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.
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
- 48 jigsaw puzzles
- books of banjo music
- a broken rocking chair
- a music box with a spinning ballerina
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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"?
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.
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."
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.
"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."
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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 . . . ?
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.
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.
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.
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".
"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."
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
"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."
"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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
"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.
"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.
"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."
"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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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 . . ."
"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."
"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."
"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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
"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."
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.
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.)
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)
> (separate enchantment) (test if enchantments stack with something cheap first)
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."
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?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
"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."
"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?"
"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.
"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 . . ."
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"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?
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
. . . 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."
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.)
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?
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!
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?
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.