May 19, 2019 2:51 PM
A Margaret in Fabulous
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Maybe one of those websites has tips for finding out what your powers do. Or maybe she'll never find out and just fight the swarms with the power of flight and the biggest blowtorch she can convince her parents to let her get. She'll just have to drown her sorrows in accessories. 

Silver wedge-heeled boots, check. Small silver tiara with more blue gems in it, check. Hmm, the bare arms look is cool, but maybe just one arm? She adds a band of white fabric cinched around one arm just below the shoulder, with more fabric spiraling down around her arm until the last six inches dangle from her wrist, then bedazzles it to match her shirt and skirt, densely sparkly at the top and fading out on the way down.

She thinks the final ensemble is totally gorgeous. Does the magic agree?

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The boots are fine, the tiara's good, the arm thing is okay, better once it's jeweled. Now she has three spells that aren't doing anything!

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Alright, this is getting super bogus. No more starscape, time for science! . . . In the backyard, in case one of the things that isn't happening is laser eye beams or something.

She tries throwing her arms out to the sides and calling out, "Magical girl powers activate!" She tries pointing imperiously at a tree and yelling "Magic, I command you to come forth!" She tries going back inside and doing an Internet search for "my magical girl powers won't turn on" and "how do I cast my first spell".

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If your magical girl powers won't turn on, you probably haven't done enough body modification yet! Wings are always enough, do you want wings? You could also try Lu Jiu's Thirty Point Checklist for things you might want to modify!

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Yeah, okay, she should have expected that. If "I can feel my spells but not cast them" and "do magical girl spells require incantations" and "magical girl spells with activation conditions" don't produce anything helpful, she'll try going outside again and flying around. It should be fun even if the only magic involved is the bit letting her wings handle her weight.

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Some magical girl spells require conditions, like pointing at a swarm bug before you can fire a beam of energy, or a weak spell you're only just fabulous enough to unlock being finicky about how much of your own detail work you have to do and how much you have to concentrate. Some people have passive powers that do luck or defense or sensory things.

Some magical girls find incantations helpful! The swarms can't understand language so they don't telegraph what you're doing to the enemy, and if they're aesthetic they may or may not provide a boost (or that could just be a superstition) (forty page forum argument).

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Pointing at a swarm bug seems like a good thing to try, as does being on the lookout for passive powers. The forty-page forum argument is fascinating but reminds her that she has a history essay to finish. Three more paragraphs on the industrial revolution and half a biology assignment later, Margaret makes a Swarmwatch account and looks at what they recommend for non-magic weapons and for one's first fight.

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Swarm bugs aren't very tough when they first start out. If you want to fight the big ones that have been running wild in the ocean for several days gradually turning into a kaiju you get military grade stuff, but if you just want to be able to respond intelligently to a new spawn in your neighborhood, the popular model is something called a stardarter; it's got about the character of a Nerf dart gun, but heavier duty, so you can squash bugs but a shot gone wide poses little threat to people or property. They cost about $200 for a midrange dual-wielding pair, plus a starter batch of ammo (you can, if on a budget, collect the ammo, run it through the dishwasher, and reuse it), and are available in an enormous array of colors because they kind of have to be; for a little more you can get personal emblems engraved, embossed, or printed on their various surfaces.

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Fighting a kaiju sounds amazing, but it should really wait until she's figured out what her powers do and gotten a lot of practice on the smaller ones. Her money will stretch to stardarters; she doesn't get that much of an allowance but she doesn't have much to spend it on either. Still probably best to ask a parent's permission first.

Actually, now that she thinks about it, she ought to call her parents as soon as possible, so they have some warning about her new appearance before they walk in the door.

Ann Perry is a bit worried because Margaret rarely calls her at the vet clinic unless there's an emergency; then she's more worried, because her daughter is going to go fight swarms and potentially get injured or fail her classes. Then she's proud. The news that her daughter took a huge pile of alterations surprises her not at all. "Well, you've never been afraid to be weird," she points out affectionately.

Jordan Perry needs a bit more reassurance about the details of "Dad, I look like a dragon". No, she doesn't breathe fire; no, she doesn't have fangs; no, she's not thinking about dropping out of high school and will probably even stick with robotics club. (Chess club is definitely getting dropped.) No, she won't go looking for fights alone, though no promises if anything spawns where she is. Yes, she knows he's only worried because he loves her. Yes, he can trust her to take care of herself and do her best. Yes, she will be awesome at it, thanks Dad. Love you too.

When they get home, they both want to see her fly. Flying feels just as great as it sounds and looks just as cool as it feels.

After the flying demo, they're happy to let her buy a pair of dart guns and some ammo. She goes for her shade of royal blue with no customization and the cheap shipping; they'll arrive sometime the following week.

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The next morning she has an invitation on her homeroom desk to the school Magical Girl Club.

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Sounds like a good place to make friends and/or swarm-fighting partners! Maybe one of them will even know how to make her powers do things. (She spent the walk to school examining her senses in detail and making random gestures, with no discernible result beyond looking even odder than her new default. She'll head there after classes are done.

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The magical girl club meets in an offseason sports field, different ones depending on which sports are in session. There are six people in it besides Margaret; two of them go to a neighboring school that isn't big enough to have its own magical girl club. The members' themes are approximately "butterflies", "just barely not a TRON ripoff", "elf princess", "catgirl", "classic sailor suit plus wings", and "fire!".

Margaret will notice that they are all really hot.

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Oh wow, that's new. Well, obviously magical girls looking amazing isn't new, but the amount she *notices* this is new. Thinking that the catgirl looks soft and pettable is definitely new, what the hell Margaret you don't even know her name yet.

"Hi everybody! I'm Margaret Perry, just activated yesterday. Nice to meet you all!"

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"Hi Margaret!" says "fire!" girl. "I like your whole dragon kind of deal! I'm Hattie. Shiny lines is Josephine," (TRON girl waves), "long dress is Larissa, sailor senshi over there is Sumiko, the cat is Aaliyah, butterfly has a real name but she goes by Mariposa."

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Margaret recites everyone's names back and adds, "Thanks, the dragon thing is a lot of fun. Your thing is pretty excellent too! Do you do fire magic, or just like fire a lot?" 

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"Fire magic!" says Hattie. "My first draft was basically a prom dress and then when I figured out what I had I ditched it to do this instead."

"What have you got?" asks Aaliyah.

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Oh no she has to admit to everybody (and especially Aaliyah) that she doesn't know what she's doing aaah. But this is half the reason she came here in the first place.

"So it's the weirdest thing, but I don't actually know? I have spells, I can feel them existing, but I haven't been able to cast any of them. I don't know if they only unlock under certain conditions or I'm not concentrating right or what."

At least if she gets kicked out of the club for having really lame magic she'll probably have set some kind of speed record. Also this armband thing is pretty great for nervous fidgeting.

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"Huh," says Aaliyah.

"How many spells?" asks Josephine. "My second one only does things around swarms."

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"Huh" isn't great but at least it isn't "you phony".

"I have three different things, and they're all like that. I haven't been near a swarm yet, I'm hoping that does it if nothing else does. What's your second one?"

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"Swarm-seeking projectiles," says Josephine. "I'd show you, but, uh." Shrug.

"I don't have anything good for swarms at all," says Larissa. "I mean, I can sense them, but if I actually want to kill them I need stardarters."

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"I've got a pair of stardarters in the mail! I'm planning on looking into maintenance and aftermarket mods, see if there's any way to improve on the commercial version. Got any cool tips?"

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"They're pretty point and shoot," says Larissa. She displays hers; they're more crossbow-like models than the dart gun style Margaret got. "Recycle your ammo, it gets pricey if you aren't actually paid to kill swarms."

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Margaret admires the crossbow stardarters and nods solemnly at the advice to recycle her ammo. She should make the time to mark each of her darts when they arrive, so she can't get them mixed up with somebody else's.

"So what sort of magic do you have, if none of it is combat stuff?"

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"I've got basically magic GPS, and a thing in the radar-echolocation kind of genre that tells me where stuff is, which is useful for combat just not extra useful against swarms on top of swarm sense, and if I'm jazzed up in my less-comfortable-than-this outfit I can teleport short range," says Larissa, "but the outfit is actually so uncomfy I don't like to try aiming darts in it, I'm still trying to figure out what I can do that looks that good and doesn't cut into my arms."

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"That's really cool! Not the uncomfortable part, I mean, just the rest of it." She kind of wants to see what the even prettier uncomfy outfit looks like, but it seems like a rude thing to ask.

Margaret doesn't know what this club usually does, but she's happy to listen to the other girls talk about their powers and similar for quite a while.

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