« Back
Generated: Oct 21, 2019 7:35 AM
Post last updated: Oct 21, 2019 7:34 AM
can't have peace without a war
Margaret in Medallion
Permalink Eye

Margaret Peregrine is a high school sophomore. Most of the time, she's either at school, at the school robotics club, at the school chess club, or doing schoolwork. Today, she's cleaning out her late great-grandmother's attic.

Permalink Eye

Things in her late great-grandmother's attic:

- the good china
- an ancient banjo
- a birdcage, which was not thoroughly cleaned before it was stashed
- some paintings, several framed
- a box of vintage dresses
- quilting supplies
- National Geographics
- a bassinet
- a broken printer
- a jewelry box
- lamps
- 48 jigsaw puzzles
- books
- books of banjo music
- a broken rocking chair
- a music box with a spinning ballerina

Permalink Eye

Keep, donate, garbage, keep except for this hideous abstract one that gets donated unless her mother's really attached, keep unless the historical society wants them, donate, donate, donate, set aside to see if she can fix it, look through further, keep these two lamps and donate the rest, keep, prune for duplicates with existing library, donate alongside the banjo, garbage, donate.

Sorting the books should wait until there's a bit more clear floor space; she'll go through the jewelry box while she waits for her mother to get back from the previous donation run.

Permalink Eye

It's a jumble. Bracelets and rings and necklaces tangled with brooches and earrings and scarves.

Permalink Eye

Untangling piles of tangled things is the best fidget. She starts picking items out of the morass one at a time and laying them out, matching up pairs of earrings and folding the scarves.

Permalink Eye

This one must have a sticking-out wire; it stings briefly when she touches it.

Also now she's a dragon.

Permalink Eye

!!!!

?????

Yup she's a dragon alright! She's scaly and green and doesn't really fit in this teeny attic very well! This is kind of distressing but also kind of the coolest thing to happen in the history of forever. She has wings. She has scales. She has absolutely no room to turn around and really hopes this is a back-and-forth sort of deal rather than a permanent one-off because there are a lot of fragile things in here and she can't even look at the far end of herself.

Permalink Eye

If it's a back-and-forth sort of deal it's not instantly obvious.

Permalink Eye

She is not looking forward to explaining this to her mother. Can she even talk with these mouthparts? She tries to say "what is going on" to the otherwise-unoccupied room.

Permalink Eye

That works fine!

Permalink Eye

Okay, that's one worry out of the way. She should really get back to trying to turn human again, though. Can she sort of squash herself down into humanness? Can she do it by focusing really hard on what being human-shaped felt like? Where did that thing that poked her right when it happened end up, maybe she needs to poke it again?

Permalink Eye

There it is, tangled up with a string of pearls and a broken turquoise earring.

It doesn't zap her a second time, but on inspection she can see it's a bronze medallion with a dragon image stamped on one side.

Permalink Eye

That's certainly suggestive. She gets it onto a clawed forelimb and holds onto it and concentrates again.

Permalink Eye

With some effort she can get humaner, bit by bit.

Permalink Eye

Occasionally she loses it and some chunk of her goes dragony again, but she manages to get herself fully human in time for her parents to get back. She doesn't say anything to them yet; she wants to have a bit more clue what's going on before she tries to explain it to anyone else. She ends up with the medallion under her shirt.

Permalink Eye

If she can manage to stay human for the rest of the day, she tries to find any internet discussion of this sort of phenomenon that night.

Permalink Eye

She can, if she pays attention.

Casually searching for "I turned into a dragon???" turns up light novels and transformation fetish porn.

Permalink Eye

She knew she was going to have to dig deep to find any truth under all the fiction. She tries "dragon medallion turned me into a dragon" and "dragon medallion shapeshifting powers" and similar.

Permalink Eye

This gets more of the same, and on the second page a site called "Medallion" which won't show anything without a password and only shows up because of hidden metadata SEOing for "medallion" among other phrases.

Permalink Eye

She tries "dragon", "drake", and "wyrm" as the password and examines the medallion for hidden text, both without much hope.

Permalink Eye

None of those work. If any of these marks are text it's not an alphabet she's seen.

Permalink Eye

She'll have to try offline. Maybe the school library or the public library will have something suspiciously accurate under "fiction" or "occult". 

When she goes to bed that night, she absent-mindedly pulls the medallion off along with her wristwatch and hair tie, and once she's grabbed it back it takes her another fifteen minutes to get human again so she can sleep. 

Permalink Eye

The school library does not have anything suspiciously accurate under "fiction" or "occult".

Permalink Eye

Well, how about the public library? She even looks under "religion and spirituality".

Permalink Eye

Nope and nope.

Permalink Eye

This is not a one-off natural phenomenon. One-off natural phenomena don't come with clearly person-made artifacts and secret websites. That means there's a deliberate masquerade. She writes a decidedly mediocre YA short story about a kid with heavily altered demographic details who finds a medallion and turns into a dragon and learns who her real friends are. This gets uploaded to a couple of original fiction sites, from a computer at a public library that isn't the one she normally goes to but which also doesn't have anything suspiciously accurate, just in case. At the bottom is a line saying that if you liked this story, send feedback to this email address (created the previous day for the occasion).

Permalink Eye

Decidedly mediocre short stories don't get passed around very quickly; no results are forthcoming in the first 24 hours.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't expect results quickly. If she doesn't make any progress in a month, she'll ask her mom if her grandmother might've had anything weird going on. In the meantime, she practices shapeshifting in her bedroom at night and checks out everyone she sees at school for similar medallions despite the fact that hers is still under her shirt.

Permalink Eye

Well, plenty of people wear necklaces they keep hidden under their shirts.

Only one of her classmates keeps it on during gym class, though.

Permalink Eye

Next step: befriend this person until she can tell her weird things without immediately being thought crazy. And also until knows whether she can be trusted not to report her to the secret dragon police or whatever. She sits with that classmate at lunch the next day.

Permalink Eye

"...hi?" he says. "You're... Margaret, right?"

Permalink Eye

"Yep! That's me. And you're Kevin?"

Permalink Eye

"That's me."

Permalink Eye

"I like meeting new people. I know we're in the same gym class; do we have anything else together?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, maybe English?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, that's right, second period with Mrs. Stevens. I'm really enjoying Pride and Prejudice."

Permalink Eye

"It's better than Gatsby, I guess."

Permalink Eye

"A lot of things are better than Gatsby."

Permalink Eye

"Gatsby sucked."

Permalink Eye

"None of the characters had any clue what they were doing. At least Elizabeth Bennet seems like a functional human most of the time."

Permalink Eye

"It's still not as good as any book that came out after we were born though."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I like the old stuff. But what's good and recent? I can always use recommendations."

Permalink Eye

"I don't really read girl books," he says.

Permalink Eye

"So recommend me boy books, I read whatever."

Thinking books have genders is weird. But hey, you look for weirdness, you get weirdness. He can have odd taste in books and still be a secret dragon.

Permalink Eye

He lists a couple mass market thrillers.

Permalink Eye

"I'll have to check those out. So what-all do you do when you're not stuck in school?"

Permalink Eye

"I play video games mostly, and sometimes I go rollerblading and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"Rollerblading sounds fun, but I admit I've never actually tried it and I'm not sure where to start."

Permalink Eye

"It's not that hard. If you ice skate it's a little like that, I think."

Permalink Eye

"I've been ice skating once, it was nice except for the cold. And I guess rollerblading doesn't have that problem."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, you do it outside. Or in like a rink, which doesn't have to be cold."

Permalink Eye

"Are they like skateboarding rinks, with obstacles and stuff?"

Permalink Eye

"No, it's more like ice rinks only not ice. You can rollerblade in a skate park if you want to though."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Neat."

Permalink Eye

"It's hard on your ankles when you're starting out though, you have to get skates that fit to make that less bad."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, good to know. Huh, I bet there's all sorts of stuff I don't know like that, and what protective gear I would need and stuff."

Permalink Eye

"Helmet at least, knee and elbow pads if you're scared," says Kevin.

Permalink Eye

"I'd be kinda scared, yeah. Sometimes I think everything is like that, with loads of stuff you don't know you don't know going in. Are video games like that?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, but nothing you have to wear knee pads for."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, I imagine video games are pretty unlikely to get you injured in real life."

Permalink Eye

"One time a guy I know yanked his controller too hard and hit himself in the face."

Permalink Eye

Margaret sporfles a bit and puts her hands over her face. "Oh no! Is it bad that I think that must have looked really funny? Was he hurt much?"

Permalink Eye

"Just a bruise," he says, "but it looked really dumb."

Permalink Eye

"Well, hopefully he can laugh about it now. What game was he playing that inspired such a movement, anyway?"

Permalink Eye

"Super Smash Brothers."

Permalink Eye

"Ah, one I've heard of despite kind of living under a rock when it comes to games. My parents don't hate video games, exactly, but they won't pay for a console and I never saved up for one."

Permalink Eye

"None of your friends have any?"

Permalink Eye

"One or two do, but only getting to play when you're visiting someone else's house makes it hard to get into any of the ones with a plot. I've tried Smash Brothers and Dance Dance Revolution, though, those are fun."

Permalink Eye

"I've only played DDR in arcades, my parents don't want to buy any peripherals that only work for one game."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I can see that. They're pretty expemsive, and finding space for them could get hard even if they weren't."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. It's good fun at arcades though."

Permalink Eye

"It really is. Especially if you get multiple people."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah." Lunchtime is drawing to a close. He finishes his pudding cup and picks up his tray. "See you around, Margaret."

Permalink Eye

"See you!"

If the rest of classes go by without incident, she'll head home and try the internet again, because she had a thought. With the medallion on, she can shapeshift; with it off, she's stuck as a dragon. So what if she looks for "medallion that turned me human"?

Permalink Eye

That same website that wants the password turns up again under some fanfiction and webcomics.

Permalink Eye

Grr. The next day she keeps an eye out for any more persistent necklace-wearers and sits with Kevin at lunch again.

Permalink Eye

One of the teachers has a necklace. A girl in her math class. A boy in her art class.

"Hi," says Kevin.

"Who's that?" asks one of Kevin's friends.

"This is Margaret from gym."

Permalink Eye

"Sure am. I don't think we've met; tell me about yourself?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm Tom," says Kevin's friend. "I'm Kevin's friend." Tom is not wearing a necklace.

Permalink Eye

"Good to meet you, Tom." She looks at both of them. "How're your days going?"

Permalink Eye

"Going okay," says Kevin. Tom nods.

Permalink Eye

"Cool, cool. I'm thinking of going to the arcade after school today, get some ice cream, play some games. Want to come?"

Permalink Eye

"Are you asking me out?" says Kevin.

Permalink Eye

"Nah, not like a date, just hanging out." 

Permalink Eye

"I guess I could go for like a little while," says Kevin.

Permalink Eye

"Cool. Got any guesses what we're doing in gym today?" She'll make small talk and eat her lunch for a while.

Permalink Eye

"I heard it was gonna be running," says Kevin. He too makes small talk and doesn't say even one thing about dragons.

Permalink Eye

She arranges a meeting spot with Kevin after school. Gym is in fact running; she makes sure her medallion is thoroughly wedged down her gym shirt and wonders if exercising in one of her shapes makes the other one tired. They don't seem to need to eat separately, so there's clearly some sort of interaction.

Permalink Eye

At the arcade Kevin continues to be pretty dull company. They play DDR. He shows her some other games. He doesn't mention his necklace or anything about dragons.

Permalink Eye

That's alright; the goal was to get him relatively alone. She lets her medallion fall out of her shirt during DDR.

Permalink Eye

"Huh," he says when he spots it. "Where'd you get that?"

Permalink Eye

"I found it in a relative's attic", she says, tucking it back away. "I really like it; I never take it off."

Permalink Eye

"Can I see?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, okay." She fishes the medallion out again and holds it out, keeping a tight grip on it in case he makes a grab for it for some reason.

Permalink Eye

He doesn't grab it, but he squints at it, and then some visible but unclear change in his opinion comes over him. "You wanna sell me that? I know a place that'll pay weirdly lots of money for things like that."

Permalink Eye

And right back into the shirt it goes. "No way. It was my great-grandmother's, it's important to me. I'd actually like to learn more about it, though, none of us know where she got it. So if you know a guy who has more like it, I wouldn't mind talking to him."

Permalink Eye

"Nah, I don't think so."

Permalink Eye

"Have you ever seen one like it anywhere? For that matter, can I see your necklace? I noticed it in gym class, I bet it looks pretty neat."

Permalink Eye

"Mine's a medical alert necklace, it's not interesting."

Permalink Eye

She sighs. "Listen, we both know more than we're letting on. What if I told you this wasn't just a normal necklace? Because I also have medical reasons for keeping mine on all the time." If he doesn't know what she's talking about he'll conclude that she's nuts, but in that case she doesn't lose more than an already pretty fake acquaintanceship.

Permalink Eye

He squints at her.

Permalink Eye

She looks right back at him, trying to project "I know you know". They've been standing motionless on this DDR pad for a couple minutes now.

Permalink Eye

"Hey, get out of the way," says someone who wants to use the DDR pad. Kevin hops off.

Permalink Eye

Margaret hops off too and heads for a dark corner near the skee-ball consoles, beckoning Kevin to follow.

Permalink Eye

Kevin follows her. "Look," he says, "I'm not sure what you're - uh -"

Permalink Eye

"Show me your necklace. If it's really a medical alert necklace, I'll drop the whole thing and we can forget we ever had this conversation."

Permalink Eye

"If you really can't take yours off, prove it."

Permalink Eye

"Watch." She faces the wall so nobody except Kevin can see her left hand, then turns it into a clawed foot and back for a moment, just long enough to know you didn't imagine it if you were already expecting it. Then she stares at his face again.

Permalink Eye

 

He splutters for a bit.

Then he says, "Dragons are extinct."

Permalink Eye

"Stop playing dumb and show me your necklace--wait, 'extinct'?"

Permalink Eye

"Extinct!" he says, nodding rapidly.

Permalink Eye

"Extinct but not fake, huh. What on Earth is your deal, then, I had you pegged as another one and you're clearly in on whatever's going on."

Permalink Eye

"I'm a pegasus, we're not extinct."

Permalink Eye

"Pegasi exist too? I guess that's not actually much weirder than dragons, but can you prove it the same way I did?"

Permalink Eye

He looks around suspiciously, then produces a hoof for a second.

Permalink Eye

"Wow, okay. So there are more than one of us. Do you know any others?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. But not dragons, they're supposed to be extinct."

Permalink Eye

"Alright. Can you introduce me to some of them? I want to learn more about how . . . all of this . . . works, and there's only so much I can figure out experimenting on myself."

Permalink Eye

"...but you're supposed to be extinct, people'll freak out."

Permalink Eye

"Can we tell them I'm a normal person who figured you out somehow, or will that freak them out too?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't want to get in trouble for telling humans."

Permalink Eye

"Can I pretend to be something that isn't extinct? And what kind of trouble would you get in, is there a secret Pegasus government or do you just mean your friends would be mad at you?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know what else would look enough like a dragon. - there's like a secret nonhuman government, it's not just pegasi. I think the lions or some of the lions have their own thing too."

Permalink Eye

"Lions . . . are people wearing medallions? I thought they were normal animals? Or do you mean some people turn into dragons and pegasi and stuff and other people turn into animals there are real ones of?"

Permalink Eye

"They're not like regular lions, there's... bohemian and nemean and.... heraldic? And I dunno if griffins count and there's a lot of kinds of those... and there might be lion totems but they probably would live in Africa..."

Permalink Eye

"See, there's all this stuff I don't know. Can you just tell me where to find more secret magic people and I won't tell anybody you're the one who told me and you won't tell anybody I'm a dragon? Maybe there are secret magic people websites I could lurk on and then nobody would be able to tell."

Permalink Eye

"There's websites, yeah. And Avalons."

Permalink Eye

"Can you give me a website address? And what's an Avalon?"

Permalink Eye

"An Avalon is like a critter neighborhood, for people who don't have medallions mostly. I forget what it's called exactly, like where the hyphens go, but I think it comes up if you search for it with enough close-enough words?"

Permalink Eye

"I got one that looked like it might be it earlier but it needed a password to see anything, do you remember a password?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, yeah, it's Avalon but the O is a zero and then there's numbers... I think it's eight eight six two six."

Permalink Eye

She runs over to where she left her backpack next to the DDR machine and grabs a notebook and pen to write this down. "Great, thank you. And where's the nearest Avalon to here?"

Permalink Eye

"You know the abandoned movie theater? If you go through the alley next to it there's a door that says 'Danger, Electrical Equipment, Authorized Personnel Only', and you knock and prove you know what's actually behind there to the doorman and they let you in."

Permalink Eye

"That'd be the abandoned movie theater on Washington? Got it." She writes this down too. "Thanks so much. I'll leave your name out of everything until you say it's okay."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks. Uh, good luck with... not being extinct?"

Permalink Eye

"I guess so, yeah. Good luck with everything."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."

Permalink Eye

That was stressful enough that she wants that ice cream she'd been talking about, so she picks up her bag and wanders over that way.

Permalink Eye

The ice cream place is happy to serve her ice cream.

Permalink Eye

Then home and try to get on that secretive website again as soon as nobody else needs the computer. She really hopes Kevin remembered the password right.

Permalink Eye

He didn't specify a case, but if she capitalizes "Aval0n" then it works!

This appears to be a hub site pointing to even better-hidden other websites for various species and specific local Avalons.

Permalink Eye

Oh wow. Oh wow. Notebook time: what do they have for general overview stuff? Is there a page with a comprehensive list of species? Is there a page on what secret magic people scientists have figured out about how it all works?

Permalink Eye

The website doesn't seem intended as, or have any obvious links to, comprehensive references. If she finds her nearest Avalon on the map, its individual site looks almost like a university website, with event listings and a map and some local news. The species pages mostly want more passwords.

Permalink Eye

Figures that they'd have a culture of not making lots of information available. Can she at least see what species pages there are to put passwords into? And do any of the events have clues in them, like "flying race: pegasi and phoenixes welcome" or whatever?

Permalink Eye

There is a long list of species ranging from pegasi and perytons to bugbears and bugganes! The events are not like "flying race", they're more like "council meeting" and "temporary library closure" and "concert" with a list of bands Margaret has never heard of.

Permalink Eye

Perytons? Bugganes? Maybe her taste running to lit fic over fantasy really is a problem. She pulls up a dictionary of mythological creatures in another tab and starts looking up the species she hasn't heard of. Is anything mentioned sufficiently reptilian that she can show a scaly claw and claim to be that? Because it looks like she's going to have to go to an Avalon in person to get any kind of science books.

Permalink Eye

There are wyverns. Other than that, pure reptiles are thin on the ground.

Permalink Eye

And are wyverns the kind with front legs and wings, or the kind with back legs and wings; it wouldn't do to get called out on transforming the wrong appendage.

Permalink Eye

Back legs, no arms, wings.

Permalink Eye

She hides in her room and practices turning one foot into a dragon foot and back. She practices saying "I'm a wyvern" and "I like this form a lot better, it's what I'm used to." (The second is a bigger lie than the first; the only thing about her dragon form that isn't awesome is the need to keep it a secret. And the inability to hold a pencil.)

She deletes her mediocre young adult short story; it's more risk than use at this point.

And the following Saturday, she tells her parents she's going to spend the day in the park and goes to the alley next to the abandoned movie theater.

Permalink Eye

There is indeed a sign that reads:

DANGER
ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY

and is locked.

Permalink Eye

Deep breath. Adjust backpack. Check that nobody's looking. Knock knock?

Permalink Eye

There is a two minute delay.

Then a guy opens the door a crack and grunts, "Nearest bathroom's in the Walgreens."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not looking for a bathroom, I'm looking for the Avalon."

Permalink Eye

"The what?"

Permalink Eye

"The Avalon. Where the people without medallions live and the people with them go to visit."

Permalink Eye

"You don't look like an authorized personnel."

Permalink Eye

"Neither do you, right this minute. Doesn't mean we aren't."

Permalink Eye

He starts to shut the door again.

Permalink Eye

She sticks a hand in it. "I know about pegasi and perytons and bugbears and stuff. What more do you want?"

Permalink Eye

"You don't look like authorized personnel," he says again.

Permalink Eye

"Ugh, I hate doing this. Look down." Once he's looking: Shoe. Claws. Shoe again.

Permalink Eye

He opens the door a little farther and lets her in.

Permalink Eye

She smiles at him as she goes by, but makes sure to get a ways past before she starts gawking like a normal person.

Permalink Eye

There is some legitimate-looking electrical equipment, and a long narrow stairway lit by flickering fluorescent lights that goes down at least three or four stories, and another door at the bottom.

Past that door, there is a whole little village in a vast open cavern lit with faux sunlight, bright enough to feel warm and real. To her left and right, little rowhouses, duplexes, and small apartment buildings with cramped gardens line narrow cobbled streets clearly intended for pedestrians first and foremost. The stairway lets out onto a main street leading straight ahead; it's a bit broader but not by much, and lined with shops and restaurants and such.

Some of the people walking around look human and wear necklaces. Some of the people walking around are entirely shaped like whatever they really are under that - deer with wings, griffins, multiple variants on "weird creepy horse", satyrs, centaurs. Some people are going around with partial transformations - wings, tails, faces, fur, all changed but leaving them the convenience of hands and bipedalism.

Permalink Eye

It's good that some of the people look human; means she doesn't look weird for doing the same. She gawks a little bit, then starts walking down the main street looking for the library. As she goes, she tries to observe everything at once. Do the restaurants serve the same kind of food as human restaurants, or are there other kinds of food too? Are there any shops you wouldn't see ones of outside? What does the age distribution look like, are there kids around? 

Permalink Eye

The restaurants look pretty conventional - diner, pizza, tacos, burgers, buffet, fried chicken, barbecue, French bistro, pancakes place, sub shop, Chinese food, coffeehouse, pub, bakery, sushi, steakhouse, a little mom&pop that seems to serve only specials and have no regular menu. Conventional except the buffet serves bugs and the French one has a weird amount of tartare variations on its menu, and the specials at the place with the chalkboard include "Grass Salad" in between "Turkey Breast with Rice Pilaf" and "Lentil Soup". The proportion of restaurants to houses is weird; one could get the impression that most people who live here eat out for every meal.

The shops mostly look pretty normal, though she can spot some oddities - the hardware store advertises a farrier, the haircut place is having a sale on full fur coat grooming.

There are kids - almost all miniature creatures up until about sixth grade age; at that age some of them look human.

Permalink Eye

The restaurants look tasty; she'll probably get lunch here today. The tiny critter kids are adorable, even though growing up without the ability to turn human has to kind of suck.

Permalink Eye

They don't seem to mind.

There's enough clearance in the Avalon for flying creatures, especially kids, to take off, but not to do much; there's enough space to get over the typical building, but the place is indoors, and there's not much wind, updraft, or headroom. Being a flying creature in here is a little like being a bird stuck in a grocery store.

Permalink Eye

That's sad, but try being a flying creature stuck in a human body because even the myths think you're a myth. Maybe she should tell her parents everything in the hopes of a road trip to the middle of nowhere next summer. But that can wait; right now she's looking for the library.

Permalink Eye

There it is, between the buffet and the movie theater. It's not a very big library.

Permalink Eye

If it's small then reading every single book in it before graduation is totally feasible. Or at least all the ones that mention magic at all. What sections have they got?

Permalink Eye

They have pretty usual sections plus little ones on each of Nonhumans and Magic.

Permalink Eye

Magic section first, it's more likely to have theory stuff and the possibility of magic other than critters and medallions is awesome. She will read every title and grab whatever looks introductory or theory-ish.

Permalink Eye

The titles currently on the shelf the tiny little library under Magic are:

Natural Magic (an encyclopedia with five volumes)
On The Concealment of Avalons
Artifacts
Medallions: Nature and Uses
Rune Dictionary
Inscription
Cautionary Tales
Rune Derivation: Complete Guide

...and that's it.

Permalink Eye

She can't decide if this is feast or famine. Checking all of them out at once would probably be rude, so she'll start by sitting in a corner and reading Artifacts. And taking copious notes.

Permalink Eye

Artifacts is aimed at people who already make artifacts for a living and it has a lot of incomprehensible inside baseball about the best ways to make luck charms, nixie essence dispensers, ward bracelets, and surefooted shoes.

Permalink Eye

Just the fact that these things are possible is important information! But what's in the two books on runes?

Permalink Eye

Lots of symbols, numbered and carefully drawn out with ratios of their lines and descriptions of their curves. Each is accompanied by a chart of numbers and words, with the numbers in descending order and the words things like "protection" and "fire".

Permalink Eye

Theory! This is theory! Score! She's definitely checking these out. But if there's no explanation of what to do with the symbols, she should also read Cautionary Tales before trying any of the several ideas that have appeared in her head.

Permalink Eye

Apparently it's really REALLY easy to get yourself Killed In Real Life or permanently disfigured or disappeared or maimed or something doing magic! Here are LURID PICTURES.

Permalink Eye

Yikes. And what are the things that people did to end up like that? And what should they have done instead?

Permalink Eye

They made small drawing errors, forgot or swapped runes, incanted in their native languages, did not finish an incantation they had started, or made unknown errors!

Permalink Eye

Okay, so she has to draw runes and then incant at them, and which runes and what incantation should probably be searched for in other books rather than derived empirically. Also she's already getting an A in French but it just got more important. Also, how long has she spent reading so far, she kinda lost track of time there.

Permalink Eye

It's been about three hours. Might be lunchtime.

Permalink Eye

She'll attempt to check out the two rune books, and also Inscriptions.

Permalink Eye

She can do this. "You must be new," says the librarian. "Where you from?"

Permalink Eye

She names her neighborhood.

Permalink Eye

"That's still nearest this Avalon though, where are you from?" The librarian has big fuzzy deer ears and no other obvious nonhuman traits at this time.

Permalink Eye

"I grew up around here, I just didn't go to Avalons until recently."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, did you just turn?"

Permalink Eye

"Mmhm."

Permalink Eye

"Does whoever gave you their medallion live here now? Or did you buy it? - Oh, or they might have died, I'm sorry, that was insensitive of me." The library card is now issued and the books are technically checked out now; only social pressure keeps her there.

Permalink Eye

She stares at the floor and says, "Yeah, I inherited it--I have to go--see you." and skedaddles.

Permalink Eye

The librarian doesn't chase her.

Permalink Eye

Of course not. That would be weird, and Margaret's the one being weird today. Next stop: that place with the lentil soup, that looked good.

Permalink Eye

They happily serve her a bowl of lentil soup for cheaper than she could get a bowl of soup outside the Avalon.

Permalink Eye

That's pretty great! She had been all prepared for things to be more expensive here, because of the people who would pay more not to have to go outside. Maybe magic is sufficiently available that it makes things cheaper? Has she seen any other stuff that looked conspicuously magic aside from the people and their medallions?

Permalink Eye

Nope, unless the cavernous ceiling without any columns holding it up counts.

Permalink Eye

It totally might count, but she can't really go take a closer look at it. Instead she's going to sit on a public bench somewhere and read Inscriptions.

Permalink Eye

This has lots of tips for making runes fit neatly into subsections of diagrams, keeping them all on the appropriate scale relative to each other, drawing accurately, and deciding what to proscribe and what to let go (it doesn't specify what that is, just recommends going one layer deeper into proscriptions for every eight inches longer the diagram is in its greatest dimension). It has some complete diagram examples, though it doesn't include their incantations and just briefly mentions what they're for (A space warping diagram or An invisibility spell.)

Permalink Eye

Progress! If she looks through the rune dictionary for each of the runes in the invisibility spell (potentially a very useful spell, incidentally), what do they mean? 

Permalink Eye

They mean lots of random things. Actually, more of them mean random things ("fire") than relevant things ("sight").

Permalink Eye

Hmm. Each of the runes has multiple words next to it, right? If she traces the diagram very carefully onto a notebook page, and writes in the list of meanings next to each rune, do any patterns jump out? Repeated meanings, more relevant meanings belonging to larger or conversely smaller runes, meanings that seem related for runes that are near each other . . . ?

Permalink Eye

Lots of repetitions. Most of the irrelevant meanings in the largest batch of runes are repeated in the smaller batch.

Permalink Eye

She marks up the diagram some more to indicate how the repetitions are arranged spatially. And where are the most relevant meanings found, in terms of rune size and placement?

Permalink Eye

The single biggest runes are one with a top meaning of "sight" and another with a top meaning of "forbiddance".

Permalink Eye

That's nice and straightforward, unless it's dangerously misleading. She notetakes about this diagram until there's scarcely a square inch of white paper left on the sheet, then starts in on the next one.

She's still at it five hours in, when she realizes that one, she can barely make her eyes focus on the paper anymore, and two, it's dinnertime. Given her previous success with the lentil soup, she goes to the Avalon's Chinese place for dinner.

Permalink Eye

It, too, is cheap.

Permalink Eye

At home, her parents ask her how the park was. She says, "It was nice, I walked around and sat on a bench and read." She goes to bed pretty early for a Saturday, for the luxury of lying in bed in her dragon shape for a while before she has to turn human to sleep.

Sunday is sacrificed to all the homework she didn't do the day before. Monday morning she wakes up early, gets to school right when their doors open, and photocopies as much of the rune dictionary as she can get through before first period.

Permalink Eye

The runes do not react magically in any way to being photocopied, fortunately.

Permalink Eye

She's pretty sure you have to chant at them at some point to get anything to happen, and has been careful not to say anything while touching or looking at runes. Still, it's a relief. A few mornings like this should be sufficient to copy the whole dictionary, unless it's a brick.

Permalink Eye

It has brickish aspirations.

Permalink Eye

Well, she has these books for a couple of weeks; she can do it with a combination of coming in early and staying after everyone else leaves.

She takes to doing her homework in her bedroom instead of at her kitchen table; that way nobody can tell that it's a mix of hurrying through actual homework and staring at rune diagrams. She knows it should be possible to get where she's going from where she is; from an information-theoretic standpoint all the bits are there. And it's a textbook, it's trying to convey information, it's not like she's trying to access something deliberately encrypted. But she's not a theoretical perfect information-extractor, or even Alan Turing, and she's impaired by her unwillingness to test any of her hypotheses in ways more concrete than "see if they're consistent with all of the diagrams in this book".

Permalink Eye

The books have no comment on how much information it is theoretically possible to derive from them.

Permalink Eye

Well, they don't call themselves "A Comprehensive Introduction" or have exercises they expect her to be able to do after reading a certain amount; that's sort of a comment, or at least a very pointed silence. After two weeks she goes back to the Avalon.

Permalink Eye

It is much as she left it. Different door guard; she has to display her foot again.

Permalink Eye

Behold: a foot. How's the library doing this fine morning?

Permalink Eye

It's still there! The librarian recognizes her. "Hello again!"

Permalink Eye

"Hello! I've got books to return." She hands over the rune dictionary (now redundant with the copy hidden in her desk) and the derivation guide (on which she took detailed notes but which she did not actually copy.) "And I'd like to renew Inscriptions, if nobody else wants it right now."

Permalink Eye

"Nobody else has it on hold. You're not getting into magic, are you? Nasty dangerous stuff."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, it does look very dangerous. I've just been reading about the theory; I'd like to learn but I'd rather not try anything until I've got a good solid understanding of what's safe to do and what isn't."

Permalink Eye

"All right. Just you watch out, don't want to burn your pretty eyebrows off or worse."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, I'm rather attached to having everything attached. Do you have any books with safety advice, maybe some sort of primer for people who are new to magic?"

Permalink Eye

"There is one textbook but it's checked out right now, it has been for a while."

Permalink Eye

"Can I put a hold on it for when it gets back, please?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure thing." The librarian does this. "I'm sorry about your grandparent or whoever - who was it -"

Permalink Eye

"My great-grandmother. And thanks."

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome. Did she ever come around the Avalon?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think so. She didn't tell me much."

Permalink Eye

"How about your parents or your cousins?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm afraid it's kind of complicated. Sorry."

"On a lighter note, I think I'm going to check out some history books. Only so much staring at diagrams you can do before it starts to get tiresome, you know?"

Permalink Eye

"Sounds good to me," says the librarian, winking.

Permalink Eye

For what feels like the first time in way too long, Margaret's last statement contained zero subterfuge. She wants to know about critter history; what do these shelves have for her?

Permalink Eye

The Nonhumans section has The Nemean Council and Notable Nixies 'n Nokks and Bugbears Then and Now and Griffins Through History and Perytons: The Myth, The Stereotype and Avalon Timeline and The "Boston" Avalon and Who In History Was A Winged Horse? and things in that vein.

Permalink Eye

She'll take The Nemean Council because knowing about governments in her vicinity is important, and Griffins Through History and Avalon Timeline because those will probably go in chronological order and hit major events in critter history that she should know about. Like how dragons went allegedly extinct, plus the sort of general knowledge that will prevent her from having to let on that none of her living relatives know anything.

Permalink Eye

The librarian is happy to check them out for her.

Permalink Eye

Time to go read on a bench some more! She starts with Avalon Timeline, and people-watches while she's at it.

Permalink Eye

People of all shapes and sizes go by on zero or more legs while she reads about the founding of the first Avalon in Liverpool, UK hundreds of years ago, when "monsters" (this apparently means creatures who can't disguise themselves by medallion or with natural shapeshifting either) decided it was getting too crowded for them to live in the open and a wizard among their number made them a hidden place. The idea was popular and copied; most major cities now have an Avalon.

Permalink Eye

Natural Magic (look in library encyclopedia)

gets added to her notes. If Avalon Timeline is decently long, it will last her until lunch and she can pick up the griffins book afterward (she's not about to read library books while eating).

Permalink Eye

It is long enough to last till lunch.

The griffins book spends a lot of attention on family trees and a thriving griffin-only city-state in ancient Persia. There are several kinds of griffins and the book thinks this is very important.

Permalink Eye

And did these griffins ever get involved in anything of broader importance? Did any famous griffin scientists invent or discover anything? Did any famous griffin generals lead the secret extra front of the Revolutionary War? Does a griffin lead Critter Wal-Mart?

Permalink Eye

Griffins are a number of minor historical figures, mostly Middle Eastern ones she wouldn't be likely to have heard of; is she impressed that they think ibn al-Ghazali was an opinicus?

Permalink Eye

Seriously, does critterkind live in some sort of eternal stasis? Or are there just not enough critters to support an ecosystem of historical events? She'll look al-Ghazali up on the internet this evening. Now, what's the Nemean Council?

Permalink Eye

The Nemean Council exists to keep Nemean lions, who are indestructible and super-strong, in check. They require all Nemeans to take certain serious vows about the use of violence before allowing them medallions (if they're born human shaped, which the Code also requires of would-be Nemean parents) and they're also responsible for restraining any Nemeans who do not take, or who violate, those vows.

Permalink Eye

"Other species governments" goes in the to-research list. Then it's time to stare at rune diagrams until her eyes feel about to fall out or she needs dinner, one or the other.

Permalink Eye

Dinner is available whenever she's ready.

Permalink Eye

What's that little mom-and-pop place doing tonight?

Permalink Eye

"Haystacks" and "Glorified Rice" and "Chicken Fried Steak".

Permalink Eye

Glorified Rice sounds interesting! She'll order it without knowing what it is.

Permalink Eye

It's a dessert made of rice and pineapple and whipped cream.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, alright, dessert for dinner. She'll eat plenty of vegetables tomorrow or something. She makes a bit of small talk with the restaurant owners, then it's time to go home and stare at runes a while longer and go to sleep.

Permalink Eye

Come Monday, she thinks to check if Kevin is still in the same place at lunchtime, i.e. hasn't been hauled off for questioning by the secret dragon double secret police.

Permalink Eye

Kevin has not been hauled off; there he is hanging out with his friends.

Permalink Eye

She waves at him but sits with a different random person. No nefarious scheme this time, she just wants innocent chitchat where she won't have to tell any lies.

Permalink Eye

Random other people are pleased to have her company.

Permalink Eye

She keeps on spending evenings staring at runes. The meanings of the runes have associated numbers; if she writes in the numbers for a single repeated meaning everywhere a rune with that meaning appears in a diagram, is there any pattern to it? Do uses of a single meaning tend to cluster within the diagram, or be evenly spread around it?

Permalink Eye

Even spread - one in each section is common, usually a secondary or lesser meaning in the largest section and then a primary meaning in the next section. The numbers vary, but so do the sizes of the runes.

Permalink Eye

Secondary meanings in section n repeated as primary meanings in section n+1 suggests a sort of cascading effect. Does a rune tend to be bigger when the meaning it's repeating from the previous section has a big number?

Permalink Eye

Yep.

Permalink Eye

Looks like there's some idea of balance between successive sections, then: the secondary meanings in the first section are balanced out by the primary meanings in the second section, and drawing a rune bigger means "getting more of" all of its meanings. And the successive sections tend to get smaller because they're balancing their large-numbered primary meanings against the secondary meanings in the previous section. Does that same principle seem to hold for the other diagrams? 

Permalink Eye

Yes!

Permalink Eye

By the time she's done verifying this, she's torn the paper and her hair is a mess. But she's finally getting somewhere! 

. . . Not quite far enough to actually try drawing a diagram of her own, mind you. But somewhere. Is that textbook back in at the library when she goes to return the history books?

Permalink Eye

Yes, there it is.

Permalink Eye

Excellent! What's it called? What's in it?

Permalink Eye

It's called Runecasting and it's a really old book apparently published in the sixties. It confirms her guess that the successive sections are cancellations.

Permalink Eye

She punches the air and hisses "yes!" right there at the library checkout desk, then laughs at herself.

Permalink Eye

"Yes?" asks the librarian.

Permalink Eye

"I had a theory about how some stuff worked that the last book didn't explain, and the book says I was right. This stuff is the most interesting puzzle I've ever seen! And I should probably be reading somewhere other than standing right at your desk, I guess."

Permalink Eye

The librarian smiles. "As long as you don't try to cast anything, I don't mind if you read in the library, dear."

Permalink Eye

Margaret giggles. "Okay then." She moves out of the way a bit in case someone else wants to check books in or out, but goes on leaning on the desk and reading.

Permalink Eye

The librarian doesn't object and processes other checkouts every now and then.

Permalink Eye

In between checkouts, Margaret remarks, "It would be cool to meet the last person who checked this book out. I don't really know a lot of other critters, and nobody who's into magic."

Permalink Eye

"I can't give out patron information, but if you want to leave a slip of paper with your number in the book for the next person I won't mind a bit."

Permalink Eye

"That's a good idea, thanks!" She puts a slip of notebook paper with "Hi fellow magic nerd! Let's meet up!" and then her phone number between two pages and goes back to reading. What else does the book have to say, besides that successive sections are cancellations?

Permalink Eye

You should never incant in your native language, but ideally you should be fluent and not stumble over the words in the language because stopping incanting, or incanting incorrectly, is a very, very bad idea and can kill you. Diagrams work once. Here's how to circumscribe layers of cancellation; here's how small an effect has to be before it doesn't matter (different between effects; you don't want any extra fire). If you wind up overshooting a cancellation and winding up with a negative amount of a thing, that can have effects that differ per kind of effect - some are fine like that, others you have to get neater.

Permalink Eye

This . . . this could be enough to actually try a spell. At least if there's anything in here about what the incantations should actually say. She can't actually hold a conversation in French in real time, but individually composed and rehearsed sentences with precise meaning and correct grammar should be doable with a dictionary and patience.

Permalink Eye

The incantations need to be longish, a sentence or two, not just a word. They should fill in all the gaps about what your spell should do that aren't covered by the fairly simplistic rune meanings. If possible, poetic language seems to help a little where it doesn't sacrifice precision or fluency.

Permalink Eye

Excellent. Her first actual spell, which is going to be tomorrow at the earliest, is going to be the invisibility diagram from the textbook and an incantation of her own devising. Unless this textbook has exercises in it, or a recommendation for what to do first, anyway.

Permalink Eye

It does not recommend doing spells just to do spells, since spells are so dangerous.

Permalink Eye

If this textbook does not understand concepts like "doing simple things for careful practice before attempting the thing you actually want to do" or "doing things for the sake of knowledge", that's, well, it's the sort of mistake you wouldn't expect from a good textbook. But it's what she's got, and she'll probably spend the whole day minus meal breaks taking careful notes on it.

Permalink Eye

It does recommend drawing out diagrams, leaving them alone for a week, and then checking them over to find out how they would have killed you!

Permalink Eye

See, that's excellent, that's the sort of exercise a textbook should have in it. There are other things she wants to try before that, like analyses of all the presumably professional-quality diagrams she has access to in this book and the other one, and getting incantations down, but that's definitely a good idea.

Permalink Eye

She has a total of 7 complete diagrams. They are for:

- invisibility
- water control
- a shield spell
- a space warping spell
- healing
- sleep
- boiling water

and none of them have incantations.

Permalink Eye

Boiling water is probably the safest of those, if she starts with a small quantity of water in a safe container and is careful to specify that only the water in the container should be affected. Invisibility is potentially safer, except potentially getting stuck invisible with no way to get visible again sounds worse than getting scalded and more likely than boiling her own eyeballs. What does the book have to say about spell sizes--duration, amount of material affected, area of effect, etc--and how to make them larger or more importantly smaller?

Permalink Eye

The ratios between the runes are the important thing if you want to resize a spell; a straight shrinkage or enlargement works fine as long as everything's the same relative size. For some applications you want the diagram actually on something that you're planning to affect, and then the size has to account for that, but for affecting a thing that is not your inscription's surface a standard two inch maximum rune line size is recommended.

Permalink Eye

Resizing diagrams introduces some complications relative to simply tracing, but eventually she'll be drawing her own and then she won't be able to trace anyway. She's going to get perfect at copying existing diagrams at various (small) sizes first, though, so she's not learning design and drafting skills at the same time. That said, she should also try photocopying a diagram and using it at some point; if it works, it can turn one perfect diagram into hundreds of equally perfect diagrams at different sizes with no room for error.

Permalink Eye

If she doesn't incant one she'll never know.

Permalink Eye

She'll get to everything in her queue eventually. Tomorrow was probably a bit ambitious for her first incantation, though; she wants to do a thorough analysis of the boiling water diagram to find out exactly how much of what meanings are present in the final result. And she may not even have time for that today, depending on how long this textbook is.

Permalink Eye

It's not very long for a textbook.

Permalink Eye

It's still rather a lot of intellectual effort; she'll go to dinner when it's done. At home, she does the calculations for the boiling water diagram. What intentional and unintentional meanings remain when all the cancellations are canceled?

Permalink Eye

There's plenty of "heat" and "water" and little shreds of a dozen other things.

Permalink Eye

She writes down the numbers she gets and puts them away; tomorrow she'll do it again and compare results. In the meantime, she starts on a French translation for "heat the water in the cup in front of me, until it begins to boil", but doesn't get a first draft done before bed.

Permalink Eye

The next day she gets the same numbers again, which is heartening, and works a bit more on her incantation. Does the book have any example incantations, even ones for diagrams she doesn't have?

Permalink Eye

Nope! It does have one of those pullout text boxes that says, "Remember, never, ever incant in your native language! Choose a language you started to learn later in life. It's okay if you're fluent as long as you didn't start speaking it often before you were about school aged. Since this textbook is in English, I assume throughout that your native language is English."

Permalink Eye

She started French in seventh grade and still isn't fluent; she'll be fine at least on that front. Maybe they don't give examples because if they did most readers wouldn't know any of whatever language they put the examples in and it wouldn't help them.

By the following Saturday, she has a French incantation she's happy with. She has copied the boiling water diagram exactly, waited 48 hours, and checked it over to confirm that she really did copy it exactly.

Instead of going to the Avalon, she puts the diagram and a cooking pot with half an inch of water in it on her desk. She writes a letter to her parents explaining everything and apologizing, and leaves it where they'll see it if she dies. And she says her incantation, straight through without pausing or stumbling.

Permalink Eye

The water boils abruptly!

Permalink Eye

Margaret whispers, "Holy cow". Seeing magic is one thing, being herself a magical creature is another thing, but making magic happen with her own work and intellect is yet a third thing. She goes back to her notebook and looks at the list of applications she wants to try someday, an ambitious list with things like "healing" and "de-aging" and "sell artifacts" and "recreate medallions" and "combine with computers???". She hides the letter to her parents where they aren't going to stumble on it. And she promises herself not to do any more magic for the rest of the day, because she's much too excited to do it carefully enough. 

Permalink Eye

Her next experiment, carried out between homework assignments, is to make another copy of the boiling water diagram, wait 48 hours, check it for perfection, then make photocopies of both the used and unused ones. This takes multiple tries, because the first go had stray marks on the paper from where the photocopier got confused.  Then she sets up the same water-and-death-letter setup as previously and tries the photocopy of the unused diagram with the same incantation as last time.

Permalink Eye

This does not work.

Permalink Eye

Bother. And the photocopy of the used-up one, just for completeness?

Permalink Eye

Doesn't work either.

Permalink Eye

Well, of all the ways for something in runecasting to fail to work, "nothing happens" is better than a lot of things that could have happened. How about the unused one she hand-drew and then made a photocopy of, can she get anything out of that or did putting it in the photocopier ruin it somehow? Same pot of water, same incantation. 

Permalink Eye

The photocopier did not ruin it.

Permalink Eye

Eeee magic!

The next step is to vary an incantation and see if that varies the effect. The diagram says nothing in particular about boiling, just water and heat. Over the course of a few days she assembles and practices a French version of "Heat the water in the cup in front of me; bring it to sixty Celsius" and repeats her diagram copy/wait/check procedure. Then she tries the new incantation, this time with a thermometer in the water.

Permalink Eye

It reaches... eighty-five Celsius.

Permalink Eye

Weird. Does that happen every time? She spends the entire next week's worth of free time just doing that experiment over and over, recording the temperature each time.

Permalink Eye

It varies slightly depending on how much water there is.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, she's not trying to draw her own diagrams until she understands what's going on here. Does more water produce a lower final temperature? Does water that starts out hotter produce a higher final temperature? 

Permalink Eye

More water with an incantation specifying sixty degrees gets a lower final temperature. Water that starts out hotter produces a higher final temperature.

Permalink Eye

And is the final temperature always higher than sixty C, or is it sometimes lower?

Permalink Eye

Always higher.

Permalink Eye

What if she starts with ice in the pot but the incantation still says "water"? (She debates with herself for a while before doing this one, and has the "if you're reading this I died doing magic" letter out on the table again.)

Permalink Eye

Absolutely nothing happens.

Permalink Eye

Phew. If she swaps out the ice for water and tries again, is the diagram still good or did the failure use it up?

Permalink Eye

The failure used it up.

Permalink Eye

How bothersome.

She's going through a lot of diagrams and diagramming time with all this science, and even with the "wait 48 hours and double-check your copying" rule she's going to mess one up eventually. It's worth investing some more time in finding a way to mass-produce them.

Photocopying didn't work, but something more manual might. What if she gets some air-dry modeling clay and an exacto knife and makes some really careful models of all the runes in reverse, arranged mirror-style on a sheet, then paints it with ink and stamps it onto a page? This might take a lot of tries to get first a stencil, and then a painting-and-stamping attempt, perfect enough that she deems it worthy of incanting at.

Permalink Eye

Once she tries a stamped diagram, that works fine.

Permalink Eye

Sure, but can she then paint and stamp again with the same stamp until she gets another good one and use that?

Permalink Eye

Yes, subsequent stamps also work!

Permalink Eye

Woohoo! No more copying that one anymore, not that it isn't already burned into her brain. More to the point, any future diagrams only need to be done perfectly once. 

Next step: swap out the number in the incantation from "sixty" to "eighty". Holding all else constant, does this produce consistently or intermittently hotter water?

Permalink Eye

It never goes below eighty and the variance is less, but it varies a bit along the same dimensions.

Permalink Eye

This magic system demands a lot of precision going in for a relatively noisy result coming out. Maybe controlling for environmental circumstances really carefully will be instructive. Does playing back a recording of an incantation work like reciting it?

Permalink Eye

Nope. Does nothing and doesn't use up the inscription.

Permalink Eye

How about reciting the incantation loudly vs quietly? (This was such a good pick for first spell; it has a really easily measurable effect size!)

Permalink Eye

Volume makes no difference alone, but if she actually whispers, unvoicing all the voiced sounds, then it doesn't work (whether this uses up the inscription depends on whether she started any properly pronounced words before switching to whispering: if she whispers it all, the inscription is still usable, and if she whispers only some, the inscription is used up but nothing happens).

Permalink Eye

She never tries whispering only some; too much risk that it counts as "stumbling over the incantation". Whispering the whole thing is kind of scary, even.

Too many nights in her room doing science is going to drive her crazy; she goes to the Avalon again for longer than it takes to renew her books and looks through the history section again. Is anyone else browsing today?

Permalink Eye

There's an older centaur fellow looking at the art history selection and a fullformed nixie lady talking to the librarian about getting an interlibrary loan.

Permalink Eye

Interlibrary loan, huh? That's an idea. But she hasn't gone through the whole nonhumans section here yet. What's in there today? She vaguely recalls a book on Perytons . . .

Permalink Eye

The book on perytons is still there. There are books on totem animals, a book of speculation about unicorns, books about the sphinx/dragon war, a book about jackalopes, one book about the Loch Ness Monster, books about angels, books about centaurs...

Permalink Eye

She definitely wants one on the sphinx/dragon war, but not more than one because she doesn't want to associate herself with the concept of dragons in anybody's mind. She'll get whichever of those looks most comprehensive, plus the most comprehensive one on angels and the one about the Loch Ness monster.

Permalink Eye

Then she can check out The Extinction War and Angelarium; What We Know And What We Don't and Nessie.

Permalink Eye

Time to go read Nessie on a bench somewhere and get some, if not fresh outside air, at least fresher air than she's been getting. What do actual secret nonhumans have to say about the possibility of one chilling in a lake in Scotland?

Permalink Eye

There is a Nessie! She's not a species - one-off creatures just exist sometimes. She's an animal, not a person. One-off animals tend to be magical and to have ways of preventing casual observation by humans, but to turned critters Nessie is sometimes friendly. She likes popcorn.

Permalink Eye

That makes more sense than a person doing it, except for how "one-off species" is almost a weirder concept than magic. What about angels, that sounds potentially pretty weird too. Do they in fact have six wings and enough eyes for the whole class?

Permalink Eye

Angels are pretty mysterious but do have a lot of wings, "six" being a possible number. They do not generally appear with extra eyes. They don't talk about where they came from, but they are understood not to have "free will" and to instead be bound to carry out tasks, mostly keeping demons in check. They are supposedly incapable of hurting people who don't "deserve it" so a safe way to get un-possessed is to have an angel stab you: you'll be fine and the demon won't. They are genderless, they can glow, bugbears can't sense them, they live a very very long time though they might not be outright immortal, they're eccentric and rare and asocial and sexless and imperceptible by bugbear senses.

Permalink Eye

That's definitely at least as weird as extra eyes. Margaret has a lot of questions about what exactly decides whether a victim of angelic stabbing "deserved it", but answering those questions empirically sounds 1) infeasible and 2) distinctly not fun. She brings the book on the war back home and reads it there for easier notetaking.

Permalink Eye

The dragons and sphinxes, the most magically powerful creatures ever unless unicorns (who've been extinct longer) had something cool, had a war. They had allies of other species, but no fully overwhelming dominion over any - most griffins worked for sphinxes, most wyverns worked for dragons, but there were exceptions and the alliances were on the individual or family level, nothing that left the remaining combatants feuding after the sphinxes and dragons had driven each other to extinction. They carefully guarded the secrets of their magical prowess - dragons seemed to mostly use runecasting, but did insane things with it such that it's widely believed to have been a smokescreen for some natural magic in addition to whatever the details were of their incredible defensive prowess; sphinxes relied much less heavily on runes in the moment and tended to have amazingly well-enchanted artifacts in play instead. Some of these artifacts survive and are held by private owners or on display in museums in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa (where the war spanned). Sphinxes are credited with the invention of medallions and some sort of dispute about dragon medallions is believed to have sparked the conflict, though the historian writing this book believes there must be more to it, as it was so all-encompassing.

Permalink Eye

So runecasting is kind of sort of part of her heritage, but it's a heritage that nearly wiped out dragons and may have wiped out sphinxes. That's . . . a sobering thought. She'll just have to do better than her ancestors, and not even think about having kids until she finds some way to live openly as a dragon.

Step 1 on that is making some critter friends. Kevin went badly, but that was because they had nothing in common and also she was using him for information. Does the Avalon library, or the Avalon in general, have any events where she can meet other critters her own age? Maybe a book club or something?

Permalink Eye

If she looks at fliers posted on Avalon lampposts, she can find:

- a book club planning to next read some book called "Nora Finn"
- a video game club inviting all challengers to defeat them at Madden
- a club called Barn Raisers planning on getting together to repair the nondenominational church's roof and clear out some old hippogriff's gutters and refit a house for a harpy family
- two poker nights, a bridge club, a Magic: the Gathering club, a D&D campaign looking for players, and a general board game night
- karaoke Thursdays
- a "Sunshine Day" holiday party for aquatic types and anyone who likes to swim in the Avalon pond
- an after-school club that seems to be aimed at kids who attend school within the Avalon, called "Extra Credit"
- anime club
- street hockey
- knitting circle

Permalink Eye

"DnD as played by actual magical creatures" is hilarious on a conceptual level even though it's probably very similar to the baseline human kind in practice, and she probably won't have to lie to her parents about anything except the location. She'll sign up for that, provided they don't require nontrivial prior gaming experience--she did a session or two with some robotics club people once, but their group was too large already and she didn't stick around.

Permalink Eye

It says they're playing 3.5 and the DM can make a character for you if you don't know how, which is probably promising!

Permalink Eye

She will show up to the next session and meet everyone there and ask for help rolling up a wizard!

Permalink Eye

"We've got a wizard, do you have a second choice or should I just try to make a real different wizard?" says the DM, who has lop rabbit ears and a rabbit tail on an otherwise human form at the moment but doesn't wear a medallion. Most of the people in this group are older than her, early twenties, but they don't make an issue of it.

Permalink Eye

"I can be something else, what does the group not have one of?"

Permalink Eye

"Could use a cleric," comments a person in human form.

"Or a paladin, we've got a monk but not a full on fighter," says a midformed griffin. "And we have a druid."

"Big party," remarks a lamia.

Permalink Eye

"Paladin sounds like fun. They're the ones who use both weapons and magic and have a bunch of extra rules about being heroic to follow, right?"

Permalink Eye

"That's right," says the DM. "Lemme whip up a first level paladin for you real quick. If anybody else shows up I can run this campaign for two groups but I think with six people it's not worth the schedule headache." He rolls up a first level paladin for her. "You got decent stats, lucky you."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you! Can I maybe get a quick introduction to everybody?" She introduced herself when she showed up but hasn't gotten the rundown of everyone else's names yet.

Permalink Eye

"I'm Xavier," says the DM. "Your competitor wizard over there is Cole, Sanjay," he indicates the griffin, "is playing a monk, Brenda," a medallionless woman with a snake lower half and sharp teeth, "is playing a psion, Alec," he's in a midform with a horse tail and nothing else, "is our druid, and Joseph," no medallion, looks human, "is a rogue."

Permalink Eye

"Nice to meet you all!" And now she's ready to start gaming. She will work to remember the rules she's half-forgotten, help the rest of the party in their endeavors, and scout out who in the group seems nice and friendly and like they might be fun to spend time with.

Permalink Eye

The campaign is pretty standard fare, although they meet because they are all picked up by a band of mixed human and orc slavers rather than happening across each other in a tavern. Brenda is closest to Margaret's age and is helpful, if sometimes in a munchkiny way, with the game; Joseph cracks a lot of jokes; Sanjay keeps being tempted to metagame.

Permalink Eye

This is pretty fun! If it's like what she remembers it will probably eat the whole evening, but she made sure to have her homework done first.

Permalink Eye

It does take three and a half hours before the DM calls a halt and says they can pick up same time next week.

Permalink Eye

Margaret goes home and falls asleep immediately, without even spending some time in fullform first.

Permalink Eye

The next morning she realizes that all this history-books-and-gaming has been, while useful to her long-term goals, also working as a distraction from something she hadn't fully admitted: she has a pretty good understanding of how incantations work. The next thing she needs to do in her self-study of runecasting is try creating her own diagram.

She decides to start with a spell to cool water, since testing it will be similar to her tests of heating water and there shouldn't be any new risks on top of the existing ones. If the heating-water spell starts with "heat" and "water", this one should start with "cold" and "water". She spends well over ten hours over the course of several days on constructing a first draft of a diagram, cancelling the side effects of side effects of side effects, being careful not to do anything near it that might count as "incanting".

Permalink Eye

It completely fails to indicate in any way whether or not it is plotting her doom.

Permalink Eye

If it did, that would be extremely worrying, given that it would be a departure from what she's used to. The next step, according to the textbook, is to leave it alone for a week, so she does that. During that time she goes to DnD again. She gets to the avalon early, though, to swing by the library and renew her textbook and see if there's anything new in the magic section.

Permalink Eye

Nope!

Permalink Eye

Then she'll grab the first volume of that Natural Magic encyclopedia, if it's in, and head to DnD.

Permalink Eye

It's all hers. D&D starts on time! They have escaped the slavers and now must earn money to pay for their passage across the desert.

Permalink Eye

Her character will help kill the oversized wolf that has been killing the villagers' sheep and collect the bounty on its head.

Permalink Eye

Then they can negotiate with the caravan boss (Xavier shapeshifts to match different NPCs - he usually has at least one or two animal parts, but he can do different human faces, and different exact animal parts, though his voice stays the same) for passage, and are assigned caravan duties, and that's the end of the session.

Permalink Eye

What fun! "I liked the different faces for different NPCs," she says to Xavier on the way out.

Permalink Eye

"Thanks!" he says. "I'm not good at voices, I figure it balances out."

Permalink Eye

"I never had trouble telling who was who, at any rate. See you next week!"

Permalink Eye

"You know it!" Xavier grins.

Permalink Eye

And when it has been a week since she last looked at her water-cooling spell, she pulls it out again. The textbook said to check how it would kill you; does it give any details on how to do that? The obvious first thing is to redo the calculations and see how much of what meanings remain after all the cancellations are done, but there might be some other way to find flaws in a diagram and she should do all of them before starting the second draft.

Permalink Eye

It suggests checking for flaws in your lines, your rune placement, your math, whether you've placed the runes you meant to place and didn't absentmindedly put in a different one somewhere, your math again, and whether the size of the diagram is right for what you want to do.

Permalink Eye

The runes are all the ones she wanted. These lines are imperfect and this rune should be a bit to the left. Her math comes out the same as the last time she did it but she's not satisfied with how much light and stone she has left over; she redoes the last three sections and gets it down to something closer to the size of the residuals from the boiling diagram. The size matches the water-boiling diagram, so that's fine--or is it? The effect size goes as the size of the largest rune, and similar effects like two different temperature changes should need similar sizes, right?

Permalink Eye

The textbook doesn't say how to make your own cooling spell!

Permalink Eye

Well of course not, but it could stand to say anything about sizing at all. She'll leave it sized like the heating one and leave it alone for a while and rework the cancellations again and again until her largest residual meaning is smaller than the largest residual meaning on the heating one or it's been six weeks, whichever comes first. 

Permalink Eye

She can get it that way if she tries hard enough and does enough magical stoichiometery.

Permalink Eye

Magical stoichiometry is fun! She does as much of it as necessary and then some. Checking the precision of her lines and the placement of her runes is less fun, but she does it just as diligently. On the days when she's not looking at it to let it fade from her head so she can catch any mistakes, she comes up with French for "Remove heat from this water; cool it to five degrees Celsius."

She revises her letter to her parents to include information about the war that they ought to know before either of them tries touching her medallion, though she doubts either of them would go for it even without that.

She gets a pot of warm water, and a thermometer, and the diagram, and the letter, all set up neatly on her desk.

She casts a spell of her own design.

Permalink Eye

The water chills; condensation appears on the cup.

Permalink Eye

Seeing condensation on a cup does not usually make her feel like the coolest person ever, but this time it does. She starts in on turning the new diagram into a clay stamp like the previous one.

She has the textbook practically memorized by now, and photocopies of all the diagrams in it; she returns it to the library, complete with the slip of paper bearing her name and phone number, before the next DnD night.

Permalink Eye

D&D proceeds; they get to the edge of the desert, where some cultists decide they're at risk of fulfilling a prophecy they don't want fulfilled and start harrying them.

Permalink Eye

That's a really interesting situation, because they get to investigate all of: how plausible the prophecy seems, how well they actually fit it, and whether it's the sort of prophecy they want fulfilled regardless of what the cultists think. Margaret gets into a lively debate/speculation session with Brenda about it.

Permalink Eye

"I think if the cultists are trying to avert it, it can't be the kind of prophecy that's really worth much, and except for fighting cultists who started it anyway we can just ignore it, Xavier isn't railroading us," says Brenda.

Permalink Eye

"Why would people trying to avert it make it less likely to be true? Or do you just mean that it's probably a prophecy that something bad will happen?"

Permalink Eye

"I mean if they're trying to avert it they think they can."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I see. And if it was important enough to matter then it would happen whatever they or we did about it. I'm trying not to think about it in terms of whether Xavier finds this plot interesting or just wanted to give these guys an excuse to attack us . . ."

Permalink Eye

"I've played with him before, if we're not out to troll him he'll roll with anything we do."

Permalink Eye

"It's nice that he's willing to improvise like that. I think we should try to find out what the prophecy says instead of just chasing the cultists off."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that makes sense, then we'll know what they might try besides just trying to kill us."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, definitely." They try to convince the rest of the party to track the cultists back to their hideout and investigate.

Permalink Eye

Xavier ends the session before they get there.

Permalink Eye

Then they'll have to wait a week to find out.

"I'm pretty excited to find out what it is," she says to Brenda on the way out. "I bet it has something to do with those emblems they were wearing."

Permalink Eye

"You don't think those are just their culty holy symbols?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I bet they are their culty holy symbols. But if you're founding a cult and you're picking your new holy symbol, why not base it on the prophecy you're building the cult around? I guess it depends how important this prophecy is to them whether that follows or not."

Permalink Eye

"It might not be that important. Although I guess they did jump on us pretty quick..."

Permalink Eye

"If it's not that important, they're probably up to something else nefarious too, so it's just as well we're investigating."

Permalink Eye

"They might be secretly the good guys somehow, that's the kind of thing Xavier might pull. Last campaign, we were trying to get this treasure from this dragon, only it turned out the treasure was the dragon's tribute from its worshipers, and we'd been hired by somebody who wanted to, what was it, oh, wanted to frame one of the dragon's enemies for the theft and get them to take each other out."

Permalink Eye

"Wow, that's a cool twist! I'll try not to make too many assumptions about these guys, then."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, don't metagame, if your character thinks they're bad news that's all part of the whole deal, yeah?"

Permalink Eye

"Definitely. She's going to go in expecting at least one nefarious plot. Which she will then try to talk them out of before anyone attacks anyone else, because paladin."

Permalink Eye

Kendra laughs. "You took it real well when Cole beat you to being the wizard."

Permalink Eye

"He was here first. And paladins get to do magic too, at higher levels. So I've got a lot to look forward too, if the campaign goes on long enough."

Permalink Eye

"It might not, sometimes Xavier packs his whole plot into four levels and then we're done. One time he did a sequel campaign though and we got all the way to twelve."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I can start doing healing as early as level 2, so it's cool either way. Sequel campaigns are a neat concept; you get to wrap things up and then also keep going."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, exactly. He doesn't like to do anything in the really high levels though, he thinks people go too cheesy when they're expecting to have seventeen or eighteen levels to play with."

Permalink Eye

"Honestly I just want to get to level 5 and be able to blast zombies and ride a magic horse."

Permalink Eye

"Those are like signature paladin class features, it's kind of lame you have to wait that long."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Maybe the designers were imagining longer campaigns, or more XP early on, or something."

Permalink Eye

"Or just starting at level five, that's what I do when I'm DMing."

Permalink Eye

"Makes sense. I like the simplicity of starting at level 1 for my first proper campaign, because there's less to keep track of, but when you're more experienced I can see the appeal of skipping a few levels."

Permalink Eye

"Did you play a less proper campaign before?"

Permalink Eye

"I did like two sessions a couple years ago, but the party was too big and the scheduling didn't work and I had to drop out."

Permalink Eye

"Aw, that sucks."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I'm glad it's working out better this time; I'm having lots of fun."

Permalink Eye

"Good!"

Permalink Eye

"I should get on home and go to sleep; see you next week!"

Permalink Eye

"G'night, Margaret!"

Permalink Eye

"Good night!" And home to lounge in bed in fullform and then sleep. 

Once she has her water-boiling stamp done and checked, she starts in on testing it. What are the largest residual meanings, and can she detect any side-effects related to them? Does it get water to a lower temperature if it starts out cooler? Does a larger quantity of water get cooled less?

Permalink Eye

Her largest residual meaning is "light" and if she looks really closely the water might sparkle a little for a bit. With an incantation aiming for a specific temperature, a larger amount of water or a colder amount does not get cooled less unless she starts with really cold water or many liters of it.

Permalink Eye

That's weirdly different from the heating spell! That one had more variable results even with a specific temperature in the incantation. Maybe it's because she has smaller residuals. Or it's somehow an effect of the other one being designed for boiling rather than heating, though how that could be it when they both use only two runes in the first layer she couldn't begin to say.

During one of her evenings of experimentation, the fire alarm goes off. Margaret stutters a word of her incantation.

Permalink Eye

Nothing happens.

The diagram, if she checks, is used up.

Permalink Eye

She thought she was dead for sure for a moment there. Did she only imagine stuttering? But the diagram was used up . . . maybe there's some threshold of stuttering that makes the spell fail but not catastrophically? She wants to know but doesn't want to find out.

The shrieking noise cuts off; her mother's voice comes up from downstairs saying, "Sorry! Everything is fine, but tomorrow's dinner is going to be pizza."

"Okay!" Margaret yells back. "Just glad nobody's hurt or anything!"

She can't bring herself to try the spell again for a couple days after that. At her next trip to the library, she looks for history books again. Is there anything else on dragons or sphinxes or the extinction war?

Permalink Eye

Aftermath: Lingering Effects of the Extinction War in the Social Fabric of Nonhuman Civilization

Eastern Dragons, or, Stop Calling Us That

Septima and the Dragon: A Novel

Sphinxes in Popular Culture

Zinnia Ostler's Collected Primary Sources From The Extinction Era

Permalink Eye

She'll take Aftermath as the one most obviously relevant to her own problems, the book of primary sources on general principle, and something random on bugbears to avoid having nothing but war books. She heads to the checkout with the bugbear book on top.

Permalink Eye

The librarian checks her out and doesn't seem suspicious at all!

Permalink Eye

Of course not. She hasn't done anything suspicious. She just feels constantly suspicious all the time. She'll read the bugbears book "outside" near the pond for a while.

Permalink Eye

Bugbears have a unique cultural tradition of actively preferring single parenthood - usually, moms keep daughters and dads keep sons, and the parent who isn't keeping the kid wanders off to pick up a new relationship. Bugbear family trees are titanic, intricate things; there are some examples.

Permalink Eye

Single parenthood sounds exhausting, but apparently it works for them. Do they help out with their friends' children a lot, or something?

Permalink Eye

They're actually pretty solitary! Maybe bugbear babies are easier or something.

Permalink Eye

Maybe! It's not really her business unless she falls in love with a bugbear, she supposes. What is her business is what that little mom-and-pop place is serving today.

Permalink Eye

Quiche, fresh bread with a topping assortment, and lime bars!

Permalink Eye

Oooh. She'll get the bread with tomatoes and mozzarella and balsamic on it, and a lime bar, and head on home to read . . . actually, she still has the first volume of Natural Magic, she should take a look at that before she has to give it back.

Permalink Eye

Nixie and nokk "essence" (saliva) can temporarily give other beings gills! Nokks (but not nixies) go crazy at around age fifty. They can switch between legs and tails naturally (but still don't look human in leg form). They are sexually dimorphic, here are illustrations!

Permalink Eye

Oh no, the poor Nokks! Does it have anything on natural dragon magic?

Permalink Eye

Not in this volume, at least!

Permalink Eye

Well, there are four more still in the library. She reads a few more articles and then switches to Aftermath.

Permalink Eye

Things were tense between griffins (largely partisans of the sphinxes) and other, less partisan species after the war was over. While some griffin families had remained neutral, and a few griffins had even turned spy for the dragons, the effects on the reputation of the griffin species lingered for many years. Dragons had fewer species-wide allies than sphinxes, but still drew on the support of many monsters and sometimes harnessed cryptids (things like Nessie, though not her specifically) in the war. Some cryptids were destroyed afterwards by vengeful remnants of the sphinx side.

A few families and individuals attempted to continue to prosecute the war even after its principals were all dead, to enrich themselves or salvage some glory; they were not appreciated for this in their own time. Most people wanted to leave the dragons and sphinxes both buried and out of everybody's way.

Permalink Eye

She sort of can't blame them. And nobody has any clue why the war started in the first place, do they?

Permalink Eye

It is generally believed to be something to do with medallions, although it's unclear exactly what, since dragons possessed and used medallions throughout the war.

Permalink Eye

Well, that sort of suggests that if dragons return to society having successfully reverse-engineered medallions, it should help. But that's a sufficiently ambitious project that she should probably work on de-aging first. In the shorter term, what happens if she uses the informal "you" when ordering the magic to chill some water, instead of the formal?

Permalink Eye

It does not care.

Permalink Eye

How about if she rephrases it to the French version of "I insist that this water be cooled immediately"?

Permalink Eye

That makes it colder than the one that specifies five degrees.

Permalink Eye

Not much colder, though, or it would freeze. Still, interesting.

She's running low on experiment ideas; she looks at the healing diagram. What are the main meanings, and what are their proportions?

Permalink Eye

This one's much more complicated. The main meanings of the first layer of runes are "intact", "reverse", "life", "control", and "protection"; the "life" rune chosen has a secondary of "intact" and the "protection" rune chosen has a tertiary of "reverse", which makes for mildly less disastrous cancellation layers. A footnote helpfully explains that reverse runes are dangerous because they leave a lot up to interpretation, so the incantation has to be very good.

Permalink Eye

And of course it doesn't say anything new about what makes an incantation good, does it. If she calculates out all the cancellations (and then waits a couple days and does it again), are there nontrivial amounts of anything other than those five present?

Permalink Eye

Nope, everything else has been whittled down small.

Permalink Eye

Margaret is not going to try this on herself or anything she cares about the first several dozen times; she's going to catch a worm. With that in mind, she starts on a couple different incantation wordings, hates all of them, starts a couple more, then goes to the library on her way to the next DnD session to see if anything there has anything on incantation design.

Permalink Eye

Nope, not unless she wants Entre Amis from the foreign language section.

Permalink Eye

If nothing else it will be good French practice. She returns Natural Magic and Aftermath, checks it out, and heads to game.

Permalink Eye

They are distracted from cultists by landgoing privateers, intent on taking all their stuff for the benefit of a duchy that they've stumbled into.

Permalink Eye

Landgoing privateers are not nearly as cool as seafaring privateers, and even if they were they're still not getting any of the party's stuff. Or anybody else in the caravan's stuff, for that matter.

Permalink Eye

The landgoing privateers do have magical motorcycle equivalents but this may still not be as exciting as maritime combat. They are thwarted.

Permalink Eye

Magical motorcycles are pretty cool, but they don't give you an excuse to say 'Avast!' or 'Hard a-starboard!' so they are indeed less cool than maritime combat. Back to investigating cultists, unless their thwarting of the privateers left any loose ends that need dealing with first.

Permalink Eye

Well, the cultists' trail leads into that duchy and now they aren't allowed in! The caravan leader turns them in to secure passage for his trade goods.

Permalink Eye

And right after they had defended his caravan, too. What a mercenary move. Maybe Cole has some spells that will help them escape undetected.

Permalink Eye

It's mostly Brenda's psion who covers their getaway. Now they are in the woods.

Permalink Eye

Psions: obscure but useful. The druid probably really enjoys being in the woods; Margaret's character is keeping an eye out for wandering monsters.

Permalink Eye

Before they find any (or vice versa), the session draws to a close.

Permalink Eye

"Well, that was a wild ride!" Margaret remarks to Brenda on their way out, grinning. "Your character really got to shine today, sneaking us past those guards."

Permalink Eye

"Utility builds, gotta love 'em," says Brenda.

Permalink Eye

"I don't think I've heard that term before. Is that a character build that's good at lots of non-combat stuff?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, exactly."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. And yeah, it's good we've got some of that in the party. If you were going to be a DnD adventurer in real life, what class would you be?"

Permalink Eye

"In real life? Gosh, I don't know. Probably just anything that can cast Invisibility, you know?"

Permalink Eye

"So you can go out of the Avalon? Yeah, amen to that."

Permalink Eye

"You have a medallion, you don't know what I'm even talking about."

Permalink Eye

"No, I don't. I just wish you could anyway."

". . . More people should be working on reinventing medallions."

Permalink Eye

"Magic just gets people killed."

Permalink Eye

"Human scientists deal with lots of dangerous stuff and hardly ever get killed. I bet if enough people worked on magic together in controlled conditions, and took careful notes and pooled everything they learned, they could make it a lot safer."

Permalink Eye

"You can take more precautions with science stuff. You can't wear a hazmat suit for magic, or put it in a cage, not if you want it to do things."

Permalink Eye

"It's got to be possible, though, there are people who sell enchanted objects for a living. Hey, there's an idea, maybe it'd be possible to make a spell or an amulet or something that protected someone from magic side effects. Then if you got that right you could be safer going forward."

She mentally adds "basic enchanting" to her to-do list as the next project after "basic healing". Basic enchanting should be easier than more complicated healing stuff, and she might well need a biology degree before she can get anywhere on de-aging.

Permalink Eye

"I think if that were possible there'd be some left over. We still have medallions even though we can't make them anymore," says Brenda.

Permalink Eye

"It could be that it's possible but nobody's done it yet, there aren't enough runecasters to have done everything it's possible to do."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe."

Permalink Eye

"I've been reading a couple of runecasting books. There's a lot of potential and a lot of risks."

Permalink Eye

"Don't get yourself killed, okay?"

Permalink Eye

"Of course not--then the party would be down a tank. . . . Seriously, though, I promise not to die."

Permalink Eye

"Oh good." Brenda pats her shoulder.

Permalink Eye

"Anyway, see you!" And Margaret goes home and sleeps. The next day she finally gets an incantation draft that seems worth iterating on; it translates to "Heal this worm's injury, restore it to perfect health as though it was never harmed." She works on wording for that a bit, then reads some of the book of primary sources from the war.

Permalink Eye

Frustratingly, almost none of them are from either dragons or sphinxes, though there is one from a dragon's lieutenant talking about the insane runecasting - apparently his boss could in extremis draw a single rune on anything handy and, covering it with a paw, chant at it, achieving as much as would be expected from a full blown spell. The lieutenant thinks probably he was doing something secret while the rune was hidden to make this work.

Permalink Eye

He must've been in an extremely desperate situation to discover that he could do something like that. If only there were other dragons around who remembered the war and how dragons did runecasting. Failing that, she could really use an experienced runecasting teacher. She checks the Avalon website for any mentions that anyone there does runecasting on the regular.

Permalink Eye

Nope!

Permalink Eye

Do any other Avalons have any runecasters in them?

Permalink Eye

Some of them have people who run little curio shops that include magical merchandise.

Permalink Eye

Thank goodness it isn't a completely dead art. She can't actually *get* to any of those Avalons without explaining everything to her parents, but do any of them have email addresses?

Permalink Eye

Nope! This one takes mail orders though.

Permalink Eye

Margaret contemplates actually mail-ordering something, but decides against it. She doesn't actually have a set of experiments to do on an enchanted object designed yet; she'll hold off on the expense and the extra thing to hide for now. She does send a letter to their mail order address, saying she's aware of the dangers of runecasting but would like to study it anyway, and asking if the enchanter is interested in taking an apprentice or knows anyone else who might be.

Then, knowing a response is unlikely and a response in the next couple days is practically impossible, she puts it out of her mind. Over the next two days she finishes her incantation, and goes out and captures a worm.

Permalink Eye

The worm objects! Squirmily!

Permalink Eye

Now she has a worm in a water glass! She crushed a bit of it with the edge of the glass in the process of getting it in there, but the next step was going to be to injure it so that's actually a bonus. She puts the water glass down on the carefully-copied diagram and recites her carefully-rehearsed French.

Permalink Eye

And lo, the worm was healed.

Permalink Eye

She takes back every unpleasant thing she ever said about this magic system; anything that can do that much information processing and cellular-level manipulation starting from five runes and a long sentence is awesome. (Her criticisms of runecasting as a field of study still stand.)

She already made a stamp for this diagram; she crushes the middle of the worm more thoroughly than before and tries it again.

Permalink Eye

The worm is improved, but still doesn't seem as lively as before.

Permalink Eye

Could be a limitation of the spell; could be she just has a traumatized worm now. She peers into the glass. Is there still a visible wound, or is it just not thrashing around like it used to?

Permalink Eye

The visible surface is intact.

Permalink Eye

She might need to capture a cricket or something; they're probably easier to diagnose than worms. Does the crushed-and-healed section feel any different if she pokes at it? 

Permalink Eye

No. The worm flails.

Permalink Eye

She kind of feels sorry for the worm. But not so sorry that she won't injure and heal it several more times to check for accumulating lingering damage. (She's pretty sure this counts as mad science.)

Permalink Eye

Eventually the worm dies, and her spell does not bring it back.

Permalink Eye

Maybe it just dried out. She notes down how long it took to die, dumps it out the window, and puts the glass in the dishwasher. The next time her parents aren't home she catches another one and keeps it in the same conditions minus the injuries and healing.

Permalink Eye

It dies, but takes longer about it.

Permalink Eye

So, some combination of incomplete healing and wearing itself out thrashing around. There's one more thing she wants to try before moving on from worms.

She knows if you cut a worm in half, the head end will occasionally heal and grow back, but the tail end will die. If she casts the healing spell on each half separately, can she regenerate either one into a complete worm? 

Permalink Eye

Nope. Apparently it's not good enough for that.

Permalink Eye

Not even the still-living head end? Do both casts just do nothing, or can she see partial healing taking place?

Permalink Eye

The head end has some partial healing but still dies.

Permalink Eye

Alright. She's killed enough worms, at least for now. She pulls off a bit of skin next to her fingernail until she has a slightly bloody patch, then tries healing herself, swapping "person" in for "worm" in the incantation.

Permalink Eye

And her finger is repaired!

Permalink Eye

Notetaking time again. Did it feel like anything? Was it instant, or more like watching a time lapse of it how it would have healed naturally?

Permalink Eye

A very fast timelapse, but the latter.

Permalink Eye

She makes another diagram copy and puts it and a transcript of the incantation into her backpack, both rolled up small and stuffed to the bottom where nobody will see them. Then she looks on various critter websites for magical healers. She's not ready to announce herself as a runecaster yet, or confident enough to take seriously injured human patients, but she has a plan to get there.

Permalink Eye

There are a handful of people who do magical healing in a handful of Avalons.

Permalink Eye

What sort of problems do they treat? What rates do they charge? Do they have any disclaimers about things they can't do, or that they can try but which might fail to work?

Permalink Eye

They advertise differently, but not in a way that suggests they have very different underlying capabilities - one specifies that magic is not FDA approved, one is also a regular doctor and can take some kinds of insurance. The most comprehensively informative site says the healer can ameliorate non-brain injuries, clear minor infections and help a little with major ones, isn't any good for allergies or some obscure other conditions, and cost is per casting ($275), with multiple castings sometimes producing better results than singles.

Permalink Eye

That gives her a lot of ideas for things to try, and some of them are even feasible to try on worms. She still doesn't want her parents to notice her digging around in the yard, though, so more mad science will have to wait. She reads the last of her extinction war primary sources book so she can return it to the library before the next game night.

Permalink Eye

One of the sources is by a human whose husband and children are griffins, lamenting their ever getting involved in all this madness.

Permalink Eye

That's the right attitude to take about most wars, yeah. Anything on why they joined in, or why they chose one side over the other?

Permalink Eye

Seems to be vaguely feudal family obligations on the griffins' parts.

Permalink Eye

Sigh. Critters: basically the same as any other humans. Enough depressing historical violence, time for some imaginary game violence. Or more likely, imaginary trekking through the woods, since that was where they left off last time.

Permalink Eye

Yes. Wandering monster!

Permalink Eye

Detect Evil? (Monsters that are smart enough to be evil are vulnerable to Smite Evil, which does extra damage.)

Permalink Eye

Nope, this is a dumb monster.

Permalink Eye

Then it will only get mundanely stabbed, rather than magical holy stabbed. 

Permalink Eye

Presently it is dead! Now they can investigate the dungeon it came out of if they want.

Permalink Eye

Well, they can't really go back to investigating the cultists until the heat's off them a bit in that one city, so Margaret votes for exploring the dungeon.

Permalink Eye

Into the dungeon they go. It has a traditional density of traps and creatures. Deeper in the dungeon they find that same symbol the cultists wear here and there accompanied by writing none of them read.

Permalink Eye

The plot thickens! Margaret's character makes parchment copies of the writing so they can maybe eventually show it to someone who knows the language.

Permalink Eye

They all agree that's a good idea. Eventually they have cleared the dungeon and the session is over.

Permalink Eye

"Well, that was my first ever Dungeons and Dragons session featuring a dungeon. Now I just need to encounter a dragon at some point and I'll be an expert."

Permalink Eye

"Xavier usually puts a dragon in somewhere," says Brenda.

Permalink Eye

"Something to look forward to. I'd ask what his dragons are usually like, but knowing Xavier I bet they're different every time."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, he gets them out of the books, he doesn't usually homebrew entire dragons."

Permalink Eye

"Fair enough. I thought I remembered hearing that the books have loads of different kinds of dragon, but I haven't actually read the monster manual ever."

Permalink Eye

"There's like ten colors of them."

Permalink Eye

"That's more kinds than there are of most monster, but I guess it isn't really loads." She suppresses the sudden mad impulse to ask if one of the kinds is "green runecasting nerd".

Permalink Eye

"The chromatic ones are evil and the metallic ones are good and beyond that it's mostly like, what climates they like and what breath weapon they have."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Neat. Anyway, I wonder where we can find someone who can read that writing we found."

Permalink Eye

"Good question, I bet a university or a church."

Permalink Eye

"Do any of our characters even know what's on the other side of these woods? Mine sure doesn't. I guess we'll find out next week either way."

Permalink Eye

"Joseph's guy might? I don't know."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe I'll ask him next week if we don't get out of the woods early in the session."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Or we can just all roll Knowledge on it."

Permalink Eye

"That works too. Speaking of outside these woods, how's the rest of your life been lately?"

Permalink Eye

"Pretty okay. My cousin's been selling some of my art at art fairs, so that's good."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, I didn't know you did art! I'd love to see some pictures."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, sure - I don't have any photos on me but you could swing by my house if you want?"

Permalink Eye

"That would be awesome, I'd love to come see your art."

Permalink Eye

"This way." Brenda slithers through the roads of the Avalon. "It's mostly jewelry, little things that sell faster, but sometimes I do a bigger wall sculpture."

Permalink Eye

"Those both sound pretty neat! I've never really gotten into art; my thing is robotics club."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think we have one of those here. What do you do?"

Permalink Eye

"We're making a robot that can swing around on a network of ropes. I'm working on the control system that takes in joystick input and turns it into moving the arms."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds so complicated!"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, there's a lot of fiddling around with wires. A trait it shares with my mental image of jewelry-making, though I might be totally wrong there."

Permalink Eye

"I do a lot of wire-wrapping, yeah!"

Permalink Eye

"Nifty!"

Permalink Eye

They reach Brenda's house, which she shares with an also-lamia mom and sister and a satyr little brother.

"Hey, who's that?" asks the little brother, looking Margaret up and down.

"Margaret from D&D," says Brenda. "Margaret, that's Dennis, and my sister over there with the headphones on is Cynthia."

Permalink Eye

"Hi Dennis! Hi Cynthia! Brenda's going to show me her art."

Permalink Eye

Cynthia's head bobs to inaudible music; she doesn't respond. "Nice to meetcha," says Dennis.

Brenda leads Margaret through the hall and to her room - it's a ground floor flat, probably convenient if you're mostly snake. There are display racks of wire-wrapped jewelry and a couple of sculptures - a wire tree with gem chip fruits, a wall-hanging rectangle made of chunks of metal and smears of paint.

Permalink Eye

"Oooooh!" says Margaret, gazing at the jewelry. "I especially like this tree, it's really well done."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks! But it's a hundred forty dollars so Joel hasn't been able to move it yet."

Permalink Eye

"I'm afraid I can't afford to buy anything; I've been spending most of my allowance on restaurant lunches the days I'm at the library all day. I bet you'll find someone to buy it, though, it's great."

Permalink Eye

"I hope so. In the meantime it sits here between art fairs and I make most of my money off my waitress job and these things." She flicks an earring.

Permalink Eye

"Where do you get your materials; is there an art store here in the Avalon?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I mean it's not as full featured as a regular art store but they can do special orders."

Permalink Eye

"That's pretty cool. What stuff do you usually end up having to order in?"

Permalink Eye

"They stock my kinds of wire regularly now, I go through them enough, but I have to order all my shiny rocks."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that makes sense. It's good that they've adapted to you a bit."

Permalink Eye

"Do outside stores not do that? If they have a regular who goes through a lot of stuff?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't actually know, I get most of my robotics club and hobby stuff from the junkyard and they just have whatever people throw out. I guess restaurants will get used to cooking something the way you like it if you order the same thing every time."

Permalink Eye

"I guess it'd happen less outside since a lot more people might go there and all those people have a lot more options."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I expect so. Less consistency of customers from week to week."

Permalink Eye

"It must be really different."

Permalink Eye

"It's pretty different, yeah. Lots more people."

Permalink Eye

Brenda sighs. "Well." She picks up a pair of pliers and a work in progress.

Permalink Eye

"I should get home; my parents will start worrying if I'm out much later. Thanks for showing me your art and your house!"

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome!"

Permalink Eye

Home and zzzzzz. The next day she accumulates as many worms as she can find before her parents get home.

Permalink Eye

Now she has a lot of unhappy worms.

Permalink Eye

Timer: start. Mad science: commence.

These two get stuck in a cup but otherwise left alone. These two get repeatedly harassed with the eraser end of a pencil but not injured. This one gets stabbed and left to bleed out. These two get stabbed and healed, then stabbed again and healed again. These two get stabbed once and healed five times, then stabbed again and healed another five times. And this last one gets cut in half and then healed repeatedly until it either dies or appears to have stabilized (she keeps count of how many tries this ends up being either way). 

Permalink Eye

Control group are doing OK. Harassed worms are also doing OK. Stabbed worm dies. One stabbed-and-healed-twice worm lives, the other expires. Stabbed-and-healed-x5 worms both live. Cut in half worm dies between healing two and three.

Permalink Eye

Repeated healings: useful. All the living worms and worm-corpses go out the window. The rest of the evening is spent prepping dozens of copies of the diagram and checking the late-night bus schedules.

Three hours after her parents have gone to bed, Margaret sneaks downstairs, memorizes the location of her mother's keys, grabs them, and slips out of the house. There's a bus that goes close to her mom's vet clinic, and nobody works there overnight.

Permalink Eye

There is an old lady who is curious about what a young girl is doing on the late bus. "You oughta be in bed," she tells her.

Permalink Eye

"Being in bed sounds pretty nice right now." she says truthfully. She got a bit of a nap earlier, and she's too keyed-up to sleep on the bus anyway, but it's still later than she's used to being awake.

Permalink Eye

"Why ain't'cha?"

Permalink Eye

"I have to stop by my mom's vet clinic and make sure everything got locked up properly; she's worried. Better me than her, though, she works crazy hours already. How about you, what's keeping you up?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh honey child you shouldn't be doing your mama's job. How often this happen to you? I work swing shift."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, hardly ever. And I'm happy to do it, really, she's a great mom. Swing shift sounds rough."

Permalink Eye

"Not as rough as being up at the witchin' hour doing your mama's job for her! She oughta learn to lock up after her own self!"

Permalink Eye

Shrug. Check her notes again for which stop she needs to get off at.

Permalink Eye

"She oughta be ashamed," mutters the lady.

The bus reaches her stop before Margaret's.

Permalink Eye

Has she considered that maybe Margaret oughta be ashamed for bad-mouthing her mother like that? Ugh.

Margaret gets off the bus, walks the last little way to the clinic, and lets herself in (her mother had, of course, locked up as always). She slips into the section where the overnight patients are kept, a room full of kennels with unhealthy cats and dogs sleeping on fluffy blankets, and starts checking charts for something old with a physical injury.

Permalink Eye

Here's a ten year old Schnauzer who got hit by a car.

Permalink Eye

She slips a diagram copy into the kennel, mentally runs over her incantation a few times with "chien" as the species, and recites it.

Permalink Eye

The dog doesn't wake up and it's kind of dark but he looks improved.

Permalink Eye

Her first enchantment spell should be to make something glow; that sounds pretty simple and safe. In the meantime she can work by the status lights on the equipment. Her backpack is filled with meticulously stamped papers; she has enough for two more casts on the schnauzer, and for three on every other cat or dog with a physical injury.

Permalink Eye

Most of them are sick but this one's recovering from a complicated spay, this one has been declawed, this one tore an ear in a fight, and this one had an eye removed.

Permalink Eye

She goes one at a time through the injured ones before looking over the sick ones. She includes the ones with parts missing, though she'll stop at one casting on those if the first one either does the whole job or doesn't seem to do anything. Used-up diagrams go in a different backpack pocket.

Permalink Eye

The one without an eye still doesn't have an eye after one casting. Hopefully the spayed one still doesn't have ovaries, but that's harder to check.

Permalink Eye

Suddenly regrowing ovaries would probably have woken it up. The various healers' websites said they could help a bit with infections; she swaps out "malady" for "injury" in the incantation and goes over the sick ones with a couple casts each. 

Permalink Eye

One of the dogs has woken up, more likely on account of all the French chanting than anything else, and is nosing through the bars at her. It is not actively coughing, which might mean it has been healed!

Permalink Eye

She lets it sniff her hand a bit.

She still has a couple diagrams left; she'll give poor old hit-by-a-car one more dose, then make sure she hasn't left any papers lying anywhere and that everything is still where she found it and clears out, locking back up behind her.

Permalink Eye

No one bothers her on the bus ride home.

Permalink Eye

The next day she's an exhausted mess at school and retains barely anything from classes. She keeps herself quasi-functional by imagining her mother discovering how much better some of her patients are doing.

Permalink Eye

Well, the healing doesn't spontaneously undo itself or anything, so her mother will find the results of the work the next day, quite inexplicable rates of recovery in all the patients.

Permalink Eye

The confused-but-happy look on her face at the dinner table that night is a joy to behold.

Margaret doesn't dare do any magic in this state and goes to bed shortly after dinner. The following Saturday she hits the Avalon library again, and checks whether the runecasting textbook is still there or if someone has checked it out again.

Permalink Eye

It's still there.

Permalink Eye

Is her note still in it?

Permalink Eye

Yup.

Permalink Eye

Odd that the person who kept renewing it until she put a hold on it hasn't snatched it up again. Is there anything in the magic section she hasn't read yet? Now might be a good time to circle back to that book on enchanting, see if it isn't more comprehensible with a grasp of the fundamentals under her belt.

Permalink Eye

The enchanting book is still there. There's also a book about advanced medallion use.

Permalink Eye

Ooh, neat! She hadn't realized there was more to medallion use than taking fullform and various midforms. She checks out both of those.

Permalink Eye

The enchanting book says there are three basic ways to enchant: you can enchant an area, in which case your diagram should take up the whole of that area. You can enchant an object, in which case you may either (a) diagram on the object, or (b) lay the object on the diagram while you cast if you need more oomph than can physically fit on the object. You don't wanna enchant a person and this book will not discuss that.

The medallion book discusses the ways medallions hide and alter objects on one's person (especially clothes), ways to affect one's weight disproportionately to how many parts one adds if one's other form is denser or lighter, subtle midform adjustments, why using medallions to heal yourself doesn't really work and how close you can get by not having an injured part, and things like that.

Permalink Eye

Those are both very cool. She hasn't had much opportunity to mess around with clothes or anything, since she can basically only transform in her bedroom. Ooh, there's a question, does transforming while under an invisibility spell leave you still invisible? There might be something on that in her notes on the invisibility diagram if the medallion book doesn't have it.

Permalink Eye

Neither source specifies!

Permalink Eye

Well, fortunately she has this medallion and this invisibility diagram. And the more she thinks about it, the more she wants to do invisibility before enchanting. Invisibility could let Brenda leave the Avalon. It could let Margaret fly. A cloak of invisibility would be even better, a worthwhile sellable enchanting project much easier than medallions but still socially useful, and less reliant on trust than starting with healing. Three days of French incantation design ensue; she also checks the invisibility diagram over for main and residual meanings.

Permalink Eye

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main meaning is 'sight', and 'reverse' and 'control' are in there too. Residual meanings are all pretty small.

Permalink Eye

Margaret takes a lot of notes on how to adapt this to an invisibility cloak, both as-is and one that does inaudibility, but before she actually starts on that she casts the original version on herself with a timer going. (She waits until her parents have gone to bed to try this, since she'd be in rather a pickle if they needed her for something while she was invisible.)

"Make me invisible; conceal me from sight so I may go undetected."

Permalink Eye

And lo, she is invisible.

Permalink Eye

And does switching between human form, fullform, and various midforms affect this state at all?

Permalink Eye

Nope! It could be affecting her duration, but she doesn't have a baseline there.

Permalink Eye

She'll spend the rest of this duration rapid-fire swapping and moving around her room a lot, then do a baseline where she just sits there in human form afterward. 

Permalink Eye

It turns out not to affect her duration; in either case she has twenty-seven minutes.

Permalink Eye

That's long enough that she can sneak out and fly. After making sure there are no sounds coming from her parents' room, she brings a new copy of the diagram downstairs and lets herself out into the backyard. If she stands between that tree and the fence, she can't see into any neighboring properties and that means the neighbors can't see her. Invisibility, emerge from behind tree, fullform, . . . attempt to take off very quietly?

Permalink Eye

She's not an owl, but she's not that loud.

Permalink Eye

And if anybody hears her, well, they can look out their windows and see a whole lot of nothing.

Flying is lovely. Her dragon body is long and strong and so much fun to move around in. She's back inside in well under twenty minutes, and sleeps the best sleep she's had in weeks.

Permalink Eye

The next day she's back to science. If she sets up the water-boiling spell and casts it while invisible, does it mess with the invisibility at all?

Permalink Eye

Nope!

Permalink Eye

Excellent. Do things she picks up become invisible too, or only things she's holding when she casts the spell?

Permalink Eye

Things she picks up stay visible.

Permalink Eye

What if she takes off her invisible shoes, do they stay invisible or reappear?

Permalink Eye

They reappear, and don't turn invisible again when she picks them up.

Permalink Eye

 . . . if she eats a piece of candy, that disappears, right?

Permalink Eye

Yes, once it's inside her mouth.

Permalink Eye

Oh good, that could have been troublesome.

She's getting pretty close to conversant in French with all the extra time she's been spending on it. She reworks the incantation to conceal "me and everything on my person" and tries the shoes thing again.

Permalink Eye

Now they turn invisible with her.

Permalink Eye

Hooray for French. Does this mean she can take an invisible diagram out of an invisible pocket, mutter the incantation, and stay invisible for twice as long without interruption?

Permalink Eye

Looks like... yes!

Permalink Eye

Excellent! When she next goes to play Dungeons and Dragons, she has a sheaf of freshly stamped invisibility diagrams in her backpack (though not the stamp; it's a bit too fragile to want to bump it around in a bag like that). But that's not important right now: it's gaming time!

Permalink Eye

They have a clue about the cultists! They go follow it but have a sidequest on the way about a village troubled by gnolls. It turns out the gnolls are running out of game as the village has started farming more of the area.

Permalink Eye

A great many diplomacy checks get made by various party members. The gist is that the townsfolk should be a bit less aggressive with their expansion and/or compensate the gnolls in some mutually acceptable manner, and that the gnolls should consider capturing and herding their preferred species to protect them from competing predators. The party druid may also be able to do something to make food more abundant for one or the other group, which should help a bit in the short term and build goodwill.

Permalink Eye

The gnolls think these demands that they alter their lifestyle to suit halflings (it's a halfling village) are unreasonable, and attack.

Permalink Eye

Well, their grievance is legitimate, but that doesn't give them license to hurt the party or the halflings. Can they manage to take them all out with various disabling spells and nonlethal damage? Maybe they'll be more amenable to compromise after they've been knocked out for a few hours.

Permalink Eye

Handicapping themselves like this means they take more hits than they otherwise might but they manage to capture the entire gnoll party with class levels (the noncombatants huddle pathetically in their encampment).

Permalink Eye

Huddling pathetically is kind of what you do when you're a DnD character with no class levels. Fortunately Margaret's character has leveled, so she can contribute a few HP to the post-battle healing fest. Now, will the gnolls discuss compensation with the halflings in a civilized manner, with the halflings aware that the party's policy in response to violence hasn't changed in the past twenty minutes? 

Permalink Eye

Xavier's playing the gnolls as very hard to convince, but they can be talked down if enough people roll high on their Diplomacy checks. The halflings kinda want revenge.

Permalink Eye

Nope. No revenge. If you take revenge they'll take revenge for your revenge and the next thing you know your grandchildren are embroiled in endless war. Don't do it. (So many diplomacy checks.)

Permalink Eye

They settle in to arguing about compensation. Xavier finds this way more fun than anyone else does so he will continue arguing with himself for some time unless any party members want to draw up a treaty.

Permalink Eye

Margaret is content to enjoy the spectacle of Xavier arguing with himself for a while, but if anybody else starts drafting a treaty she'll switch to observing that and chiming in with a suggestion or two.

Permalink Eye

Eventually they can sell both sides on an agreement, especially when it occurs to Sanjay to ask if gnolls can eat predators that might attack the halfling's livestock, and they can get on the road again and fight one wandering monster before the session's over.

Permalink Eye

"Well that was awesome! Very talky, but we got some combat in too." Margaret remarks to Brenda.

Permalink Eye

"Xavier gets like that sometimes. One time he just about performed a one-man play as some kobolds and some lizardfolk who were fighting over water rights," says Brenda.

Permalink Eye

"Well, it's cheaper than Broadway."

Permalink Eye

Brenda giggles.

Permalink Eye

Margaret follows Brenda out of Xavier's house and checks that nobody is right next to them. "So, uh, you remember how you said you wish you could make yourself invisible?"

Permalink Eye

"Did I? I guess that sounds like something I'd say."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I figured out how to make myself invisible. And I was thinking, if you wanted, I could make you invisible sometime, and we could go look around outside the Avalon. It'd need to be both of us if we did it now because I have to recast the spell every 20 minutes, but at some point I might try making an invisibility cloak that would let you go out on your own."

Permalink Eye

"- Margaret that was so dangerous -"

Permalink Eye

"I did a lot of research first. And simpler spells. And I didn't make the diagram myself, I copied it out of a book that promised it was good and I checked it over myself too."

Permalink Eye

"But the incantations, any time you hiccup you could die. I couldn't possibly."

Permalink Eye

"Well, if you don't want to I don't want to pressure you or anything. But I'm thinking of selling enchanted objects--there are some people who do it in Avalons or over the internet--so if I do end up making invisibility cloaks, do you want a freebie?"

Permalink Eye

"If you'd already made one, then - then yeah, I'd take one, but I just couldn't imagine - if you were showing me around outside and you tripped or a car honked while you were reincanting -"

Permalink Eye

"That's totally reasonable. Items are a lot safer than casting a bunch of times, and you wouldn't have to worry about us getting separated or losing track of time or something either."

Permalink Eye

"That too. I'd still want someone showing me around at least the first time."

Permalink Eye

"I can see that. I'd be happy to show you around town and non-invisibly open doors and stuff, if I get an invisibility cloak working."

Permalink Eye

"That'd be nice. But please, please be careful - cast sitting down and make sure you have enough air and everything -"

Permalink Eye

"I will, I promise. I never incant anything without lots of practice, too. It's nice that you're worried, but I am looking out for myself."

Permalink Eye

"If you say so."

Permalink Eye

"I do say so. And that was really all I had to talk about, so, see you next week I guess."

Permalink Eye

"See you," Brenda says with a weak smile.

Permalink Eye

Brenda is a sweetheart--and she is totally getting an invisibility cloak.

Margaret refines her design a bunch before starting to actually diagram anything. Inaudibility is an interesting concept, but it shouldn't be baked in, because someone invisible might still want to talk. The cloak should work without having to completely surround the wearer; instead of being invisible itself it should detect when someone is putting it on and make that person and anything else they're holding invisible until it's removed. Given that, there's actually no need for it to be a cloak; it could be a ring or a necklace or something instead and suit more different body shapes that way. Medallions are necklaces for a reason and that reason still applies. For that matter, there might already be invisibility items on the market; she should look those over both to make sure she includes all the features they do and to see how she can improve on them. 

Permalink Eye

One person is offering an invisibility ring labeled "vintage" and costing nine hundred and sixty thousand dollars.

Permalink Eye

Good to know that invisibility rings are possible in principle, but wow, even apart from the magic that must be some ring. Does it list features like the ability to disappear things you pick up, or any other details on its behavior? If she was going to buy something for the price of a very nice house she would want maximal details on what she was getting. (For that matter, is it gold set with rubies, or traceable back to Charlemagne, or something? Because seriously, what.)

Permalink Eye

It says to inquire for details. It's gold and looks like a snake with emeralds for eyes.

Permalink Eye

Seems kind of rude to ask for details when she's not planning to buy it and is in fact planning to compete with the seller. She'll do the design on her own. She comes up with the following feature list:

* Pendant (avoids sizing issues)

* Handle picked-up objects

* Visible when not being worn (too easy to lose otherwise)

* Can be worn over any body part

* Shareable when worn by multiple people (useful emergency feature)

* Unbreakable

        > (separate enchantment) (test if enchantments stack with something cheap first)

       >(charge extra?)

Before she can start implementing any of this, though, she needs to get a handle on the principles of enchanting. She makes a diagram that starts with one rune, "light", and cancels out everything else, and waits two days and checks it over, and puts a pebble on it, and incants the French for "Make this object glow green; make it emit light without heat."

Permalink Eye

Now she has a glowing pebble.

Permalink Eye

Is it heating up at all? Is it the shade of green she was imagining, or a different one? If she picks it up and tosses it in the air a couple times, does that mess with it? How about if she taps it on the table?

Permalink Eye

It's maybe a little bit warm but it's not getting warmer and it's not something you'd think twice about if you picked it up out of a sunny place on the ground. It is a different shade of green. Tossing it does not affect it, nor does tapping.

Permalink Eye

The light probably also behaves normally in relation to mirrors, photographs, etc, but it's worth checking. Then it goes in a dark desk drawer while she makes a stamp of the light diagram and gets ready to test enchantment stacking. She spends most of the rest of the week making another one-starting-rune diagram, this one with "cold". Is her first rock still glowing when she checks on it every evening?

Permalink Eye

The light does behave normally with respect to those things.

The rock is still glowing!

Permalink Eye

Excellent. That is now Endurance Test Rock; she continues leaving it alone. A different rock gets made glowy, this one blue so she can't mix them up. Then it gets put on the cold diagram and read her French for "Make this rock be cool to the touch, yet not as cool as ice." 

(She does not want an absolute zero rock, no matter how awesome that would be. Honestly it may have been some combination of luck and "insane dragon runecasting" that she didn't burn her eyes out with the light spell, or end up with a light too dim to see. Note to self: redo the light spell incantation again.)

Permalink Eye

Now she has a cold blue rock.

Permalink Eye

Yes! Layered enchantment is a go, unless it ruins the endurance or something. This one also goes in her desk, and it and the other one both get labeled with what incantation and diagram combo they got, on what date. 

Rock number three is where things start getting weird. She gets it both cold and blue, in that order this time, then puts it on the invisibility diagram and tries to make it invisible (swapping "this rock" in for "me" in the previously tested incantation). She gets out the "I'm dead" letter for this one, and casts from the other side of the room.

Permalink Eye

Now the rock is invisible, but the light appears to emanate from its location.

Permalink Eye

That is, to break out the technical runecaster terminology, totally awesome. Is it still cold?

Permalink Eye

It is still cold!

Permalink Eye

What if she invisibles a rock and then englowifies it?

Permalink Eye

The glow spell fails, expending the diagram.

Permalink Eye

Weird. And she's starting to suspect that all the totally harmless failures she's had might be a dragon thing, in which case she should never try to teach this and probably shouldn't get a teacher of her own either. Fortunately that runecaster in the other Avalon she wrote to never wrote her back.

Permalink Eye

Fortunately, none of what she has planned requires stacked enchantments as scary as glowing plus invisibility. The invisible non-glowing rock goes in the garbage wrapped in several tissues; trying to hang onto an invisible rock sounds like a recipe for annoyance.

Next step: user input. She modifies her invisibility chant to say "While I am carrying this rock, make it invisible and hide it from all eyes." Casting while the (new) rock is on the table shouldn't have any visible effect, this time.

Permalink Eye

It doesn't work when she picks it up either, though.

Permalink Eye

This is really weird, and she rechecks her French a few times. Oh, maybe that's it: how about "Whenever I am carrying this rock" etc?

Permalink Eye

Still doesn't work. Uses up the diagrams, but doesn't work.

Permalink Eye

She really thought she had it there. She looks back through the dictionary of rune meanings for ones that look relevant to ongoing control during a spell, and goes over the enchanting book for any mentions of user input.

Permalink Eye

"Control" is a rune meaning, and the enchanting book mentions that obviously medallions can respond to user will and are locked to particular species and then individual users during their lifetimes, but whatever art let medallions do that is lost; the less lost state of the art is passwords or non-thought circumstance response.

Permalink Eye

Maybe "Whenever I am carrying it" is too much information processing to load into an incantation, then. "Whenever this rock is moving"?

Permalink Eye

That one works fine!

Permalink Eye

And that's enough for one day. She labels the motion-controlled rock, sticks it in her desk with the others, and goes to bed. Before she falls asleep she decides that passwords are probably the way to go anyway; then people can wear her enchanted jewelry as jewelry and have it to hand in case they need to be invisible or whatever in a hurry. 

The next night is game night again; this time Margaret doesn't bring the invisibility diagrams.

Permalink Eye

Brenda doesn't bring it up even after the session.

Permalink Eye

Next day, it's back to the magic science. She enchants a pebble with "Make this pebble emit light without heat whenever someone says 'glow'". "Glow" is also in French; she figures if her items' passwords aren't in her customers' native language it'll be easier to avoid activating them accidentally.

Permalink Eye

That one works. It is unclear how wide a range it has on detecting the word, but presumably not infinite, as Francophones the world over may have cause to talk about glowing things sometimes.

Permalink Eye

Yes, if it had started strobing that would have indicated an impressive yet annoying range. She tries various distances and volumes of speaking, including "out in the backyard in a conversational tone" and "across the room in a whisper", and if the back yard is far enough away she binary searches until she has a general sense of how sensitive the rock's "hearing" is.

Permalink Eye

Volume doesn't seem to matter at all, but distance does; it works at a range of about ten feet. It has made up its own mind on how long to stay lit when she speaks and has by some mechanism settled one on minute and twelve seconds.

Permalink Eye

Distance mattering and volume not mattering is super convenient, but she still doesn't want an invisibility pendant that can be deactivated by a random passerby stringing the wrong phonemes together. She spends several consecutive evenings assembling the French for "Make this pebble emit light without heat whenever someone touching it says 'glow', until such time as someone touching it says 'cease'." How does that do?

Permalink Eye

That also works! (The default light color seems to be pure white.)

Permalink Eye

She can't actually test if a person who didn't activate it can deactivate it, but it seems pretty likely that they can. Next on the agenda is getting a thing to affect something other than itself. Time for another multi-day round of incantation design! Then the puts the next rock on the invisibility diagram, and incants what translates to "Make this rock turn itself and its holder invisible, from when its holder says 'hide' to when its holder says 'reveal'." (French's lack of gender-neutral pronoun is annoying, but the magic doesn't seem to be grading her on how nice her sentences sound.)

Permalink Eye

This works but leaves clothes visible. A straightforward incantation adjustment fixes it.

Permalink Eye

And now she has a proper invisibility item, except for the durability and the not being jewelry. Have any of her earlier enchantments worn off or degraded at all?

Permalink Eye

Not so far!

Permalink Eye

Sweet. She puts the invisibility rock in her backpack when she next goes to Dungeons and Dragons. What bizzare challenges will Xavier throw at them next?

Permalink Eye

It's apparently the underwater section of the adventure; they are given temporary use of magic items that let them maneuver and are sent to an underwater dungeon to retrieve an object.

Permalink Eye

That's seriously cool whether it has anything to do with the cultists plot or not. Also she should totally make a breathing-underwater artifact, someday when she's learned a lot more and also gotten an online reputation for reliable artifacts going. 

This dungeon has some neat traps. The one that starts up a vortex in the water to trap people is especially tricky and interesting.

Permalink Eye

The people who want the object turn out to have been infiltrated by cultists! They wind up fighting to hang on to the object and can now haul it to its probable rightful owner.

Permalink Eye

Well hang on, what is this thing? Because a lot of people seem to be after it, and if it's a bomb or the key to release a sealed horror or something then maybe even its probable rightful owner needs to end up disappointed.

Permalink Eye

It's a sealed box with who knows what inside. They can't get the box open even when Joseph insists on spending fifteen minutes trying different things and taking 20.

Permalink Eye

On the one hand, that's ominous. On the other hand, that's metagaming. And maaaaybe it's just really pretty jewels in a really secure jewelry box. What sort of person is this probable rightful owner presenting themself as?

Permalink Eye

They aren't, they're far away; they've determined her identity by reading the cult's correspondence.

Permalink Eye

Well, if she isn't actively pursuing it, then she probably isn't planning to use it to unseal any horrors right this minute. Margaret's character votes to bring it to her.

Permalink Eye

The party agrees, by and large, and they set out, and the session ends.

Permalink Eye

And Margaret catches up with Brenda on the way out again. "Can I show you something?"

Permalink Eye

"- sure? What is it?"

Permalink Eye

Margaret fishes the rock out of her backpack. "I have an invisibility rock! When I say the activation word I'll turn invisible without having to incant anything."

Permalink Eye

"- really?"

Permalink Eye

"Really really!" She murmurs. "Let me make sure I won't startle anyone--" is anybody else on this sidewalk if she looks around?

Permalink Eye

Yup, there's a family of lions going one way and a lone pegasus trotting the other way.

Permalink Eye

They all know magic is a thing, of course, but she doesn't want awkward questions from strangers. She steps into an alley between two houses to be marginally less obvious.

Permalink Eye

"Why are we hiding?" asks Brenda, slithering after her.

Permalink Eye

"I feel weird disappearing in front of people," she says, followed by "cacher".

Permalink Eye

Brenda gasps.

Permalink Eye

"Cesser." She's grinning when she appears again.

Permalink Eye

"Why is it in French?"

Permalink Eye

"If it was in English, I'd have to be careful not to say the word "hide" or "stop" in conversation while I was touching it or I'd go visible or invisible by accident. One less thing to worry about if it's in French."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that makes sense. Do you have to touch it with your bare skin or will it work in a pocket?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't think I've checked that yet, actually." She drops the rock in her pocket and tries it.

Permalink Eye

It does not work that way.

Permalink Eye

"Okay, pocket is no good, it might actually have to be in my hand in particular . . ." She tries with it stuffed down her sock, touching her ankle.

Permalink Eye

Doesn't work!

Permalink Eye

"Looks like I specifically have to be holding it, which makes sense given the way I designed it. So having the keywords in French was probably an excess of caution." She shrugs, fishes the rock back out of her sock and holds it out. "Want to try it?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah," breathes Brenda, holding out her hand.

Permalink Eye

Margaret hands over the rock and watches excitedly.

Permalink Eye

"Cash?" says Brenda, who doesn't speak a lick of French - and she's gone.

Permalink Eye

Margaret bounces excitedly!

Permalink Eye

"And what's the other one -" says Brenda's disembodied voice.

Permalink Eye

"Cesser."

Permalink Eye

"Seh-say," repeats Brenda, and she's back. "I might say the first one by accident but I wouldn't say the second, that's probably the right way around for it to be."

Permalink Eye

"Cool. And that one's just a proof of concept, I can make you a custom one with whatever keywords you want to use. I'm planning to do it on rings or necklaces and sell them over the internet."

Permalink Eye

"You're going to be so rich. Are you just going to buy cheap ones or what - the jewelry I mean -""

Permalink Eye

"That's the plan, yeah, getting rich. And I'm probably going to have to get cheap ones for the first few, because I don't have much starting capital, but I bet I'll be able to charge more if I have nicer pieces, so I'll want to buy some of your stuff once I can afford it."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, my stuff isn't that expensive as jewelry goes."

Permalink Eye

"I don't really want to go into the high-end jewelry business though, if I buy some really fancy thing and nobody wants that specific thing as an invisibility item I'm out the money . . . I might want to offer custom orders, do you take commissions? Or know how to find someone who does?"

Permalink Eye

"I take commisssions!"

Permalink Eye

"Cool! I need to, like, make a webpage now, I guess. I have no clue how to run a business."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I run my own website for the jewelry, I can do one for you. It's not hard if you'd rather just do your own though."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe you can do it and show me how? And then I'll know if I ever want to redo it or something."

Permalink Eye

"Sure. The domain name and hosting will cost money."

Permalink Eye

"How much money? I should make sure I have a month or two of hosting saved up in advance."

Permalink Eye

"It's more expensive if you buy it by the month. Do you maybe want to like, sell one to somebody in this Avalon, and then use the money for it?"

Permalink Eye

Hmm. Her runecasting isn't really a secret by itself, even if her being a dragon is helping somehow. "Yeah, I could do that. Know anyone who might be interested, or should I put up flyers or something?"

Permalink Eye

"I bet my grandma would buy one?"

Permalink Eye

"And I bet you know her taste in jewelry, too. I still need to get a cheap crummy ring and a necklace to test that the spell works on things you wear instead of holding, but that shouldn't take long." Argh argh she has to figure out how much to charge and her first customer is a friend's grandmother. 

Permalink Eye

"I can get started on a ring for Grandma."

Permalink Eye

"And I'll get ready to enchant it. Anything else to think about before I head home? Oh, I should give you my email address."

Permalink Eye

"What do you want your site to be like? I can start the design even if there's not a host yet."

Permalink Eye

"Um, space for pictures, and descriptions, and I'll probably want to put up a video of me demonstrating it? And a form where people can put in a description of what they want and a shipping address? But I don't know how to take online payments, I might need people to mail me checks until I can get a bank account . . ."

Permalink Eye

"You could get a PayPal."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, yeah, that would do it. And it'd need to be password-protected like the Avalon events website so only people who know about magic can see it. Maybe with a contact email outside the password section so people can email me with proof that they know and get the password that way, or something."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I can critterlock it."

Permalink Eye

"I had not heard that word, that is an adorable word." She's gotten her email written down by now and hands over the bit of paper. "I can probably use regular mail for shipping, nobody's going to unwrap my packages and say random words at them and they'll just look like jewelry. And presumably Avalons have mail pickups for residents?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, of course."

Permalink Eye

"Then I think that's everything, or at least everything that doesn't depend on decisions I haven't made yet."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you," Brenda says. "I can make a ring for myself too - you want this back?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, thanks, I might think of more tests I should do on it. Will you or your grandmother want them magically durable? Because I'm planning to offer that as an option but I haven't finished designing it yet."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think that's necessary? Unless it'll turn us visible again if any of the coating on the wire scratches off."

Permalink Eye

"That's one of the things I need to test; I'll let you know."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. I guess wire can bend, too. Do you want a ring to try? Is it something that would be different depending on the kind?"

Permalink Eye

"There are a lot of different ways something could get damaged, and I'm not sure which ones would make the spell stop working . . . If you have a ring that has all the same parts as the rings you'll be making, but that you wouldn't mind if it got totally destroyed, I could use that. Otherwise I should make a mockup out of like, a paperclip and a bit of glass, something easy to break, and break that."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, anything I have might sell, but I could give you an old one that I keep lowering the price on."

Permalink Eye

"If you're alright with me potentially completely smashing it, sure."

Permalink Eye

"It's listed for twenty bucks now. It's fine. Should we go get it?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, let's." Follow follow.

Permalink Eye

Brenda finds the ring; it is a substandard but structurally comparable example of what she turns out, with a bit of amethyst trapped in copper wire. "I don't know what I was thinking," she confides, "copper and amethyst."

Permalink Eye

"Well, it's got all the parts it needs to have for me to test what will make the spell stop working. Thanks. Anything else to figure out before I go home?"

Permalink Eye

"I think that's it! This is really amazing - be careful, but I really hope it works out for you."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks! I'll be super careful and hopefully we'll both make good money." 

She heads off, skipping occasionally, and goes home to relax in fullform for a while before she sleeps.

The following afternoon she races through her homework and sets to enchanting again, starting with a twist tie bent into a circle. If she changes "holder" to "wearer" in the incantation, does it then only work when it's on a finger?

Permalink Eye

It will also work on a toe or with some of her hair threaded through it or if attached to her clothes, but not in a pocket or held in her hand.

Permalink Eye

Huh, she had not expected the clothes thing to work. Very convenient, though, means pretty much any body configuration should be able to use one. Next test: squashing it out of shape but not untwisting it. This is done gingerly and at arm's length, in case disenchanting a thing makes it catch fire or something.

Permalink Eye

It doesn't catch fire. It is harder to wear in this form but when she manages it, it still works.

Permalink Eye

She straightens it out, untwists the ring, and retwists it again.

Permalink Eye

It continues to work through these perturbations.

Permalink Eye

And if she cuts through the wire at the opposite side from where the ends twine together, and retwists the cut ends into a slightly smaller but still serviceable ring?

Permalink Eye

That doesn't work anymore.

Permalink Eye

But it didn't explode in her face, either. She should probably still offer extra durability for cheap, in case not exploding is a dragon thing. Does it start working again if she re-enchants it?

Permalink Eye

Yes, it reenchants just fine.

Permalink Eye

Excellent. She enchants the copper-and-amethyst ring, checks for completeness that it works like the twist tie did.

Permalink Eye

It works just the same.

Permalink Eye

She tries the following things in order until one of them changes the behavior of the spell.

* bending one of the little sticking-out wire ends

* clipping off a little bit of one of the sticking-out wire ends

* unwinding the wire from around the rock partway

* unwinding the wire from around the rock the rest of the way

* putting the rock back in (though less elegantly then Brenda did it)

Permalink Eye

Clipping off a bit breaks the enchantment.

Permalink Eye

Current working hypothesis: anything that makes it cease to be one object breaks the enchantment. She re-enchants it and continues down the list.

Permalink Eye

Unwinding doesn't disenchant the object till the rock comes off. Putting it back on doesn't reenchant it.

Permalink Eye

Re-enchant again and

* scratch the rock a bit

* crush a bit of the wire between pliers so it has little marks on it

Permalink Eye

Scratching has the first really interesting result - the enchantment glitches, turning her invisible and then failing, then turning just the arm on which she's wearing the ring invisible but fading back in at the shoulder; then it turns her invisible and seems to hold, but only a few minutes, before it flickers off again.

Permalink Eye

Seeing one arm go invisible but not the rest of her draws an "Ack!". Once it seems to have settled on "off" she takes the rock out again to break the enchantment. Does it still disenchant and re-enchant normally?

Permalink Eye

This works as expected.

Permalink Eye

Her notes now include "consider rings with small/no stones" and "re-enchantment warranty??". She moves on to crunching up the wire a little.

Permalink Eye

That works about like scratching the rock, though this time more of her is invisible when it flickers through a partial.

Permalink Eye

Disenchant, reenchant, all those invisibility diagrams she made a few weeks ago are really coming in handy now. Next test: normal wear and tear. She wears the ring while she does her homework the next evening, not being particularly careful with it but not deliberately whacking it on anything either. Assuming this doesn't break it, she idly fidgets with it on the table for a while, spinning it and flicking it back and forth and suchlike.

Permalink Eye

It doesn't break while worn or fidgeted with.

Permalink Eye

The next day is a Saturday; she wears the ring to the Avalon and is again only an ordinary amount of careless with it while she sits on a park bench working on a durability diagram and eats lunch at the Chinese place and so forth.

Permalink Eye

It persists in behaving itself when she checks.

Permalink Eye

She escalates to dropping it on the sidewalk, at some point when nobody's looking.

Permalink Eye

It bounces. It still works when she picks it up.

Permalink Eye

Brenda buys good materials. She goes back to working on the durability spell, with occasional breaks from stoichiometry to work on the incantation. When French ceases to be sufficient as a brain break, she walks around a bit. She has a general sense of the layout of the Avalon by now, but hasn't really seen most of the places in it aside from the library, the park, some restaurants, and Brenda's and Xavier's houses.

Permalink Eye

The Avalon has an arcade, a bookstore, a playground that looks like a poster for universal design, a community center currently in use for a lecture on Zen philosophy, a library, a professional-sized kitchen people can buy or subscribe for access to, a post office right near the entrance, stores which mostly have pretty limited selections plus ways to make special orders, a co-working space, a little park including a generic sports field in which some mad magical variant of polo is ongoing, a barber/groomer, a council building, a small black box theater advertising a run of "Cats" showing in the evenings and a few movies at various times during the day, a fortune-teller, and a one room schoolhouse.

Permalink Eye

. . . Margaret plays on the playground for a bit. Call it more wear-and-tear testing. She goes home before it's dinnertime, though, and by Sunday afternoon she has a draft of a durability spell ready. She's still following the "wait two days and check everything over" procedure, of course, and the incantation isn't quite done yet, but she'll be able to test it before game night rolls around. The incantation translates to "Make all components of this ring durable and strong against damage; let nothing break or alter them." 

Permalink Eye

Casting this spell does not kill her at all!

Permalink Eye

But does it make the wire of the ring harder to scratch up?

Permalink Eye

Yup, she can't get anywhere on that with the tools available.

Permalink Eye

She tries scratching the stone with her pliers, too.

Permalink Eye

Nope!

Permalink Eye

Excellent! Just for completeness, when her parents are in bed she'll take it down to the unfinished basement and whack it with a hammer, trying to break the stone. (Any warrantee she offers is not going to cover hammer-smashing, but she wants to know anyway.)

Permalink Eye

Her hammer bounces off and the ring goes flying into a pile of basement junk!

Permalink Eye

Whoops! Time to go fish it out. Maybe it's under the spare garden hose.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, there it is, totally unharmed.

Permalink Eye

Wow. She continues to love this magic system.

(Sadly, she is too ignorant of popular culture to make the obvious Lord of the Rings reference, so the narration is just going to have to allude to it.)

Does it still turn her invisible properly, after all that?

Permalink Eye

Yup!

Permalink Eye

Great! Except now there's nothing to distract her from the fact that she still has to figure out how much to charge. She goes back to the critter corners of the internet, and looks at all the enchanted object prices she can find.

Permalink Eye

Luck charms go for anywhere from seventy-five to seven thousand dollars. Vintage stuff and less popular oddball items are more expensive.

Permalink Eye

Hmm. Maybe eight hundred per, with durability and a warranty costing an extra two hundred? She can raise or drop prices later, if she can't get buyers or gets so many buyers she and Brenda can't keep up. She brings the (banged-up, scratched, amateurishly rewired, but doubly magical) ring and a few copies each of the invisibility and durability spells to Dungeons and Dragons. Onward, to get that box back to its rightful owner and maybe find out what's in it!

Permalink Eye

They get the box back to its owner! It turns out to contain a copy of the text of a prophecy which sure sounds like it could be what the cultists are reacting to!

Permalink Eye

Well, the description of the people who are supposedly destined to bring peace to two feuding cities could be said to match their party, but only if you interpret that one bit in a rather implausible way. It's probably not about them. What were they even doing before this whole mess started?

Permalink Eye

Escaping the desert. That's handled now. Joseph's character is spooked about the prophecy and attempts to suggest that the party hare off to his home country to do some things mentioned in his backstory.

Permalink Eye

On the one hand, bringing peace to two feuding cities is hardly the worst way they could be spending their time. On the other hand, if the prophecy is about them, it'll come true regardless, so why not hare off to Joseph's character's home country? Margaret is fine with whatever everyone else wants to do.

Permalink Eye

Xavier isn't dropping any hints one way or another, so off they go to Joseph's character's country to let him pay the orphanage that raised him a bunch of his share of loot.

Permalink Eye

Margaret's paladin approves of this sort of thing, and chips in some of her own loot too. Also if any of the orphans are down a few HP, she can heal now. Of course, they have to get there first.

Permalink Eye

Wandering monster! And end session.

Permalink Eye

And thank Xavier for another fun session and follow Brenda outside. "I have durability figured out, now."

Permalink Eye

"That's... really fast, I'd been assuming it took months to do anything."

Permalink Eye

"It gets easier with practice." 

Permalink Eye

"It does?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, spell design is a lot like a math puzzle."

Permalink Eye

"I don't find math puzzles that much easier after practicing them. Maybe you don't mean Sudoku?"

Permalink Eye

"Maybe a bit like sudoku? More like those chemistry problems where you figure out what ratio of reagents will produce some product."

Permalink Eye

"I never took chemistry."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, hmm. I could show you a diagram, if you're curious. I'm curious about what Avalon schools are like, actually, other than "small"."

Permalink Eye

"Small and pretty limited. They could get us books, but they weren't spoiled for choice on teachers. They try, but they don't always know what they're doing or what they're talking about very well."

Permalink Eye

"I've heard there are colleges that do internet classes. Maybe someday there'll be internet high schools."

Permalink Eye

"There are, but I think they ask too many questions."

Permalink Eye

"Figures. School bureaucracies are like that."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, my grandma says it used to be different but they didn't have the internet so it was still worse."

Permalink Eye

"I wonder if you could have some sort of setup where kids with medallions pretend to be kids without medallions during the sign-ups or something. But if there was a way to make that work people would probably already be doing it."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, probably there's some reason it'd backfire. Maybe people'd get arrested for fraud."

Permalink Eye

"Ugh, probably. The horrible crime of getting a high school education."

Permalink Eye

"No, I mean the people posing as us."

Permalink Eye

"The horrible crime of getting someone else a high school education, then." She sighs. "It would be so nice if critters could just exist openly, but it's just too dangerous to try."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah." Sigh. "I mean, it'll probably happen eventually. The security's hardly perfect. But we're all kind of scared about it."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Maybe telling trusted humans one at a time, trying to control it . . . but you trust the wrong person one time and you're in trouble." She's not at all talking about the problems with hiding being a dragon, nope, not at all.