someone with such a ridiculous name, the Viridian Garnet Guardian was strong. They hadn't really had the luxury of holding back at all. He was probably still alive, though. Probably.

Meanwhile they had to rest and recover before one of his fellow Guardians found them. Which meant having Emily splint her arm before healing it so they didn't have to find out if the Si Vales Valeo would straighten it out or heal it crooked.

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And then over there appears in a collapsed and unwisely-angled heap a girl in bloodstained cold-weather clothes.

Slowly, she starts healing.

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Son of a--

They do not have time for random civilians! They do not have anything for random civilians!

This impeccably logical argument does not make the universe take the random civilian and put her back where she came from.

...Well, she's healing, maybe she's not a random civilian.

Edie is distracted from this train of thought by Emily pulling the splint tight, snapping the bone into place. Ow. At least it doesn't hurt anymore after she Si Vales's the problem away.

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The random civilian makes a whimpering noise but slowly uncrumples and sits up and blinks and waves her hand in front of her eyes.

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"Are you alright?"

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"What language is this?"

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"English. You have some kind of translation magic?"

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"Apparently. Fuck."

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"Yeah, I'm not going to pretend you just teleported into the safest situation. Or a safe one at all, really."

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"I - I don't even know how many artifacts hit me -"

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"Artifacts?"

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"Several of them. At least three. ...Four."

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"You're bonded to four artifacts? How the hell is that even possible?" Not a random civilian, then. Maybe a godsend.

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"There was a truckful of them and they weren't adequately packaged," says the godsend, "and it turned over and hit me and there's at least four." And one of them has healed her almost completely now.

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"You got hit by a truck containing four--at least four--artifacts suited to you enough to share?"

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"I think we're talking at cross purposes."

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"More plausible than what I was hearing. So...what, you...were affected by some artifacts that were set to discharge on random passers-by? And the crash triggered it?"

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"I didn't speak this language a minute ago so I'm not sure what the connotations of the word 'artifact' in it are but the concept I'm using that word to describe is a thing that affects anyone who touches it with one good effect and one bad one. I've counted four bad two good so far - maybe five bad if the blindness and deafness are separate things - so it's at least four that hit me and I may encounter other less continuous or presently relevant effects -" She takes her coat off.

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She takes a moment to absorb this.

The woman not only doesn't speak English, she didn't recognize it. This isn't conclusive on its own, but...

"Artifacts are one of the three sources of magic. They bond to a single user and can be wielded thereby; or they operate based on residual instructions from previous users."

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"Okay. So I didn't just randomly teleport. I'm in a different universe."

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"You're in a different universe hanging out with a couple of reckless magical heroes who have just successfully thwarted slash avoided being murdered by one magical villain and are taking as much of a breather as we can before one of his friends find us. This is not your lucky day, I'm afraid."

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The random civilian godsend goes very still and swallows and says, "Um. I don't - I don't know if I got anything that can. Help with that."

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"We're strong too. We can try to keep you safe. That's the best I can promise, I'm afraid."

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"What's the best way for me to - not interfere?"

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"Depends on what magic you got from your extradimensional artifacts, I expect."

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"The useful things I've noticed are the language thing which is overriding how otherwise deaf I seem to be and I guess I healed and there's a - sense, which is making it slightly less unpleasant to be blind now that it's not so confusing and new. I don't know what else I have, there must be things but they're not obvious."

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"Okay. This place is--not hospitable, even aside from its current inhabitants. If you sense the Black Opal Guardian--a woman with long black hair with a large opal at her throat--or the White Sapphire Guardian--blonde dude with a bracelet with a big clear sapphire set in it on his left wrist--hide behind something. If you sense the Golden Diamond General--well, I don't expect that to happen. But if it does, run."

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"I can't sense color. ...Or run."

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"There shouldn't be anyone here but us and them. Woman, hide. Man without elaborate armor, hide. Man with elaborate armor--hide harder, I guess."

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"Okay." She casts about for somewhere to hide.

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There are a number of nastily jagged rocks and a handful of cracks in the floor, some potentially large enough for a person to fit into.

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"Should I just hide in advance?"

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"Might or might not be worth it. It could take a long time for someone to realize we're here, or that Greenie is missing."

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"Okay." Deep breath. "What are your names? I'm Annie."

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"I'm Edie Lehnsherr--Psychic Maiden Cerebella--and this is my sister, Emily, Iron Maiden Magnetar."

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"I'd be pleased to meet you under less fraught circumstances."

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"Sorry to be in the way," says Annie.

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"I'm more worried about you than that."

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"Well, none of my side effects seem to be mutually fatal, so there's that."

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"Is that a thing that happens?"

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"It could. If one makes you need twenty hours of sleep and one makes you an insomniac, or something like that."

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"What side effects are you getting?"

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"I am uncomfortably hot, I have been teleported to another universe and hope it only does that once, I'm blind and deaf which might be one or two things, and I think explaining the last one might distract you from your lethal combat situation which I don't want to do."

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"Noted. As in it's interesting, disturbing or some third thing?"

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"It's complicated."

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"Okay, you can tell us later once we've dealt with this thing. Or not, if you'd rather find someone else to help you."

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"I'll tell you," she says.

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"Okay. Are you hungry? We have some food. Not a lot, but not nothing."

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"Not very. I had breakfast an hour ago."

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"Okay. Let us know if you need anything, besides the obvious resource limitations."

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Oh she needs so many things. "Okay."

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"Oh--fair warning, you don't know me--I can read minds. I don't, not without permission, and doing it is really visible, but you should know."

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"...I can't see, so. I'll just have to take your word for not doing it without permission."

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"Right, blind, I forgot. Um, you said you had another sense? I summon these mirror-things, it's not just that I glow or whatever."

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"If they're not the same texture as air I'll probably be able to detect them."

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"They're not the same texture as air."

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"Okay. Thank you for warning me."

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"I'm pretty sure none of these people have a way to possess me or anything and I wouldn't do it but just in case you deserve to know."

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"...possess you?"

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"Copy my powers or control my body--I should be safe from anything that affects my mind but there's stuff that can do that too. This stuff is all really rare but you know what they say about the emergency you're prepared for."

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Nod.

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"I'm sorry you have to deal with this."

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"Why are you - here in a situation where that's a risk to be worth listing?"

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"It isn't, specifically, not now. But--the kind of people who can and would do that thing aren't going to cease to be able or inclined because we don't fight them. And we can fight them, and defeat them, and then innocent people who don't have the power to protect themselves don't have that happen to them."

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(...she really needs a notebook. .....she really needs to check if the languages thing will do writing too.)

Nod nod.

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Edie notices her distress but doesn't chalk it up to anything more than entirely-reasonable stress at the situation in general.

 

Eventually a woman with a cabochon gemstone at her throat enters Annie's radius.

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"...Woman, that way," she points, "with a gem here," she points, and then she goes to wedge herself behind a rock.

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"Black Opal Guardian," she diagnoses.

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And then they do a thing--

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And there is one person standing there instead of two. She plucks a brooch from her shoulder and it transforms into a halberd. She stands beside the door and waits.

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Oh wow that's really confusing thanks artifacts.

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The battle is short but brutal. Opal lady can fire black lightning from her hands, but her opponent's halberd helps to ground her and she can heal herself quickly. Opal lady does not have as much protection from what the white-haired woman can do.

And her heart really isn't in it.

When she's pinned to a wall with a blade against her throat she just sort of--collapses.

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Annie can relax marginally now.

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She reaches out and places a silver dot on the woman's forehead.

And goes still.

"What did he do to you."

The Black Opal Guardian--doesn't start crying, but turns her head away and makes a face as though she would really like to if only there weren't people there go the hell away.

"I can't let you go. You know what he's planning. But what did he do to you."

"Shut up," Opal snarls.

"I don't hate you."

"What does that matter."

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Annie has nooooo idea what's going on.

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"I can heal you."

"That won't change anything."

"No. No it won't. But it might hurt less, right now."

"It doesn't really matter."

"I can defeat him."

"And then what? I'm tired. I'm so tired. I don't want to stand in a box and tell people I didn't want to work for him, I didn't want to be one of his foremost lieutenants, he just tortured me into it because I had an affinity for one of his bloody rocks and then maybe not even have them believe me, or not care. I don't know which one would be worse. I don't want to find out."

"I can testify on your behalf."

"That's not a miracle cure."

"I don't know what you want from me."

"I don't want anything from you. I don't want anything I can have."

"I'm sorry."

"I believe you."

"Any preferences for the near future?"

"Don't let them know I didn't fight as hard as I could."

"Mhm."

And then the Black Opal Guardian is bound very thoroughly with several strips of metal that moved as though of their own accord.

The white-haired woman turns to Annie. "We should go. I don't want to have to worry about the others loosing her while I'm fighting them. And catching two like that is the best I could expect. Need a hand up?"

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"Yes please."

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She pulls her up.

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"...found another effect."

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"What's this one do?"

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"I think I could share my artifact effects. They might go in their pairs though, which I don't know how they match up, and one of them has 'teleport to another universe' as the drawback so..."

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"How do you feel about helping someone who was tortured into doing the bidding of a very evil person escape trial?"

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"...tentatively positive?"

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"How do you feel about never having to deal with someone who knows anything about your past that you didn't choose to tell them ever again?"

"If this is a cruel joke--"

"Nope."

"What do you want from me." This last is addressed to Annie.

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"I... want to test my powers-and-side-effects to see how they connect up so I know how usefully they can be shared with people who don't want to risk any possible side effect I might be carrying?"

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"Okay. Please. What do you need to do."

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"I think it's touch range. I'll do the languages thing first, you'll want that if you go to another universe..." She goes over to her and holds out her hand.

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The white haired woman unbinds her hands--and then the rest of her, because she'd probably bring those along and that would be bad.

The Black Opal Guardian touches Annie's hand.

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And Annie transfers the language thing.

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She purses her lips and looks between the two.

"Faceblindness," she diagnoses.

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"I hadn't even noticed that one, I'm actually blind," mutters Annie, "how many of these things did I hit... okay, here's my weird sense."

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She makes a face. "...Deafness and blindness. I don't think I like this one much."

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Annie undoes it. "Here's my healing."

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"I can't tell what the other thing is supposed to be."

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"How many of the fucking things - okay, do you want to keep it and risk being surprised by the side effect or not have it?"

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She hesitates, then says, "Take it off."

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Annie takes it off. "The only other benefit I've noticed so far is the sharing thing itself, which might or might not let you share the language effect."

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"Any other downsides?"

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"I'm really uncomfortably warm, and there's a psychological effect."

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"What kind of psychological effect?"

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"I... would rather not try to have a conversation about it until after things are more stably calmed down."

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She bites her lip. "But it might be the thing I get if you push me the pushing thing."

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"I am almost positive that both my psychological effect and the teleportation effect count as drawbacks so they should not be paired."

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"I meant the thing that lets you push powers, not the thing that pushes you into another world."

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"Oh. Yeah. It's, um, I think it shouldn't take effect if you turn around and don't look at anybody while you have it? I'm guessing though and if you don't want to test that one that's fine."

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"...If I don't look at anybody?"

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"I mean, I'm blind, so it's not strictly that, but if you don't perceive anybody? We should also not talk to you just to be sure."

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"...Okay then." She closes her eyes.

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Tap: artifact-power-sharing.

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poof.

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"...okay, so I know how some of them pair now, that's good."

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"And there's a positive effect that you don't know what it goes with and a negative effect that you don't know what it goes with."

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"Yep."

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"I'm actually curious how the pushing thing interacts with our world's kind of magic but there's really no way to test that."

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"Apparently not."

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"Unless we get you some."

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"Is that doable?"

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"Sure! I don't know how old you are for certain or whether it's too old to become a Magical Girl, and getting sorcery is, ah, not pleasant, but you can sign up with the Artifacts Registry to see if anything likes you."

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"I'm seventeen. What's unpleasant about sorcery?"

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"Becoming a sorcerer hurts like hell."

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"...ah."

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"But! You're not too old to be a Magical Girl. So that's something."

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"I don't know enough about any of this to make decisions about it," Annie points out.

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"True."

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"Maybe you could explain it after. - you're not stuck like that, are you?"

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"Nah. We've done this plenty of times. It's a little tricky to keep up, actually, but we're much stronger this way."

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"Okay. So after you're done doing what you're doing we can - explain each other stuff. Should I follow you or wait here?"

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"...Probably safer to follow me, at least until Sapphire's dealt with."

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"Okay."

So Annie follows her.

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There is a lot of sneaking. And periodically gesturing for Annie to stop and be as quiet as possible.

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Annie can do that. And keep a - sense - out for anyone who might be approaching.

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No one approaches.

But they're moving, and eventually they find a room that has someone in it. Someone with a sparkly rock on his wrist.

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About whom Annie warns... the person she's with... as soon as she senses them, with pointing and wrist-tapping.

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Does the languages thing extend to sign language, because at least one of her subcomponents knows ASL for thank you.

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- aaaaaaah when she does that Annie can see her but she's both of them and it's weird and aaaaaah

("You're welcome," Annie signs back.)

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She points to an unobtrusive corner of the room.

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Where Annie goes and hides.

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This exchange is much less quick. Sapphire doesn't hate what he's supposed to be fighting for like Opal did.

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Annie hides and shivers and is very unhappy, but quietly in a nondistracting way.

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Well.

Eventually, it's over.

"Can you put the healing thing on me?" she asks, limping out of the room. "My healing doesn't really work on myself when I'm like this."

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"I, yeah, of course -" Annie goes over to her and touches her cheek.

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"Thanks. At least I don't have to splint anything, this time."

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"...yeah. It seems to be a pretty good healing power, I wish I knew what was wrong with it."

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"That would be nice."

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Nod.

(aaaaaaaa)

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"Oh, hang on...Mercurial Metal Manipulation!" An iron thing seems to dissolve into quicksilver. She draws a map--after a moment, she wipes it out and draws a larger map, using words for lines--"if sign language works words should work too, right?" of the parts of the building they've been through, and some more that the twins went through before Annie showed up.

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"...it works. I was worried about it but it does, I can read. Um, from here I can sense -" She can't see her hand but she can tell where it is and trace rooms that lie ahead.

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She nods. "But what I was getting at is--if anything happens to me," she traces back to where she first entered the building. "This is how you get out."

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no if anything happens to you Annie curls up in a ball and waits for death.

"Thank you."

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"You're welcome. Trust me, you do not want to be stuck here. Or captured by these guys. The way I knew what happened to Opal--well. My healing spell gives feedback on what damage there is to heal. The, uh, scars were. Familiar."

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"Do you think you're going to win?"

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"If I didn't I would have found someone else to do this."

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"Okay."

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Oh poor thing she's so stressed out.

"Okay, I think it's done. You can take it back now."

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"...you don't want to keep it in case...?"

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"I think the benefit of having it on while fighting the Golden Diamond General is outweighed by the possibility of the negative effect kicking in while I'm fighting the Golden Diamond General."

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"Okay." Annie touches her face again, removes it.

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"Also I'm concerned about the possibility of it accidentally healing some shrapnel into my face or something."

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"I didn't seem to wind up with any of that but I'm not sure if there was any to begin with in my case."

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"Anyway. I think that direction is likeliest to lead us to his throne room and time is of the essence at this point."

She pauses.

"Do you want to see if the White Sapphire likes you?"

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"...what does that involve and is this a good time?"

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"Touching it, and if you could use it you might be helpful against the General."

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"Okay."

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The White Sapphire Guardian was stronger than the Viridian Garnet Guardian. And very loyal. If Annie had sight instead of her thing Lady Ironheart might have suggested she avert her eyes.

She takes the gem off his wrist and offers it to Annie.

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Touch.

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Nothing happens.

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"Nothing."

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"Okay. Well. Onward."

It doesn't take them much more time to find an ornate set of double doors.

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"Should I hide again or not yet?"

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"Hiding would be a good idea."

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So Annie hides.

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She flings the doors open and dashes inside.

It's a very long throne room, long enough that Annie can't sense the other end. But the fighting moves toward her.

It's not pretty.

Eventually she's flung out the doors again. She hits a wall with a worrying crunching noise, and defuses.

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Emily gets to her feet.

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Edie doesn't.

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no

Annie crawls heedlessly out of her hiding spot to go apply the healing effect, why couldn't she get something more useful than that, why why why -

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The world narrows down to a single point--the girl she's crawling towards--and then--

She doesn't vanish, exactly, but there's something else there instead.

Instead of walls of forbidding stone she is surrounded by a dome of glowing crystal, perfectly visible in every facet even though it's as far away as the sky.

A six-pointed star appears in front of her; or perhaps a snowflake. Each point is tipped with two glowing spheres. She shouldn't be able to, but she can tell what they are. Mostly. The spheres that represent the two benefits she hasn't figured out and the downside she hasn't figured out are opaque to her. A power. A price, some kind of non-voice whispers from nowhere. A power unsolicited, a price forcibly paid.

You did not choose this. But it is yours, nonetheless, and you will do what you need to protect it.

The crystal sphere fades away. It is replaced by a series of images--of Edie, mostly, fighting and falling and bleeding and getting back up all the more determined.

You cannot save her from herself. But you can stand by her side.

A shield, catching a blow that would have felled her. A hand on her shoulder, reminding her what is at stake if she fails, if she is reckless.

And there is so much more to you than the price of power.

She is the kind of person who would move a world, given a lever and a place to stand. She will have to find the latter on her own, but the former is offered to her.

Will you take it?

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In a calmer moment she might hesitate, try to interrogate this thing -

- right now all she can think is yes.

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Power floods her, and this is how she uses it--

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"Stand back," says Annie, hopping to her feet and holding her hands out to either side straight-armed palms-out, a little too preoccupied to feel ridiculous. She glows; her outfit vanishes, replaced by a dress with bell sleeves and a knee-length skirt and an ice-crystal-spangled swatch of net over her hair, trimmed with snowy lace. "I'm here by chance but here to stay. Sixfold touched and a thousandfold prepared to fight for love and mercy, the Sovereign Crystal Snowflake falls among you to defend, to repair, to perfect!"

And then she aims her hand at the oncoming General and snaps, "Crystalline Ice Lance!"

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He is not prepared for this.

But he's not an amateur, either, and while her attack is very strong for the first spell of a brand-new magical girl, the fact remains that he just inflicted some serious damage on a fusion of two much more experienced fighters.

It hits him, and he staggers, but it barely dents his armor.

As an attack it is less than overwhelming.

As a distraction, on the other hand, the whole thing is superb.

And his helmet is not of a piece with the rest of his armor.

And Emily ended up with a small sharp object that Lady Ironheart had palmed.

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As soon as he falls Annie drops to her knees and takes one of Edie's hands in hers and confers the healing power. And then keeps holding her hand because she does not have nearly enough wherewithal to put it down right now it's only her hand it's not like it's that creepy right.

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Nah. Anyway Emily will be over here divesting this guy of armor and artifact and binding him very securely and then healing him because she would actually rather not kill anyone she doesn't have to. Luckily the Si Vales Valeo is capable of covering a lot of blood loss.

"You okay?" she asks when she's done.

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Edie is healing, right, Edie is going to be okay - "I think so."

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Edie's eyes flutter open. She sits up immediately, then relaxes on seeing the disarmed and bound General.

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Now Annie lets go of her hand.

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"...Definitely not too old to become a magical girl, wow, okay, what did I miss?"

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"When we defused and you didn't immediately get back up again she sort of freaked out and activated on the spot and hit him with some kind of ice lance thing, it was actually sort of epic."

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...Edie looks at the sort of gratuitous amount of blood.

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"And I used it as a distraction to stab him in the neck with that feather we palmed earlier but thankfully I got him safe to heal before he actually died of it."

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"Well. Congratulations and good job, insofar as that's what's appropriate rather than any kind of--chocolate or shock blanket or whatever."

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"Thank you." (no this is NOT the right time to think about Edie feeding her chocolates or wrapping her in blankets THANK YOU stupid artifact)

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"D'you want a hug or something?"

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YES

"That would be nice."

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Hug.

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Hug from ~Edie~!

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"I'm going to see whether he has a phone or computer or something," while you comfort Shellshocked McHelpful, she does not say, "or if we need to fly back to the nearest town."

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Shellshocked McHelpful continues to hug Edie. This may have been poorly thought out. She is not sure how to stop.

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Edie does not have a problem continuing to obliviously play impromptu shock blanket so this is not immediately a problem.

"We're going to need to figure out somewhere for you to stay, and stuff," she observes. "Maybe find someone with magic that could get you home, but I'm not all that optimistic."

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"Um. Are all the bad guys incapacitated so I do not have to worry about distracting you from your lethal combat situation anymore."

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"Unless there are unexpected mooks around but I seriously doubt it."

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"...My little speech thing seems to think I got hit with six artifacts, should I expect it to know?"

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"Probably, yeah. I've never heard of anyone getting inaccurate visions."

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"Okay. Um." She should probably unhug for this part. ..............unhug. "I think one of them did a love-at-first-sight-only-not-literally-sight thing."

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"And you got me. Um. Okay. Parameters? Is there anything you can think of that you wouldn't have wanted before that you would have a hard time saying no to if I asked for it, if I don't ever fall in love with you will it make things better or worse if I act in casually affectionate ways, if at any point I don't know if I will or not will it make things worse in the long run if the answer is no and I say-for-example kiss you while uncertain...? We can't place you with a standard displaced persons agency or anything, if you're psychologically dependent on being near me, but I bet I can talk my parents into giving you the guest room..."

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...okay, this is not the worst reaction she could have gotten. "Um, to the first question I am freaked out by mind magic - which makes this artifact's own effect kind of uncomfortable, but still - which you said you had. The casual affection and uncertain kissing thing I think would depend on what you were doing and why... and on what you mean by 'better or worse'. And - I am probably that thing."

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"No mind magic, got it. I mean if I decide I like you enough that under normal circumstances I would be interested in dating you, should I refrain from doing that, and related activities like kissing, until I'm sure I'm in it for the long run on the grounds that it would make you worse off if you'd had that and lost it than if you'd never had that at all. Affectionate I largely mean things like hugging and standard platonic kissing locations--I usually don't do these things as much as I'm inclined because other people are less inclined than I am. I'm guessing right now that you couldn't say no to any kind of positive physical contact if you tried. Should I refrain from hugging and kissing you on the cheek or top of the head or whatever on the grounds that a) you would not do those things platonically and pre-love-spell you would feel that I was taking advantage or being creepy, or b) because it would make it hurt more that I wasn't doing those things romantically?"

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"...I find myself trying to evaluate this question almost entirely in terms of whether it makes the long haul more or less likely. Which you'd know better than I would."

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"...I think if you can give me accurate information about--how you feel about things separate from how I feel about them or how I feel about how you feel about them then that makes the long haul more likely on the grounds that it would make it more possible to have a healthy relationship."

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"I. Might only be able to do that by ridiculous mental convolution. But I can try."

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"I don't want to take advantage of you. Just--okay, if it helps, I prefer to hear honest answers to answers I'll like better in the short term, does that help? I want to do right by you."

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"It - helps but only in a sort of sideways fashion? I haven't had very long to work all the details of what happened to me out yet and I don't know very much about how to trick it or steer it or anything... um, I think in sort of the same sense I am probably psychologically dependent on being around you even platonic or not-sure-where-this-is-going touch would be good if and only if you are not construing it as an obligation on your part or something."

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"...Define obligation. You're my responsibility now, emotionally speaking--I'm sorry, I know that sounds horribly patronizing, I don't mean it that way but I can't think of a better word--and--that's going to affect things? I won't do anything I don't want to, but I might not have--gone out of my way to be in a position to want it? Under different circumstances? Does that make any sense?"

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"Kinda yeah but that's not what I'm talking about. Like... if you forget about me all day and then you're almost asleep and then you think 'oops, I have to get out of bed and go hug Annie' then no you don't. But if you don't forget about me all day and it occurs to you to hug me and that seems like it would be nice then you can."

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"Ah. Yeah, no, that sounds unpleasant."

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Nod.

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"Does the discomfort around mind-magic extend to doing it with other people? Because my sister and I read each others' minds sometimes, and there are other instances of consensual usages that come up."

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"I'm likely flinchier about it than average but if it's consensual and so on it's probably not going to bother me that much."

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"Nothing," Emily reports, walking back in.

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"Some stuff happened while you were gone."

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"What kind of stuff?"

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"Let me just show you. Mind Mirror."

A full-length mirror appears.

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Emily shrugs and walks into it.

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...this must be some of that.

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...And walks out a few minutes later. "Damn. I'm sorry. For the fact that you met the object of your artifact-effect and then immediately had to see her engage in lethal combat, if nothing else."

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"It was not the most fun I have ever had in my life."

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"The fact that you activated over it is pretty impressive, though. Nice outfit, by the way, much more tasteful than some of them."

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"I can't see it. What's my color scheme?"

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"Blue and white--can you sense the shape of it?"

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"Yeah, pretty much. And I can feel it." She pets her sleeve. "- Edie do you want to keep the healing or should I take it back?"

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"I didn't realize I had it. Take it off, please, at least for the moment--we're going to have to fly back to civilization, it looks like, and 'midair' is almost as bad as 'in combat' for unpleasant surprises."

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So Annie takes it back. Noseboop.

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Aww.

They're going to have to make their way back through the winding corridors to get out, and then both sisters cast a spell each and grow wings and Edie asks how Annie would rather be carried.

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"...what're my options?"

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"Bridal, your arms around my neck and mine around your waist, or awkwardly clinging to my back and hoping it doesn't get in the way of my wings. ...I don't recommend the last one."

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"First one sounds least terrifying."

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Scoop.

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Eeeee~

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Flying is probably more fun when you can see, but oh well.

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Yeah, probably. But it's still nice and Edie is carrying her!

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That she is.

Annie is actually kind of adorable when she's being delighted by Edie's existence. She makes a firm note of that.

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Annie continues to be delighted by Edie's existence for the entire trip.

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This might be easier than she thought.

They contact relevant authorities, explain the situation as best they can, and are given a hotel room to spend the night in.

It has a queen-sized bed and a couch comfy enough to sleep on.

Um.

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"How do you want to divvy this up?"

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"Nnnormally Emily and I would take the bed, but..."

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"I can take the couch, it's okay. I think my costume is taking some of the edge off the being warm but not enough that I'd want covers anyway."

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"Okay. Um, let's see, pillows, presumably you don't want a crick in your neck."

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"Yeah, a pillow would be good. Thank you."

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The twins detransform, their dresses morphing into other clothing, and Edie finds a spare pillow in the closet and then frankly both of them are quite exhausted and Edie barely makes it under the covers before falling asleep.

Oh, and there's some stationery on that table over there, and a pen. If that's relevant.

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Yeah, Annie's not that tired yet. Let's see, can she read in the dark. ...No but the text is the only thing she can see so the little nightlight in the bathroom will do plenty, the page doesn't have to compete with anything else in her nonexistent visual field.

She writes. She reads over what she's got. She sits up a bit longer, and then she tucks the pad of stationery into her costume's sleeve and flops on the couch and goes to sleep, murmuring to herself.

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And then in the morning they are put on a bus back to the twins' hometown.

"So, um," Edie says, once they're settled and the bus has started moving. "What personality traits do you have besides the obvious?"

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"...what's obvious?"

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"What I actually meant by that was 'magically in love with me' although I could make some confident guesses about some others, but you weren't exactly operating under, um, low-pressure circumstances yesterday in any way, shape, or form."

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"...yeah. Um. I'm very introspective and I believe in obsessive notetaking and I read a lot and I'm interested in magic which just recently became a much larger category?"

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"Hi, I'm a social malcontent with a hero complex and really good anger management techniques."

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I love you. "Nice to meet you."

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"So, magic--magic I can help with, I've been studying people with magic more than magic itself, but that has involved some amount of absorbing knowledge of their abilities and I can introduce you to people who know more. I'm finishing my junior year of high school, which would probably be more of a time sink than it was worth if having close acquaintances with a wide variety of people roughly my age has been immensely useful. I'm working on networking with other magical girls--and sorcerers and artifact users, but magical girls have better visibility--with an eye to creating an intersectional social justice organization. I haven't gotten very far yet, though."

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"I was early in my first year of college. I was going to study artifacts but it turns out they don't let you do that unless you get near the mind-readers; I didn't have a plan B worked out yet."

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"Early college? Nice."

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"It's not that early for where I live."

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"Lucky, then. Generally you don't start college until you're eighteen, here."

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"I almost am."

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"You're about a year older than me, then."

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That's not too much age gap, right? Probably not. Is it? "When I got hit by the van it was - I guess you might not have the same calendar here."

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"Sixteen going on seventeen and seventeen going on eighteen is fine," she reassures her at the look on her face. "There's a misogynistic song about it. It's March fourth, here."

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"We don't have a month called March. It was early autumn for me. Misogynistic song?"

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"I am seventeen going on eighteen, I'll take care of you," she sings/quotes.

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Annie misses most of the lyrics because she collapses into a ball of screaming at the first note.

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She cuts off--"Shit, are you okay?"

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Deep breaths. Deeeep breaths. "I. Found. Another drawback."

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Clearly the correct answer to this is hug.

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Hug. Hug is improving and good.

"At least it's singing? There's one where it's contact with water," she mumbles shakily, burying her face in Edie's shoulder.

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"...There's music in public places kind of a lot. Often with vocals. Just backgroundy stuff, mostly, but--we're lucky this bus didn't. Maybe we can find someone with a high pain tolerance to test the limits and see if there's a convenient way to mitigate it."

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"Maybe. I don't even know what it goes with..."

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"No one's singing right now. Push it to me? Or Emily if you can't stand the chance that someone might start."

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"...I kind of can't." Annie holds her hand out to Emily questioningly.

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Emily touches her hand.

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"...you sure you want to test it - actually if the idea is to test it so I don't have to maybe it should wait until we are not stuck on a bus together -"

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"I wasn't planning on testing the limits right now but I should at least be able to figure out if it's the healing thing or the unknown thing."

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Okay. Transfer.

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She bites her lip, hard.

"Healing thing," she reports thoughtfully.

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"Inconvenient," says Annie, and when Emily's lip is better she takes it back.

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"I'm really curious now what the unknown benefit is but there's really no good way to test that."

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"Two mystery benefits. The only ones I've found are healing, languages, the sense, and the sharing, and my speech thinks there's six."

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"Oh, right, I forgot."

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"Although I can't guarantee that the love one is not a weird edge case of a 'benefit', they're not always the sort of thing everyone would agree unambiguously on."

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"That'd leave you with one whole artifact missing, wouldn't it?"

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"Yep. Could be both of its effects are trigger-based like the singing one. But it's more likely that the love thing is the drawback."

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"Good luck with the benefits not being dubious at best."

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"Thanks."

...she's still hugging Edie. She does not unhug upon noticing this.

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Edie doesn't unhug either. Hugs are A Good.

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Good.

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Eventually just hugging starts to get boring--Edie would take out a book, if she had one, but she doesn't, so she decides to start filling Annie in on how magic works here.

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Ooh. And how does magic work here? Annie has this silly dress and no idea what she's doing.

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So Edie explained that there are three kinds of magic, right? Artifact users bond to and wield magical artifacts, magical girls are empowered by the mysterious thing that gives visions, and sorcerers muck around with some kind of underlying magical patterns in the universe.

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The mysterious thing that gives visions seems like a good egg with a tacky aesthetic. What should Annie expect to be able to do with being Crystal Snowflake?

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Magical girls get spells! You get one to start out with, and others when you hit nigh-arbitrary milestones of personal achievement--she and Emily got new ones after the General was dealt with but were too tired and then too near things that shouldn't be collateral damage just in case to find out what.

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"It was very weird how I knew how to cast my - uh, is it safe to just say the name of it?"

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"Yeah, you won't cast it without meaning to."

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"It was weird how I knew how to cast the Crystalline Ice Lance. And transform in the first place."

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"It would be sort of weird if you didn't! Think how much less useful being a magical girl would be if you had to figure those things out by trial and error."

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"It'd be really inconvenient!"

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"Maybe a sorcerer could help you figure it out. Maybe helping magical girls figure out how do I shot web could be a whole specialization of sorcery."

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"What existing specialties does it have?"

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"Gosh, loads. Sorcery's really all-purpose, you get agricultural sorcerers and all different kinds of medical sorcerers and sorcerers who specialize in wards...there are probably fewer specializations than there are in, say, science in general, if only because there are fewer sorcerers than scientists, but I certainly couldn't count them all. I apologize if that's an unhelpful answer, I can try to be more specific, I just don't promise to be comprehensive."

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"Why aren't there more sorcerers?"

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"I think I mentioned becoming one hurts like hell? And it's not as--institutionalized, there are colleges that have sorcery programs but they're kind of rare, for most of history what you've had is sorcerers taking on apprentices and then once you're not an apprentice anymore you mostly learn by trading with other sorcerers for knowledge."

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"Do a lot of people become multiple kinds of magic?"

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"Not in terms of absolute numbers, but--for any given kind of magic user, the per capita number of other kinds of magic user is higher than the absolute per capita number of other kinds of magic user."

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"Sorcery sounds cool."

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"I can see if I can find one of--Dad's colleague's or something who'll sorcerer you, if you want."

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"I'd want to know more about it before deciding for sure but it sounds versatile enough that it might be better than magical girling at compensating for some of my artifacts?"

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"Plausible."

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"Do you both know sign or was it just one of you, how does that thing where you become one person work."

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"...We both know some sign, I'm better at it, Lady Ironheart knows everything that either of us knows. Why?"

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"I could see - her - for a sec, when she signed."

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"...Oh."

She unhugs enough to get enough room and signs thank you again.

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"Ee!"

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She giggles, and starts running through her mental vocabulary for every sign that involves more than just hands. This includes "sleep" and "foot" (pointing to one's foot) among other highly irrelevant things, and "me," which is arguably relevant. And gives Annie a glimpse of her chest, not that she was quite thinking of that...

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Edie is visually fascinating!

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Annie's fascination is endearing!

"I wonder if the thing works on conlangs? I mean, sign language is sort of a conlang, I think, but people actually use it...I wonder if I could make up a formalized interpretive dance thing that involved the whole body at once..."

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"I have no idea, if I tried to dance a meaning I'd probably just fall over so I can't check it that way."

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"I know, like, two sentences of Elvish, we could check if it works on conlangs in general."

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"Sure."

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"Á colë nin Silmarillë Moringoþo mahalmallo. Á retë Taniquetildenna ar á mapa Manweva unduhampë."

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"Nothing. Guess it doesn't work on conlangs, or on that one for some reason."

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"...Why did you even memorize those two sentences?"

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"To mess with people who claim to be nerdier than me and don't speak any Quenya."

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"I think I'm missing some context. What do they even mean?"

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"Bring me a Silmaril from Morgoth's throne, and climb Taniquetil--a mountain the gods are supposed to live on--and steal Manwe's knickers. Respectively. Manwe being the king of the gods."

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"Hee."

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"I wonder if you have any of the same literature in your world."

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"Seems unlikely. We should check what things are the same, though, beyond - humans and oxygen and cars. Um, I'm from a country called Noregr?"

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"Never heard of it. This is the state of New York in the United States of America."

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"Never heard of 'em. If you have a relief globe around somewhere I could see if I recognize the continents."

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"Would it have to be a globe and not a map? I bet we could borrow someone's phone, pull up a geographical world map."

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"Well, I could read the words but I wouldn't be able to make out coastlines or rivers or anything..."

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"Right. Sorry. Um. I could trace a world map back home onto butcher paper with the lines made up of words repeated a lot?"

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"That'd work, if it'd be easier than finding a relief globe."

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"Yeah, and there's a reason people use Braille instead of just raised letters."

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"Okay."

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"It's often difficult to figure out what shape something is by touch if you're used to looking at it instead."

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"Oh, I was actually thinking I would just have to be near enough the globe to use my weird sense on it, although I guess it might be hard to make out fine detail that way."

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"I don't think I know enough about your weird sense to guess."

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"Well, you could try it, if you want."

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"I wouldn't want to go around blind and deaf all the time, I think," she says after a moment. "But trying it sounds fun."

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"Yeah, I wouldn't have touched it on purpose but that's because if you touch the artifact instead of just getting it pushed you can't take it back." She transfers the weird sense, and the language thing since its side effect is redundant and will allow them to talk.

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"...Trippy. Very spatial awareness," she says for her sister's benefit. "I wonder how much fine detail you can get with practice."

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"It doesn't seem to have responded to practice so far."

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"Really? Not even practice paying attention to things? Hm."

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"I think artifact effects in general are not practice-based. I'm certainly getting better at identifying things based on what they feel like to the sense, though."

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"Inconvenient, that. Oh well. It is sort of interesting."

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"Lemme know when you're done with it."

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"Mmkay." She flops on her a little more. "I can literally feel your heart beating, that's pretty cool."

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"I think I'd be grossed out by sensing through people except, um, the first coherent scene I took in after I got this had you in it."

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"I don't have a normal conception of gross and also that's kind of adorable."

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"What's your conception of gross?"

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"It's less weird in what it contains and more in what it doesn't, it's more weird in being smaller than in containing normally non-gross things."

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"Well, I am glad you are not grossed out by the sense, I should've mentioned it being potentially gross first."

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"Nah. Anatomy's interesting, not gross."

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Snuggle.

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Snuggle. "So, where were we before we got distracted by things other than magic. Other than this world's kind of magic."

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"Sorcery and how I might want it."

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"Right. So, I haven't made any formal study of sorcery, having not decided at least yet to become a sorcerer, but here's some stuff I sort of picked up through osmosis from my dad..." She explains some stuff.

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"It sounds really interesting."

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"It has a much higher time investment involved than being a magical girl which on top of the pain thing and some other more personal stuff is why I haven't picked it up yet, but yeah."

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"'Like hell' isn't very precise - I might find it a good trade if it just promises some way around the music problem -"

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"Hmm. I don't think I've ever heard of anything like the music problem before, so I doubt there's some kind of readily-accessible spell that'll take care of the problem like that," she snaps her fingers, "but there might be a solution. There also might be a magical girl solution--you can affect what kind of spells you get."

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"How do I do that?"

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"Get emotionally attached to it, basically."

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"Can you be more specific?"

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"Um--if you want something--like teleportation or healing or a better beam weapon or whatever--and you consistently spend time thinking about it, spending emotional energy on the idea of its existence--and it's not too high-level for the next spell you're going to get--you're likely to get it."

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"What defines how high-level a thing is?"

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"If there's a specific algorithm for it I don't know what it is. In general a better version of a thing will be higher level, and you may have noticed we don't live in a post-scarcity paradise."

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"I haven't seen that much of the place," Annie points out, "but the presence of supervillains could have explained that by itself."

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"Right. True. Well, the kinds of things that would make the world a paradise are pretty rare."

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"Maybe I can get flight and then not be so inconvenienced by how bad my balance is."

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"I think grace might be lower-level than flight."

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"I guess that would be good too. Can I only use spells while I'm dressed up? ...Is there a good reason besides looking silly not to go around dressed up all the time, I do feel noticeably ice-themed and it's pleasant by comparison."

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"Going around dressed up all the time is conspicuous and people are likely to make assumptions based on it and it can get tiring after a while. You haven't done enough magic to tell, probably, but being a magical girl is sort of like having an extra muscle that can get tired like the rest. And yes, unfortunately, you can only use spells whilst in the frilly dress."

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"Assumptions like...? Also how do I even get out of it."

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"Most magical girls are only transformed when they're actively magical girl-ing, so if you make a habit of walking around like that people are liable to assume that you're available to help with whatever petty problems they have. It's--you know how when you activated it felt like being filled up to the brim with magic? Just sort of--let it drain out."

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"I don't know what use I'd be with random people's petty problems," she remarks. She ponders detransforming, then - does.

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"Mostly being a magical girl doesn't actually make you better at dealing with peoples' problems but there's a lot of cultural baggage to being a magical girl. There's a sort of social expectation that we're--sort of like police, only less with the donuts and occasional brutality and more with the getting random cats out of trees."

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"I don't think anyone wants me to ice lance their cat out of a tree."

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"I think you're probably right about that!" she giggles.

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"Is there any other cultural baggage attached to me now?"

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"...I mean, there's sort of cultural baggage attached to everything. I don't know what it means where you're from that you're young, white, female, and nonstraight, for example, but those things do have connotations here. How universal they are varies, of course."

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"...I'm not sure 'white' is a category I'd use and I'm only sort of getting what it means via language thing. Uh, bi, if that matters."

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"It might or might not, depending on the context. Um, here being of overwhelmingly European descent is, well, generally socially advantageous. Oh boy, let's see if I can think of a good History Of Race Relations aimed at someone who has no context and isn't, like a kindergartener..."

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"Europe is...?"

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"A continent. Right. Geography lessons." She sighs. "I'm sorry I keep forgetting."

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"It's okay."

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"...Would it be if someone else did it?"

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"Forgot that I'm an unprecedented visitor from another universe every now and then because I fluently speak their language and don't constantly perform bewilderment? Yes."

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"Just checking."

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"You're fine," Annie assures her.

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"I want to be careful," she says, hugging her a little tighter.

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Snuggle! "You know, the fact that you want to bother makes it less likely you particularly have to."

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"I probably will anyway. I am not used to--having this much power over another person."

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"Well, the fact that you're nervous about it puts me in a sort of awkward position of power too, I could claim to need practically anything."

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"My, what a pair are we."

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Snuggle. Sigh. "I love you."

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Snuggle and wishing she could say it back.

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Annie doesn't seem to have expected anything of the kind. "So where do artifacts come from?"

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"The going theory is that the Ancients created them with lost sorcery."

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"How ancient is Ancient? Why was the sorcery lost?"

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"Oh, in this case 'the Ancients' refers to a specific civilization that died out millenia ago."

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"...and nobody knows what happened to their sorcery?"

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"It died with them."

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"Huh."

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"No one can read their records, they don't have a convenient Rosetta Stone."

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"...um."

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"The Rosetta Stone is an artifact that contained a message written in both Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Greek writing which a brilliant French guy used to figure out how to read Ancient Egyptian."

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"That's interesting but not what I was um-ing about, if they left records - in a language -"

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"Not very much, but there are ruins--oh. Oh."

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"So, I should probably be a sorcerer?"

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"Sure as hell sounds like it!"

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"While I am acquiring this power do I get sympathy cuddles?"

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"Absolutely."

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"Then I should be okay."

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So adorable. "I'll start asking around."

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"How hard will it be to find someone?"

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"Probably not too hard but most people are going to want to be really sure you know what you're getting into first."

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"Well, I should probably know more than I do, but - my pain tolerance isn't anything special but my ability to sort myself out again afterwards might be?"

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"Makes sense. And I'll hold you the whole time, I promise. I mean unless there's an emergency or something, but aside from that."

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Eeeee~ "How long is the whole time?"

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"A couple of hours."

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Solemn nod.

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Pre-emptive sympathy cuddles.

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Yay! Cuddles: so good.

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"So we can probably find a little of the Ancients' writing online, and Mama works at a university that has an archaeology department."

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"Awesome. The records aren't restricted access or anything?"

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"If you wanted to take the things with writing on them out of the building or anything that would require a lot of permissions and I can't promise you'll get to see everything right away but no one should mind if a genetics professor wants to show her daughter's 'it's complicated' some stuff."

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"...her daughter's what?"

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"...It's complicated? I mean, it is."

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"It is, it just didn't seem like a natural noun."

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"I'm guessing you don't have Facebook in your world."

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"No? What's that?"

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"It's an online...do you have the internet in your world."

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"No, what's that?"

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"Where do I start? Do you have computers in your world?"

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"Yeah? They're pretty new though."

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"Okay, well, when they get a lot better people figure out how to network them and you can communicate between computers and then there are these things called websites where people construct things to be accessed by any computer and Facebook is a one of those for social networking and you make a profile for yourself and you can connect it to other peoples' profiles and specify relationships and one of the options is 'it's complicated' so 'they're my it's complicated on Facebook' became a way of saying 'our relationship is complicated' and what I said is sort of a shortening of that."

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"...Okay, I think I followed that."

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"Hooray, I'm getting better at explaining things."

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"It sounds cool, too."

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"It is so useful you have no idea."

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"What else does it do?"

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The internet: Does all of the things! Checking out library books and registering for things and applying for jobs and reading things and grocery shopping and Edie will be going on like this for some time most likely.

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Edie's lovely.

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Edie is aware that Annie thinks so, but is she meaningfully informative, is the question.

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Yes, that too.

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Oh, good, then she can keep on adorably expounding upon things.

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Yay~

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And by the time Edie runs out of things to say, Annie will have a decent idea of how the internet works.

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Yay! "I think we may just have a lower tech level. Not by that much, maybe a few decades, but still significant."

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"That sounds plausible. What's your calendar system like?"

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"Three hundred and sixty five days in a year, thirteen twenty-eight-day months, there's some fiddling to make it all reliably line up. The year's 1802."

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"Three hundred and sixty-five days a year, twelve months with a number of days apiece best described through mnemonic poetry, and the year's 2017. What does your calendar count from?"

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"An emperor imposed it on enough of the world that it stuck."

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"Ours counts from an arbitrary religious event. People changed it from 'year of the lord' to 'common era', theoretically, but they didn't change the numbers."

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"Well, it would be really inconvenient if they did, wouldn't it?"

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"Yeah, it just annoys me because I'm not that religion."

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"Oh."

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"There's a bunch of cultural and historical reasons why it's particularly annoying, but I think it would probably be better to get that from a source less likely to break out into tangential ranting mid-explanation."

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"Okay."

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"I mean, I can try explaining, if not knowing bothers you."

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"...not knowing how to navigate a subject you have strong feelings about bothers me."

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"Yeah, that's fair. Um, okay, so, I'm Jewish, is my religion, and historically a lot of people have been prejudiced against Jewish people, and Christianity is sort of a much more popular offshoot that has historically not been kind to us although any given Christian is unlikely to be prejudiced against Jewish people today. And the supposed birth year of the founder of Christianity is supposed to be year one, I think."

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"Okay. What's your religion like?"

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History of Judaism lecture!

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"- so it's more of a cultural thing than a theological one?"

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"In a lot of ways, yeah. You get people who call themselves 'Jewish atheists' and  mean it."

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"What about you?"

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"In terms of what I specifally actually believe? I'm pretty much agnostic."

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"Okay."

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"What about you?"

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"Um, in the context of my world I'm an atheist but I don't actually know if all the same evidence is present here."

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"That's fair."

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Snuggles?

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Absolutely snuggles.

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Yay! Because that was terrifying.

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Edie's pretty much clueless about the terror but this does not appreciably harm the quality of snuggle.

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Good.

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"You okay?" Maybe not completely oblivious.

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"It would have been really hard if you were very attached to belief in an omnibenevolent deity and it didn't turn out that it really looked like that in this world."

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"Aha. No. I mean, I don't personally think we know enough about God, assuming He exists, to not give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment, but, no."

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"Maybe he has limitations we don't know about," she elaborates. "...I think it's plausible that he's not actually omnipotent instead of being not actually omnibenevolent? And I don't want to go around announcing otherwise as a matter of personal policy. I have every sympathy with people who look at atrocities and natural disasters and declare that there is no loving God."

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"Okay."

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"You okay?"

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"Yeah."

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"Good." Snuggle! Snuggle will smooth the awkward, right?

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Snuggles mean that all is right with the world.

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Good. At least for now.

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"So like - what's the story of your life?"

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"Well, my dad's a sorcerer and my mom's an artifact user, and they...both used to do the adventuring and taking down villains thing but don't really anymore, and they met while doing that and actually it was some stuff going wrong there that convinced them to retire in that area."

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"If your dad's a sorcerer why do you have to ask around about sorcering me?"

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"Because the villain in question was his teacher. He wasn't a good teacher. He didn't ask first, for one. Finding someone whose own activation was non-traumatic is a much better bet."

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"Okay. So they retired and had kids..."

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"They retired partly because Mom found out she was pregnant with us and had a hasty courthouse wedding," she snorts. "And Mom got a job at the University and Dad respecialized from the kind of shit his horrible teacher was force-feeding him into useful neighborhoody kind of stuff and had Art Baby and Social Malcontent Baby. I was apparently an adorable little monster when I was a little kid."

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"Awww."

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"My elementary school instituted like three new policy changes while I was there that were directly or indirectly because of me."

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"What were they?"

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"Well, the first time was in first grade when the gym teacher who was watching recess was horribly inadequate at preventing bullying so I decided to also take advantage of his negligence for a spot of light vigilanteism. Things sort of escalated and by the time the school stepped in it was quite clear that something had to be done. The second time was in second grade when I convinced my parents to make a fuss over the school doing something Christmas-themed but not Hanukkah-themed--uh, Christmas is a Christian holiday that's gone kind of secular, and Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that's heavy on tradition over theology. The third time I was in fifth grade and I read through the whole student handbook to find out what exactly I was not allowed to do to dissuade a certain classmate from bothering a certain other classmate and now there are more things in that category that people are not allowed to do."

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Annie giggles.

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"I've stuck with public schooling this long more because I suspect it can benefit from me than vice-versa."

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"I mostly stuck with it because my mother teaches kindergarten and believes in it. I didn't stir things up that much, though."

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"I'm probably going to the local university because my mother teaches there," she nods.

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"Remind me what she teaches?"

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"Genetics!"

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"Cool. I bet this world's got the field more advanced than mine."

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"Seems like a safe bet, I don't know how new all the technology is but I'd be really surprised if a chunk of it wasn't relevantly new."

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"How'd you become magical girls?"

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"I got--fed up. With people. In general and in particular. And I wanted to change things. And Emily wanted to be right there with me when I did."

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"How's that work in general...?"

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"Becoming a magical girl works by wanting power for nonselfish reasons, and if the source of the visions notices you doing it it gives you a vision."

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"Huh. What constitutes nonselfishness?"

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"It's hard to tell for sure."

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"I wonder if I would've counted at some point if it hadn't been about you being in danger."

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"Good question."

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"Any way to find out?"

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"If there is, it's not immediately transparent to me."

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"Nobody gets duplicate visions or anything? I was a little too preoccupied to ask the whatever any questions."

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"I've never heard of anyone getting a second vision, which doesn't categorically rule it out but does make it harder to figure out how to do it."

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"Oh well. - I wonder why I'm snow-themed. How does that work?"

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"For you personally at a guess it would be to compensate for the heat thing or something? Themes usually mean something, but they don't always mean the same kinds of thing."

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"I'm also from a really cold country?"

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"Also plausible!"

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"Where do you suppose your themes came from?"

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"I have problems sometimes with how inefficient language is as a means of communicating the inside of your head to anyone else and Emily thinks magnetism is super nifty."

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"Communicating stuff like what?"

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"Like--if you want to say what something smells like, you can compare it to stuff, but unless it smells exactly like something else that the person you're talking to knows, you can't transmit exactly what it smelled like. And then there's stuff like emotions where you can't really be sure that someone else has felt the exact same thing to even have that option. And it's so easy for something you say to sound like you meant something other than what you did."

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"Makes sense."

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"So I'm very fond of my mental powers, since I trust myself not to abuse them, and Emily does metal sculpture with hers."

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"What applications do the mind powers have besides not having to explain your it's complicated in words?"

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"Well, they're not general mind powers, they're discrete spells," and she starts listing them.

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Annie wants to know what they all do.

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She explains them!

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"What's Soul Aria good for?"

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"Accurately communicating my emotions?"

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"It's just communicative, it doesn't - paste your emotions on top of somebody else's?"

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"Oh, no, that would be gross."

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"Just checking."

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"Yeah, fair enough, if it had been it would be bad."

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"I don't really know what I'll do if I do - discover something bad," sighs Annie.

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"I hope it doesn't come up."

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"Me too."

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"I can't promise I'll never get a horribly problematic spell by accident but if I did I could just not cast it."

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"You can tell what they do precisely in advance?"

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"No, but if a spell doesn't do anything to inanimate objects I can get an informed volunteer--as informed as possible under the circumstances, anyway--to test it and if the test shows problematicness I can refrain from ever casting it again."

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"...How much do we get to know about spells before we cast them besides what they're named? I wasn't paying attention and now I've seen the ice lance icily lance."

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"It varies. Usually something--vaguely intuitive, by which I mean it is a vague intuition."

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"About how often do you go out bad-guy-fighting? Is there a large supply of bad guys?"

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"There is a worryingly large supply of bad guys. Usually not more than once or twice a month with more once than twice."

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"...where are all the bad guys coming from? Isn't there a finite supply of ancient artifacts, is it more often sorcerers or something? Or other magical girls?"

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"It's more often sorcerers."

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"Doing what sorts of nefarious things?"

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"Can I answer that question when we're not in public and I don't have to worry about accidentally traumatizing someone else on the bus?"

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"Okay."

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"Thanks."

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"You're welcome."

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Snuggles.

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Snuggles! "D'you want my life story?"

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"Sure!"

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"So I'm from Noregr, I was born in a little nowhere town but my parents divorced when I was a baby and my mother moved me to a big city which is where I mostly grew up. Fairly uneventful schooling, went to the local university, was going to study artifacts - I wanted to do statistical analysis on how they happen, the way artifacts on my world happen is if someone dies their favorite possession may become one and the features of the artifact usually have some relationship to the person's characteristics - but they don't let you in the artifact department without getting mindread, because the artifacts are strictly controlled and dangerous, so I wasn't sure what I was going to do instead but I had a while to decide. And one day I was tricycling to school and got hit by a van and then, well."

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"I'm sorry. About getting hit by a van if nothing else."

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"Well, at least one of the artifacts did healing."

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"Yeah. Doesn't mean getting hurt didn't hurt."

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"Yeah. Although I was really adrenaliney and also distracted by being too warm and blind and deaf. ...I think I might also not have a sense of smell now."

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"Does stuff still taste normal?"

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"Yeah, seems to."

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"Well, if you can't smell things at least it's a magically convenient kind of not being able to smell things."

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"I'm guessing it's captured as, like, 'ranged senses', and if I put something in my mouth that doesn't count as ranged anymore?"

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"That seems arbitrary but coherent."

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"Artifacts are like that."

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"I think I like our magic better."

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"It seems more useful, all three of it."

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"And less hazardous."

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"Yeah. They really should have been taking better care of those artifacts but then I suppose the van would've just hit me and I'd be dead."

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"I'm glad you're not dead."

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"Me too."

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The problem with snuggling someone is that you cannot take the action "hug them in response to a thing." Hm.

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Well, she could squeeze Annie more. Annie would not mind.

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Yes, that seems to be the answer to this conundrum, at least for the moment. Maybe Edie can think of a better one later.

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Ee squeezes.

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Annie is awfully satisfying to hug.

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Oh good.

...satisfying is not the word she would use about hugging Edie but Edie is definitely nice to hug.

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Good! Hugging is important, it wouldn't be good if she were bad at an important thing.

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"What do I need to know to, um, move into your house?"

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"Need to know?"

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"House rules type stuff."

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"Uh, don't leave the front door open if it's hot enough to run air conditioning or cold enough to run the heater, if you finish something put it on the grocery list, if you come in after anyone else is asleep be careful not to make a lot of noise?"

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"Okay. ...You sure your parents will be okay with me just sort of living in their house?"

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"It's plausible they might ask you to chip in on groceries if you get a source of income but I don't really expect it."

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"I should probably contemplate getting a source of income. Is it socially unacceptable in any way to just go poke people in hospitals and take donations?"

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"I wouldn't call it reliable but no, that's fine."

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"Well, I could charge, but it just doesn't take that long to poke somebody, if it doesn't net me enough spending money I can accept money to fly to distant locations for patients who can't be moved and stuff."

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"If you're going to charge for it instead of doing volunteering and voluntary donations you need to have tests run and get a license."

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"Oh. Fair enough, I suppose I can't just get a note from the Dean saying that the artifacts I touched do thus and such."

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"The Dean?"

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"The university has a guy who touched an artifact that lets him identify other artifacts without having to touch them. He needs twenty hours of sleep a day so the university pretty much has to look after him, but people can bring their artifacts for identification."

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"That sounds like it sucks for him."

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"Yeah, that's why there's only one of him."

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"I wonder how they find people to take that job."

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"I have no idea how he came by it."

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"Under the circumstances, I suppose it'll have to stay a mystery."

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"Yep."

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"Oh well, not that big a deal."

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"Yeah. He'll probably go through the pile of artifacts that hit me, in a few weeks they'll be able to conclude that I might be alive."

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"...That'll be good for your parents."

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"Yeah."

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"You know what would be really nice would be a stable way to go back and forth between the two."

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"That'd be great. Is that the sort of thing local magic can do?"

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"It hasn't so far but I wouldn't necessarily rule it out."

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"Any other known things that just - don't?"

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"Things that are theoretically intractable? Not as far as I know."

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"Can you bring back the dead?" wonders Annie.

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"No one's been able to do it with sorcery that anyone knows of, but while sorcery has no known theoretical limits it has a lot of practical limits in terms of the available knowledge. There was one artifact that did it, that I know of, but the guy who had it was murdered over it--ironic, I know--and no one knows what happened to it after that. And it's really, really rare as a magical girl spell."

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"Well now I want it."

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"I think it's profoundly optimistic to think you'd get it for your second spell but I bet you'll get there."

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"I will make sure to accomplish things."

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"Accomplishing things is great!"

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If Edie would kiss her Annie is positive that would count! She does not mention this. Maybe there are other upcoming opportunities. "How big an accomplishment does it have to be?"

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"Depends on the person."

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"What's the range?"

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"I'm not sure. I can do some research later, though."

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"How'd you get yours?"

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"My spells? All of them?"

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"...any you want to tell me about."

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"Um, that's pretty personal, add it to the 'when we're not in public' list."

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"Okay."

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Edie briefly considers feeling guilty but decides that the impulse is a result of the reciprocal power imbalance and she can safely ignore it.

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Snuggle.

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Such snuggle!

Eventually the bus will arrive at their stop.

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Okay then. Off the bus with them.

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This will involve disengaging from snuggle. Meh.

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Oh well. ...Annie is not quite sure enough of herself to suggest holding hands.

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Well, that doesn't immediately occur to Edie either, but she'll sling an arm over her shoulder once they're off the bus!

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Ee!

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Annie is an awfully flattering person to have in magical love with you, if that thing is going to happen.

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She is! Although she is blind and therefore short on adoring gazes, she is definitely looking sort of daydreamy and everything.

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This is going to be easier than she had been afraid of.

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"How far is your house from here?"

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"Less than a mile."

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"Okay, I can probably walk that since it's not icy."

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"How d'you normally get around?"

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"Tricycle. Can't balance a two-wheeler."

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"Huh. Trikes aren't widely available for adults here but I'm sure Emily can figure something out."

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"They're not standard for adults at home either but I found one eventually. Had to do a lot of the maintenance myself though because the nearby bike shop didn't know what to do with it."

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"I have magnetism powers. I'm quite sure we can work something out."

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"Cool."

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"Tell me how the trike was built compared to a normal bicycle?"

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"Two back wheels. I could probably do the writing-drawing thing if you want a diagram of it?"

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"That would probably be helpful. I mean more like--were the wheels all standard bicycle size, was the chain arrangement any different..."

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"I don't know much about how two-wheelers are put together so comparing's hard. The wheels were all the same size though."

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"Fair 'nuff. You can draw a diagram when we get home."

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"Will do."

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"How exactly does that work, I wonder...if I carve text into every square centimeter of a statue will you see the statue as a words-shaped lattice of the material the statue's made of?"

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"Probably? Although I don't think it'd let me see through the statue."

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"Hmm, right, so you would only be able to see one side of a lattice...this whole thing seems very weird, I might want to play with it later. Oh, probably when you're out of the house, I think I'd want to experiment some with how music with lyrics interacted with it."

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"I'm not sure it's the lyrics," Annie mentions. "It's only going to be the lyrics if the important thing is whether I can hear it."

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"Right, so you should give me the language thing and the sense thing and I should do experiments with what parts of music that happens to contain lyrics I can hear."

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"Sure."

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"Ooh, hey, you know what else you could do for money, I bet there's lots of people who'd be interested in trading their ability to distinguish faces for becoming a magical omniglot, especially people who are already faceblind, you could charge to put that one on people."

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"Ooh! Yeah, I could!"

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"Oh, and while I have sense thing I should check if you can hear things if it doesn't qualify as at range anymore! Since you can taste stuff normally. Earbuds and bone conduction as separate tests, I think."

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"I can hear myself talk but not breathe."

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"Informative. I should still probably do more rigorous testing."

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"It'll be interesting."

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She punches the air. "Science!"

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"Artifact science!"

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"Magic science is best science."

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"It is!"

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"Mom doesn't think so but that's because she's a huge genetics nerd and we haven't figured out a way to do magic genetics yet."

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"We don't have that either as far as I know, I've never heard of an artifact with hereditary effects."

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"I don't know how you'd go about doing genetics-related artifact or magical girl stuff but sorcery can probably do something."

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"Cool. I'll read up on all the lost ancient knowledge and eradicate Huntington's or something."

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"Mom's going to love you," Emily predicts.

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"Good."

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"What's your favorite color? For when the trike's made."

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"I didn't really have a favorite color. My old trike was dark blue."

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"What do they paint bicycles with, I wonder."

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"I'm not sure what kinda paint it is. Besides shiny."

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"Maybe car paint. Maybe I should just make it out of something anodizeabe and anodize it."

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"If you're going to make me a trike you can make it look however you want," laughs Annie.

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"Oh, I'm going to take that as a challenge."

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"...I mean, I won't be able to see it and regret opening my mouth," Annie says.

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"Not that kind of challenge," she reassures her. "I'm going to cover it in poetry so you can see it."

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"Oh! I like that idea."

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"When Emily says she'll take something as a design challenge she means 'I'm going to make this as pretty as I possibly can.'"

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"That is a good way to take a challenge."

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"It has good results."

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"What other things do you make?" Annie asks Emily.

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"Mostly I just do art--metal sculpture--but when someone needs something made of metal I'm a go-to person for that around here."

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"Do you do it with magic?"

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"Absolutely."

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"Awesome. I want to - watch."

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"Sure! I've been working on this nifty piece that's mostly copper and titanium and inspired by that one kind of tree that's sort of like a mushroom--by which I mean there's this huge interconnected root system that's all technically one organism and the trees that sprout aren't their own individuals, they're part of the whole. You can get entire forests like that!"

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"Aspens?"

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"Yeah, those."

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"Those are neat."

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"Most things are if you look at them the right way. At least if you're an enormous nerd. More people should be enormous nerds, it's fun."

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"It is!"

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"I guess it's less fun if you're not as good at it, though, like a lot of things."

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"Yeah, I try to be sympathetic to people who cannot have fun with being huge nerds."

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"It must be terrible. I can only imagine."

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"Those poor things. They have to play sports."

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"And gratuitously violent video games!"

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"And go on drunken escapades!"

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"And consume questionable substances!"

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"And watch happenstance dramas and slices-of-life and informationals on TV all day!"

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"All day? And on top of all those other things? Gosh, not being a nerd must be so busy."

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"They have the TV on in the background while they do the other stuff."

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"Oh, that makes much more sense."

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"Of course. They are not nerdy enough to have worked out how to toy with the workings of time."

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"They could get nerds to do it for them!"

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"Somehow this doesn't seem to have occurred to them? Or else we're falling down on the job. - Time travel magic yes or no."

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"No."

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"Good, that would've been kinda freaky."

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"Yeah, no kidding."

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"...speaking of freakiness how much do I have to worry about people with magic themed like yours who aren't you."

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"--Uh, I wouldn't worry about it at all while not out magical girling, and it doesn't come up often even then."

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"...okay."

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"Sometimes magical girls have--not artifacts, but detachable parts of their costumes, basically--remember the halberd?"

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"Yeah?"

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"Well, the components of that are--Emily has a sword, and I have a staff. And my staff does some shielding against other peoples' mind stuff."

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"Just for you, or...?"

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"For anyone touching it."

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"Seems potentially difficult to finagle in a combat situation but I'll keep it in mind."

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"Uh huh."

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"Thanks."

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"I want you to be okay."

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"I love you."

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Nn why can't she just say it back--"I'm starting to get awfully fond of you," she says, because it's the best she can do as of yet.

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"I'm glad."

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"I wish you had had the opportunity to evaluate me objectively before any of this happened."

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"I can form opinions about how I'd feel about a situation that was exactly like ours except for not having us in it. Nothing really worrying so far."

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"That's good."

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"Yeah."

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"I--wish you could've gotten to know me, though. First."

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"Yeah. Me too."

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"I don't wish you had been caused to fall in magical love with me at all," she hastens to clarify, "but, you know, given that you did. Or even absent it."

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"I know what you mean," Annie says. "And I wish you could have met me when I wasn't made of ninety-five percent emotional blackmail! But here we are."

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She giggles. "What a pair we."

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"Yep."

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"We'll work something out."

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"I hope so."

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"The alternative is unacceptable. So it will not happen."

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"...okay. Good."

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"Don't be such a drama queen, Edie," Emily chides.

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Heh.

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"My sister doesn't always get that people can't actually solve all their problems by deciding that failure is unacceptable and that other people realize this and get worried when she attempts the tactic."

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"I was sort of taking it as an oddly worded expression of determination."

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"Enh, that's about right too."

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"Am I being confusing? Basically she's being super determined at the problem, she does not think things are magically going to happen just because she wants it, but you can do everything right and still have things go wrong."

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"Makes sense to me."

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"Good."

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"It is really interesting being able to feel the plumbing and wires and stuff under the ground."

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"Isn't it just?"

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"Oh, you can too?"

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"Magnetic spells give feedback."

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"Nice."

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"It's amazing! I'd show you if I could, but unfortunately they're self-target only."

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"Oh well."

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"Maybe I can get one that isn't later."

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"How tightly themed are magical girl spells, am I going to have to relate any particular spell I'm going for to snow?"

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"Nah, if it's necessary the magic'll do it for you, but it's not always necessary."

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"Is there like a usual proportion of on-theme to off-theme spells?"

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"I think it varies--and it's different for you than it would be for someone on a team."

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"Team is a technical term?"

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"Yeah--remember how I said I was Iron Maiden Magnetar and she was Psychic Maiden Cerebella? Not a standard word arrangement for names. Our magics are connected, and it lets us do stuff like the fusion thing."

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"How's that happen?"

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"There's a spell for it, it's called Synchronicity."

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"I mean the connected magics part."

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"What kind of detail are you looking for?"

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"My stupid artifact effect wants to know if I can be magically attached to Edie."

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"Ah. Sorry. If it didn't happen when you activated it's not going to. Unless we figure out a way to change that, but so far I've never heard of someone magically joining a team."

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"Okay. Not-stupid-artifact-effect-Annie would be kind of freaked out by fusing anyway."