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Generated: May 30, 2019 3:08 PM
Post last updated: May 30, 2019 3:08 PM
out with the old
smol Anise starscapes and runs away
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She never expected magic. 

She knows mostly how it works; her mother's cousin and her husband are awful but they still send her off to school and occasionally she can get away with sneaking off to the library. So when her environment is replaced with stars, she has a pretty good idea of what happened. 

She doesn't do anything with it immediately. Her mother's cousin is right there yelling at her, that wouldn't end well. So she takes it stoically until the woman dismisses her to go do chores, and she sneaks upstairs, skipping the squeaky step, and waits until the sound of footsteps suggest that the grown-ups are in the back half of the house and opens the big window in the front hall and goes back to the starscape and puts on a pair of swan's wings and flies away. 

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She keeps flying for a long, long time, as high and as far as she can make it, before exhaustion overcomes fear and she glides down to roof level and lands on a roof. She curls up there. There is music inside; she can hear it when she presses her ear against the roof. Stomach growling, she curls up and wraps her wings around herself and goes to sleep. 

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In her sleep, a tiny winged unicorn lands on the roof next to her, trots up to her, and insinuates itself under her left wing.

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She flinches slightly at the first touch but when it fails to be followed with pain she snuggles up in her sleep.

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Then she will wake up with a winged unicorn cryptid snuggling her.

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A winged unicorn gosh. 

She does not super understand cryptids as a thing so she's just going to take winged unicorn at face value. Wow!!! She knew life was going to be better once she got away but she didn't realize it was going to be winged unicorn better right away.

She pets the winged unicorn. 

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"Brrt," says the winged unicorn, waking up, blinking sleepily with long-lashed eyes.

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It's so pretty!!!

Pet pet pet?

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"Brrrrrrt." It lays its head on her lap.

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!!!

She pets the winged unicorn's head while trying to figure out what the heck to do about food. She's pretty hungry, and she's not too tired to notice anymore. But it's still less urgent than petting this winged unicorn.

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It is very content to be petted for a very long time.

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This is the happiest she has been in over two years and she is not going to voluntarily walk away from it. 

Eventually she does get hungry enough to figure out that she can make strawberries grow out of her arm, though, so that's nice.

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The unicorn eats one, leaves and some of the stem and all.

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ee

She makes more strawberries. 

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The unicorn eats them occasionally but most of them can be hers.

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This is the BEST THING EVER.

Eventually she fills up on delicious strawberries. She leaves the plant bits there so the unicorn can keep eating if it wants to, and keeps petting it, and leans against the roof and considers herself. She's kind of a mess and she hasn't changed her clothes at all. She's a magical girl, now, so she should have a pretty dress. So she starscapes, and then she has a pretty dress, purple and knee-length and with butterflies and flowers embroidered on the skirt in gold, and a purple star on her cheek. 

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The unicorn nibbles delicately on the strawberry stems, and then touches its nose to the star on her cheek.

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Eeee!

She kisses the unicorn on the nose. 

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"Brrt." Head in lap.

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She sighs happily and pets the unicorn some more. Eventually she gets hungry again and makes more strawberries. 

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The unicorn gets up and trots off to the edge of the roof, then spreads its wings and glides to the ground.

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Oh! Okay. She gets up and follows it. 

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It goes in through a cat door in the side entrance of the building. The door says Please use front entrance in pretty cursive script.

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She can't actually read cursive yet. She crawls in through the cat door.

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It's a tight fit, but the unicorn is a little bigger than a cat and the door is sized for her, so she can manage it even with the wings.

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--It occurs to her belatedly that buildings often contain grownups. She looks around worriedly. 

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The place is beautiful.

Everything that can be ornamented is ornamented. The ceiling is dominated by an incredible chandelier, with strings of glass and pearl and lightbulbs extending away from the central medusa of the fixture in all directions and dangling halfway down the thirty-foot walls. The walls are full of stained glass windows depicting sunrises, waterfalls, snowy mountains, stormy seascapes, and other scenic backdrops with magical girls posed dramatically in the foreground. The pews are all different - some are wood, some are ivory, some are cast metal, some are nacre, some are glass, and every one of them is shaped like a cryptid, mostly long sinuous ones that can accommodate the seat they're oriented around. The floor is tile, mostly ivory and nacre with some brightly colored coral making stars and other geometric designs at irregular intervals. The bits of wall that aren't taken up by window are, as space permits, covered both in framed paintings and wall scrolls, and in a few places bulletin boards cluttered with the artwork of various people. Skill varies, but the bulletin boards themselves are composed nicely, with the best pieces placed to draw the eye.

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Oh.

This is the most beautiful place in the world, probably. No wonder the unicorn wanted to come in. 

She falls back onto her knees and gapes around for a while. 

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The unicorn trots over to a pew that has, tucked under the seat, a bowl of water and a bowl of what looks like bean salad. It drinks some water and munches some bean salad.

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That makes sense. 

She follows it over and lies down on the pew. 

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The pew doesn't have a cushion on it; it's shaped to be comfortable for sitting, not lying. But it's long enough to accommodate her.

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It's still better than a roof. 

She falls asleep without quite meaning to. 

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When she wakes up again, there's a crazy quilt in jewel tones draped over her and a magical girl with wings in flame colors peering at her over the back of the pew in front of hers. The unicorn is nowhere to be seen.

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She eeps and scrambles away from the grownup. 

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"Hey there," says the grownup. "I'm not gonna hurt you."

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"Yes ma'am."

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"I'm Veronica."

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"Hello Veronica."

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"Welcome to my church."

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"This is a church?"

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"Yup. First Church of Thaumatology in Reuterville."

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"I've never seen a church this pretty before."

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"Thaumatologist churches are always as pretty as we can get them. God loves beauty."

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"I've never heard anything about that. I've never been to a Thaumatologist church though."

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"Did you just get your magic recently?"

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Nod. 

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"Did you go out for a fly and get lost?"

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"No."

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"No?"

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"Don't make me go back."

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"Do you live somewhere bad, kiddo?"

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"I'm clumsy. I always have bruises. So nobody believes me when I say not all of the bruises are from being clumsy."

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Veronica nods, gazing steadily at her. "So you flew away."

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"Uh huh."

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"Did you meet Imani?" asks Veronica. "The little unicorn."

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She brightens immediately. "Yeah!"

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"I thought so, since you picked the pew right over her dishes. Did you know that folks like Imani used to be like you and me? Magical girls."

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"I could turn into a unicorn???"

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"I don't think you should do it right now! See, girls who turn into unicorns are pretty neat, but they're different from how they used to be. Not the same person any more, even though when we know their human names we think it's nice to use them."

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"...Oh. Okay. I won't. Unless somebody tries to make me go back. I'd rather be someone else than back there."

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Veronica nods. "That makes sense. What I was thinking was, I could bring you down to the police with me, and we can try to get you out of that house good and proper, the legal way. And if that works, that's great, you get a better family and you're safe. And if it doesn't work..." She sighs. "I can put out twice as many dishes, if that's really what you want."

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"I don't wanna be someone else but I'm never going back. Usually the police just take me back. Can you make them not do that?"

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"I think so. Maybe we can convince Imani to come with us as a visual aid."

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"Okay."

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"Imani!" calls Veronica.

Imani flies down from the rafters that hold up the chandelier and lands delicately on her rear hooves on the floor, then clops down onto all fours.

"Come with us?" Veronica asks.

"Brrrt," says Imani.

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Anna-Charlotte pets Imani again. 

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And Veronica leads them out the front door of the church and down the street.

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It turns out Anna-Charlotte's guardians had called the police to report her missing a few hours after she flew away, and the police are very glad she's found, although when she reacts emphatically against the concept of going "home" the police are a lot more inclined to listen, whether because they don't know her guardians as Pillars Of The Community like the ones back there did or because she's got an adult backing her up now or what. They call CPS, who come to interview her privately and also have a doctor look at her bruises and take x-rays. CPS agrees that she is not to be sent back right now and will be following up by investigating Anna-Charlotte's guardians; in the meantime, Anna-Charlotte, who is EXTREMELY opposed to being parted from the one adult she's fairly confident is on her side until this is resolved, can stay with Veronica for the moment if Veronica agrees. 

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"Yes, that's fine with me," agrees Veronica.

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Anna-Charlotte hugs her. 

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Veronica hugs her too! Imani has gotten bored and flown off at some point.

Veronica's house is three doors down from the church. She lives with her wife Tabitha and two cats, Abigail and Paladin.

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Ooooh. Do the cats want to be petted. 

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Abigail does. Paladin is more skittish. Veronica and Tabitha murmur softly to each other in the next room.

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Anna-Charlotte pets Abigail. She does not want to touch someone who doesn't want to be touched. 

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Eventually Veronica plunks a plate of various cheese and grapes and strawberries and some little ham cubes and crackers on the coffee table near where Abigail is purring at Anna-Charlotte. "Hungry?"

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"Oh. Yes. Thank you."

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"Help yourself, dear," Veronica smiles. "Dinner'll be in three hours."

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"Thanks." She nibbles on a strawberry. "I like your house."

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"I'm glad! The guest room doesn't have a bed right now but we have an air mattress for you, would you prefer that or the couch?"

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"What's an air mattress? Is it like a water bed?"

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"It's like a cross between a water bed and a balloon."

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"Ooh. I want that one."

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"Can do! Do you need anything besides the snacks?"

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"Uh--I don't know."

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"If you think of anything, you can tell me or Tabitha and we'll figure something out, okay?"

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"Okay.

"...Can I have a book?"

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"We don't have a lot of kids' books... I'll see what I can find."

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"Thank you."

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Veronica smiles at her and goes looking through the house's collection of books, eventually turning up The Graphic Novel History of Abigail Lydia Claremont and A Visual Fashion Dictionary and Home Gardening Tips and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

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Ooh. She picks up the Abigail Lydia Claremont one. Who was Abigail Lydia Claremont?

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Abigail Lydia Claremont was a woman who lived a long time ago and she was a magical girl! She founded the Church of Thaumatology.

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Ooh. 

She settles down contentedly to read and alternate between nibbling nibbleables and petting the cat. 

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The graphic novel is not intended for children but it doesn't actually illustrate the exact details of her marital problems with the husband she spends some time stuck with.

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She figures they probably just didn't get along. She doesn't have any problems reading above her age level. 

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Dinner, when it arrives, is fried polenta and pork medallions.

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WHOAH THIS IS SO GOOD. OM NOM.

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...they keep putting more on her plate till she slows down.

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That will happen. Eventually. She might give herself a tummyache first. 

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They don't have that many pork medallions and polenta squares.

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Then they will successfully and unproblematically feed a Hongry Child.

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Veronica starts cleaning up. Tabitha says, "Hi, Anna-Charlotte, I'm Veronica's wife Tabitha."

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"Hello. Your wife is very nice."

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"She is! Do you go by Anna for short?"

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Flinch. "No."

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"...okay. Are you still hungry? I can warm up some of the broccoli from yesterday."

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Headshake. 

"My parents called me Anna-Charlotte. My guardians after my parents died, my mother's cousin and her husband, they said it was a stupid name. They called me Anna."

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"Oh. I'm sorry."

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"It's okay. You didn't know. And you asked first."

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Tabitha nods and then goes and takes over the dishwashing so Veronica can sit with Anna-Charlotte. "How were the books?"

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"I liked them. Is Abigail the cat named after Abigail Lydia Claremont?"

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"She is! We had one named Lydia too but she died and then we got Paladin."

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"Awww. I'm sorry Lydia died."

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"It happens. It was a few years ago. Abigail is very old now."

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"Abigail's going to die soon?"

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"Well, she's still doing fine now, but it'd be surprising if she were around very much longer."

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"Oh."

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"It's all right. She's had a good long cat life."

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"I guess. I still think it's sad."

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"You're right, it is sad."

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She goes over to pet Abigail some more. Pet pet pet pet. 

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At about nine thirty, Veronica asks if Anna-Charlotte is getting a bit sleepy. "The air mattress is all made up in the guest room."

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Yawn. "Okay."

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"You can make yourself whatever kind of pajamas you like."

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After a moment's thought she makes a fluffy pink nightgown and changes the star on her face pink to match. 

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"Lovely. Do you think this is enough blankets?" asks Veronica.

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"I think so."

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"All right. Good night, I'll see you in the morning."

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"Good night." She goes into the guest room and flomps onto the air mattress under some blankets and is shortly asleep. Zzzzz

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In the morning Tabitha is gone and Veronica is making scrambled eggs.

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"Good morning."

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"Good morning. How'd you sleep?"

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"It was good. I like balloons."

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"I'm glad. We had a regular bed in there but we gave it away when a friend of ours moved and needed a new one, since we don't have too many guests, and haven't replaced it yet." She serves up scrambled eggs.

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Om nom scrambled eggs. She eats them at a more reasonable pace than she ate the pork medallions last night. "Where's Tabitha? Is she at work?"

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"Yes, Tabitha is an actress. You probably haven't seen anything she's in."

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"An actress?"

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"Yup! Magical girls make good actresses because we can look different."

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"What's she in?"

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"She's in USS Castle, where she's an alien."

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"Can I see it?"

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"Hmmm... maybe parts of it, but it's not really for kids."

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"I can read way above my grade level."

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"That'll mean you can read more of the books we have in the house, as long as they're just difficult and not inappropriate, but USS Castle is a TV show with a lot of violence and stuff."

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"Like hitting? Okay," she says, hand creeping to one of the bruises on her arm under her sleeve. 

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"I think it's more ray guns but there's some hitting, yes. I'm sorry."

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"I don't think I mind ray guns but I don't wanna see people get hit, yeah. It's okay."

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Veronica nods. "Have you thought about where you might want to go longer term? Do you have other relatives who are better to you?"

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Headshake. "I have an uncle who's in prison and my grandparents are dead except for Grampa who has Alzheimers."

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"Oof. Okay. That probably means foster parents."

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"Is that bad?"

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"Not necessarily. I don't have a lot of experience with the system. I do think they prefer to place with relatives but obviously yours won't do."

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"Mhm."

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"Maybe they can at least put you with a Thaumatologist family."

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"If all the churches are that pretty that would be nice."

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"All the churches are pretty, all in their own unique ways," confirms Veronica.

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"Thank you for taking me in while the police are working on it."

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"It's my pleasure, dear."

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"What's the difference between foster parents and legal guardians?"

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"I've never looked it up. I'll find it on Wikipedia, shall I?" She pulls out a cheap phone from her pocket and taps at it. "Hm, I'm not sure how much of this applies to you since you were removed from a cousin's home, not your parents... Foster children's custody is with the state and guardianed children's custody is with the guardians. I'm not sure what the difference is between guardianship and adoption, actually, reading this."

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"So foster parents is different from adoption?"

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"Yes."

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"I'm glad I didn't have to call my legal guardians Mom and Dad."

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"I don't think everyone calls their parents Mom or Dad even when they are outright adopted."

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"I dunno."

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"More eggs?"

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"Okay."

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More eggs. "Do I need to be getting you to school?"

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"What if my guardians find me there."

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"I can explain the situation to the principal, they probably have a procedure for this sort of thing."

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"Okay. It's probably pretty far away, though, I flew for a long time to get here."

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"Oh. What school do you go to?"

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"Stanislav Petrov Elementary."

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Veronica looks that up to see how far away it is.

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About four hours away by car. 

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"...okay, that's really quite far. I'll call them and let them know you won't be coming in for a few days and see if they can mail you your homework here or anything."

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"Okay. I'm sorry I made it hard to go to school but I'm still glad to be as far from my guardians as possible."

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"It's probably not going to make sense to set you up at a school here since you won't be here too long, but you might wind up changing schools, depending on where they find you foster parents."

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"Okay. How come kids get foster parents instead of getting adopted?"

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"They can get adopted too, but usually unless they're babies they don't get adopted by people they don't know, like by having been fostered."

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"Oh. Okay."

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"Are you hoping to be adopted?"

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Shrug. 

"I don't know how foster parents and adoptive parents compare to my parents and my guardians."

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"It's probably all to do with the individual people either way."

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"It would be nice to have parents again."

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Veronica nods sympathetically.

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She finishes her eggs. 

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"I'll go call your school." She dials.

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"Thank you." 

The school is shocked but officially apologetic and sympathetic when the words "CPS investigation" come out. They can fax Anna-Charlotte's homework if Veronica has access to a fax machine. 

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Veronica does not have access to a fax machine because she is not a government institution. She will find out if the library offers this service and get back to them.

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The school will hold her assignments in a folder until then. 

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Veronica calls the library. The library doesn't have a fax machine available to the public. She calls the school back and asks if they can mail things.

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The school can mail things!

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She gives them her address and updates Anna-Charlotte on the situation.

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"People still fax?"

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"Apparently people still fax! I had a fax machine once but it was more than ten years ago."

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"That's two years before I was born."

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"Yup. The church might have had one once, but I'm not sure, I've only been the thaumaturge for about five years."

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"The thaumaturge?"

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"Like the pastor, for Thaumatologists."

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"You're a pastor?"

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"I'm a thaumaturge, but yes."

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"Sorry. But being the--thaumaturge--of a church that pretty sounds amazing."

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"I like it a lot. Before I went to school to become a thaumaturge I was a swarm responder."

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"Why'd you switch?"

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"I got more religious over time, and swarm response was steady work but it wasn't very interesting after doing it for years."

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"Oh. Why did you get more religious?"

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"I think God called to me more over time until I heard Her."

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"Oh. What's God like?"

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"She loves beauty, and wants us to celebrate it. She loves people. And sometimes she picks out a little girl like you and touches her -" Veronica taps Anna-Charlotte on the head - "to tell her that she should be as beautiful as she can, and protect people from swarms if she can, and she'll get magic to do it with."

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"God saved me from my guardians?"

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"We don't know why she picks who she picks. Not everybody who gets magic needs it for a reason like that, and not everyone who needs it gets it. But yes, God gave you the magic that let you fly away."

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"How do I tell God thank you?"

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"Do you want me to teach you how to pray?"

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"Yeah!"

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"People do different things, but I do it like this." Veronica demonstrates kneeling by the sofa, hands clasped, eyes closed.

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Anna-Charlotte copies her. 

"Dear God: Thank you for helping me get away from my mother's cousin and her husband."

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"Thank you, God," says Veronica, "for helping Your child Anna-Charlotte escape to a safe place; thank you for bringing her to Imani and to me, and for guiding the authorities to the right choice. We pray that you will find a good home for Anna-Charlotte to grow up in."

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"And thank you for all the prettiness. Amen."

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"Amen," agrees Veronica.

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Anna-Charlotte hugs her. 

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Awww. Hug.

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"Do you have books about God? We don't learn about Her in school."

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"Yes, I do. The book with the pictures I gave you is a little about Her, since it's about the founder of Thaumatology, but if you've finished it I can find more."

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"I finished it. Comic books are fast."

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"Well, there's the Wisdom, which will have been mentioned in the history, it's the most important book she wrote."

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Nod. "I wanna read that."

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"Of course." Veronica fetches it for her.

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"Thank you." She settles in to read. 

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The Wisdom has a prose-poem style in short, disconnected sections, printed in this edition each in their own box:

A house without love is already ash. Natural love is a foxglove, insistently beautiful in a garden trying to weed it out. A marriage between a mage and a man can only be a paper flower.


There are those who see fewer colors. How many could we see, if we could see them all? How much more beautiful is the world than we know?


I sleep on my gold, on my diamonds, and I am blessed to blink away the bruises every morning. To magi asking, "May I shed my ornaments at night, to sleep more comfortably?" I ask why they do not first make sure that no man sleep in his chains.
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This is beautiful and fascinating. 

Although she doesn't understand all of it. 

"What does she mean about a marriage between a mage and a man?"

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"Magical girls," says Veronica from where she's adding food to Paladin's bowl, "only want to marry other magical girls when we're grown up, but back when Abigail Lydia Claremont was young, they didn't use to let people do that. They used to say that women ought to marry men even if they didn't want to. That's who that man with the huge beard was in the comic book, the husband she had for a while before she realized she shouldn't have to be married to a man she didn't want and left him."

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"Ohhh." She keeps reading. 

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Why is nature beautiful? Why is the random scattering of the stars? Why the icy fingers of a snowflake? Not: why did God make these things to be lovely, but how is the loveliness placed in them?


There is so much of God in a house full of magic, She seems to live there entire, one of their daughters now practicing her spells with God's hand on her shoulder, one of the women now spreading her wings to better see the sunset with God in front of her to cut a path in the air.


How glorious that though we are so clearly purpose-made to protect each other from demon-creatures, there is enough magic left over for ourselves, for each other, for moments of calm, even for frivolity.
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The book is really beautiful and well-named. She keeps reading until she is finished, at which point it's not quite noon. 

She closes the book and goes to find Veronica. 

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Veronica is working on a sermon in her office. "Hello, Anna-Charlotte!"

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"Hi! I finished the book. How do you fight swarms?"

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"With magic, if we have combat magic, or with little dart guns called stardarters that are made to be very pretty and shoot hard enough to squish a swarm bug but not hard enough to really hurt a person or a building if you miss."

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"I don't know what magic I have. How do I find out?"

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"You'll find out when you and your outfit are pretty enough."

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"Oh! Okay!" 

So her purple-and-gold dress isn't pretty enough for God. That makes sense, it's a princess dress and God's got to be way more important than a princess. She's not sure how to make it prettier, though...

Oh, wait! One of the books was a fashion dictionary! She goes and pages through it. 

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The fashion dictionary has lots of pictures and explanations of what things work well together! "Your dress is pretty good for a first try," Veronica mentions, "but you probably also want to get neatened up, and do something with your hair, and make sure all your teeth are straight, that kind of thing."

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Anna-Charlotte nods and goes into her starscape. 

Her teeth are straight, but they're just a little bit yellow; she fixes that. She gets rid of her bruises. She contemplates hairstyles from the fashion dictionary, and puts her hair in a pretty braid twist. 

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This on top of her princess dress gets her a noticeable touch of - is that magic? It must be magic!

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Magic!!!

She pushes on the touch of magic, trying to make it go--

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A little raincloud appears over her head and rains on her.

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"Whoah."

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"- not on the carpet!" says Veronica, laughing.

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She makes the rain cloud go away. "I can do weather! Sort of!"

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"Maybe it will get bigger and higher up if you do it outside, or fancy yourself up a bit more!"

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She nods seriously. "May I go outside?"

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"Sure thing! Back yard's out that way." She points to the kitchen door.

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She goes out and tries to make her cloud again. 

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It does appear higher up with more headroom. It rains on her.

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She giggles and twirls in the rain and when she does not want to be wet anymore she steps out from under the raincloud and makes herself dry in the starscape. 

Then she sits down, still in starscape, and tries to figure out what to do to be prettier. 

She puts on purple fingerless gloves with flowers embroidered on the back in gold. 

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This helps!

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Oooh. 

She recolors her fingernails shiny purple, then adds a gold outline to the purple star on her cheek. 

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The fingernails help, the outline doesn't.

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She takes away the outline. 

After thinking for a minute, she swaps out the star for a butterfly. 

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This is worse than the star.

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She puts the star back and puts purple crystals at the center of the gold flowers on her gloves. 

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That helps a bit.

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She adds a gold tiara with purple crystals. 

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That helps even more!

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She tries casting her raincloud again. 

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It is bigger and rainier!

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She adds little gold butterflies and flowers to her nails. 

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These aren't noticeably better than nothing.

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Awww. She tries putting streaks of gold glitter in her hair. 

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That's a mild improvement.

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Ooh! What if she adds some purple glitter too?

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Less of an improvement but not none.

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She replaces her shoes with purple mary janes with gold sparkles and sparkly gold socks that go up to her knees with ruffles on the ends. 

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This is a bit better too! Maybe she could do... another thing!

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Oooh another thing! She does the thing.

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ZZzzzzap! A little spark jumps from her finger.

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Gasp. 

She does it again. 

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ZzzzzzaaAAP!

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She tears back into the house. 

"VERONICA I CAN DO LIGHTNING IT'S SO COOL!"

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"That's exciting!" says Veronica. "Also an outdoor magic, but exciting!"

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"I wanna hit swarms with lightning!"

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"You'll have to get a bit older for that but it's a fine thing to do with yourself once you are."

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"Aww. How old?"

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"They'll let you ride along with an emergency squad once you're - fourteen or fifteen, I forget which."

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"But that's almost twice as old as I am!"

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"Yes, I know. But you've got lots to do between now and then, you'll be in school and working on your outfit and making friends and flying and all kinds of things, it'll fly right by and then one day you'll have the right birthday before you know it."

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"Okaaaaay. I guess I want lots more lightning first."

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"And if you have rain and lightning, you can probably get a third thing with enough work!"

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"Oooh. I bet it's also weather in some way."

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"It probably is, yep!"

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"I'm gonna work on my outfit some more."

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"Good idea."

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She goes and studies the dictionary some more. 

After a minute, she adds gold glitter to her dress. 

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This helps a little bit.

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She replaces the gold flowers and butterflies on her nails with gold glitter. 

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Slightly better.

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She adds gold glitter to the star on her cheek. 

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That helps too.

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She puts purple ribbons with gold sparkles through her hair. 

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This is a little worse, though exactly why is anybody's guess.

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Aww. She takes the ribbons out. What if she puts on a bracelet of alternating gold and purple beads?

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This is a quite noticeable jump!

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Ooh. She puts an identical bracelet on the other wrist. 

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Even better, though not by as much.

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She puts a gold ring with a purple crystal on her right middle finger. 

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The magic likes that too.

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She adds similar rings on her left thumb and pinky. 

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The magic is still into it, with the same diminishing return as the second bracelet.

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She adds rings to the rest of her fingers. 

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That's worse.

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Oh well. She takes the new rings off.

...

She inspects herself in the starscape, considering the whole picture she makes instead of just individual bits. 

She turns her wings purple. 

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This is a little better.

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She adds gold sparkles. 

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Also a little better!

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Hmm. What if she turns the shaft of each feather gold?

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The magic likes that.

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Oh good!

She puts on dangly earrings, purple crystal with flecks of gold. 

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An improvement!

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Ooooh what if she makes her eyes purple with sparkly gold flecks. 

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The magic thinks that is super great!

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Oh cool!!!

She makes all the other purple crystals she have have gold sparkles too. 

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A solid improvement. Her zaps would be real big now.

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She's gonna be so great at killing swarms when she's old enough. 

She looks through the dictionary some more, and decides that while the neckline of her dress is wrong for some of the kinds of necklace, a choker or a pendant should work okay. She tries the pendant first, thin gold chain draping around her neck and down the front of her dress to end in a sparkly crystal the same purple-flecked-with-gold as the rest in a gold setting. 

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The magic thinks that is a good necklace.

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And if she replaces it with a purple ribbon around her neck with gold embroidery the same style as on her skirt, with the same crystal-in-setting centerpiece, is that better or worse?

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A little worse.

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She switches it back and looks through the book for other forms of jewelry. 

If she puts a little gold cuff with a purple-with-gold-sparkles crystal on it on her ear, does the magic like that?

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Yes it does.

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Yay!

What if she adds MORE of them.

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She hits diminishing returns after four and it starts getting worse after eight.

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She leaves it at eight. 

What if...she does the pendant AND the choker?

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That's a little worse.

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Awww. 

What if she puts gold lace on the cuffs of her sleeves and the hem of her skirt.

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That's a little worse.

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Mrg. 

She pokes through the dictionary some more. 

What if she finely dusts her skin in gold dust. 

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Worse.

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Bleaaaaah. 

She pages through the dictionary some more looking at jewelry. 

What if she puts a sparkly crystal stud on the side of her nose. 

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Worse.

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Mnnnnnnnnnng. 

...Hmmm.

She goes back outside and tries her lightning again. 

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ZAP.

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Eee. 

Okay what happens if she switches all her butterflies and flowers for LIGHTNING BOLTS. 

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This is initially slightly worse.

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And what happens when she throws a lightning bolt WHILE everything in her outfit is lightning bolts. 

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That's better for the moment the lightning bolt exists!

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Can she use that to make the lightning bolt BIGGER.

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She can if she does a second lightning bolt real quick while the first one exists!

Now that tree is a little bit on fire!

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OOPS. 

She makes a raincloud over the tree. 

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Now it's not on fire any more.

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Oh good. 

How bad's the fire damage?

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It's got a burn on this one branch and a few crispy leaves.

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Okay. 

She creeps back inside, looking for Veronica. 

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Veronica is in her office working.

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Anna-Charlotte meekly knocks on the door. 

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"Come in?"

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"I was practicing with lightning and I accidentally burned your tree a little bit I'm really sorry it was an accident I promise."

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"- okay. It's okay, the tree isn't a big deal. Lightning from real storms hits trees all the time. But maybe don't play with lightning any more till you're older."

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Nod nod. "Okay." 

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"You're okay, you didn't zap yourself?"

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"I'm fine. The tree was on fire but I put it out with my rain."

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"That was quick thinking, thank you."

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"You're welcome."

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"Do you have an idea what you'd like to have for lunch? I don't believe you've had any."

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"I haven't had lunch. I mostly eat whatever I can but my favorite school lunch was chicken sandwiches?"

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"I don't have any chicken right now but I have some deli turkey if you'd like a sandwich."

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"That sounds nice. Thank you."

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"No problem. Mayo? Mustard?" She gets up to head to the kitchen.

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"Mayo please."

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She gets a turkey sandwich with generous mayo on it and a glass of milk.

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She eats her sandwich, becoming slowly less subdued. 

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Veronica has a leftover salad in the fridge; she nibbles on it companionably. "Ice cream?" she asks when they're done eating.

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"Yes please!!!"

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"I have cherry and moose tracks."

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"What's moose tracks?"

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"It's vanilla ice cream with chocolate peanut butter ribbon and little peanut butter cups in it."

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"Ooooh. That one please."

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She gets two scoops in a little glass bowl.

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She eats them slowly, savoring every taste. 

"Thank you," she says when she's finished, eyeing the bowl like she's considering licking it but has been convinced this is bad manners. 

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Veronica takes the bowl before she can be too embattled by temptation. "You're welcome!"

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"With my guardians it wasn't safe to mess up at all. And I never messed up badly enough to set anything on fire."

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"I'm so sorry that happened to you."

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"It's over now," she says in the tone of voice of someone who is trying harder to convince herself than the other person. 

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"That's right," says Veronica, "it's over. Hopefully your foster parents will be wonderful people you get along well with."

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"What if they're not?"

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"I think there's a way to get different ones but I'm not sure how it works."

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"Is there a way to find out?"

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"I can make some calls. I'm not sure how good they are about answering questions on the phone, but I can find out."

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"Okay. Thank you."

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"Of course."

Veronica goes to make some calls.

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Anna-Charlotte sits quietly and reads the fashion dictionary. 

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Veronica leans in about twenty minutes later and says, "I'm having some trouble with the phone tree but I can try again tomorrow."

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"Okay. Thank you. May I keep practicing magic outside as long as I only use the rain and not the lightning?"

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"Yes you may. Not on the succulents, they don't like to get too wet - those are on the other side of the house, though."

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"What's a succulent?"

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"They're related to cactuses. Funny looking desert plants without normal leaves."

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"Okay. I'll be careful."

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"If you just stay on the kitchen side of the house everything there can be rained on all day no problem."

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"Okay. But I'll be careful anyway. I didn't mean to start that fire."

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"I know you didn't, Anna-Charlotte."

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"I just mean--I didn't think it would happen. So I should be extra careful. Just in case."

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Veronica nods. "Sensible when you're dealing with electricity, even the nonmagical kind."

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"They had a talk about electrical safety at school but it just covered the stuff in wires, not lightning."

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"Lightning's riskier than wires because it's not all wrapped up in rubber."

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"Yeah. A lot of the talk was about ways electricity can get out of the rubber and how that's dangerous."

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"It is. I'm glad they covered it in school for you."

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"They also covered fire stuff but that was for if it was a house on fire, not a tree. And it assumed you didn't have rain magic."

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"You should know that a little rain cloud won't stop a really big fire. Firefighters still have to be ready to do their jobs on rainy days. If there's a really big fire, you should get away from it, not rain on it."

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"I'll get away from it first but it's not gonna hurt to rain on it, right?"

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"It actually depends on the kind of fire. You're not supposed to put water on grease fires or electrical fires - that doesn't mean fires that electricity started, it means ones that are going on by electrical things, I think, raining on the tree was fine because the tree wasn't electrical anymore after the lightning was gone."

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"Oh."

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"If you want to be an emergency responder who uses magic you'll probably want to respond to swarms instead of fires, that's all." Veronica pats her on the head.

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"Okay. I wanna fight swarms anyway."

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"They need fighting!"

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"Maybe if I work really hard I can be a Paladin someday."

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"I bet you can."

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"Paladins are really cool and fight really big monsters."

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"They are and they do! Do you want to go to the library today and find books about paladins?"

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"Can we???"

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"Sure! We have a few hours before I need to be at church - you can come with me and read your library books and attend the service if you want."

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"Okay!!!"

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So they have a walk to the library and can find the children's nonfiction about paladins.

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Oooh. How much children's nonfiction is there about paladins. 

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There are plenty of books about it! I Want To Be A Paladin, Kaiju In The Arctic, Pacific Paladins Photo Book, Inside a Paladin Helicopter, Children's Biography of Sarah Hunter, I Have My Own Theme Song!, Squad 313, Coast-To-Coast Guard, Paladins Abroad.

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"How many books am I allowed to check out?"

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"Let's go ask."

The librarian can get her a library card and inform her that she can't have more than fifty items out at once on a children's card.

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...

She checks out fifty children's nonfiction books, including every one they have about paladins, a couple of children's-level fashion books, and some stuff about swarm response. 

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Veronica shows her how to make her costume extend to a wagon on the ground. "The wagon will disappear once it's not attached and it's not very pretty but we can get them to church this way."

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Oh that's cool. She puts the books in the temporary wagon. Making the wagon pretty enough to not ding her at all would probably be really really hard but she makes it purple with gold sparkles anyway. 

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They and their wagonful of books have a pleasant walk to the church. "You can also do this with umbrellas, things like hammers and screwdrivers, forks and spoons, mirrors, anything else you can get right by making it look right - not so much things that have motors in them or complicated internals."

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"What if it's something like a propeller where it's got internals but how it looks is the point?"

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"The propellor might be hard to make spin."

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"How come body parts work then?"

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"The magic can fill in a lot about bodies we don't know ourselves - actually, if you grow a part that's like an animal part, and then do a DNA test on it, it's got animal genes that no magical girl could possibly do deliberately in her head! - but it doesn't do propellors that way."

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"Can people clone dinosaurs back to life by taking dinosaur DNA out of magical girl parts?"

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"Some people have tried it, but cloning is pretty hard and they haven't gotten anywhere yet."

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"Aww. Oh well."

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"Maybe someday they'll figure it out and we can have dinosaurs in zoos."

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"I wanna see a dinosaur!"

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"There's a cryptid who turned into a triceratops, but she lives in the wilderness out in Maine and doesn't hang out with people like Imani does."

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"Imani is very good."

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"She's a real sweetheart."

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"I'm really glad I woke up to a winged unicorn right after running away."

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"I bet she was glad to meet you too."

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"She's very good," Anna-Charlotte repeats. 

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"Maybe she'll be in when we get to church."

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"That would be nice."

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Imani's in. She trots up to Anna-Charlotte when they come in.

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Eee! Pet pet pet!

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"Brrrrrbrt," says Imani.

"You can sit in the pews and read and pet Imani," says Veronica, "I'm going to polish my sermon and check on the choir and be available for anyone who comes in early."

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"Okay." 

She sits in the pews and reads about paladins and pets Imani and is so so so happy. 

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Eventually people start arriving for services. They fill in around Anna-Charlotte and Imani.

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Anna-Charlotte isn't going to put her book down until someone tries to talk to her or the service starts. 

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A family sits next to her - mom, dad, two boys aged nine and six, none magical. "Hi, Imani. And what's your name?" says the dad.

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"Hi. I'm Anna-Charlotte."

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"I'm Mr. Wong. It's nice to meet you."

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"Hi Mr. Wong." 

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"The kids are Joel and Bryce."

"Hi," says Bryce.

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"Hi Joel. Hi Bryce." What do you say to people in this situation. "Imani is really good."

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"She's cute," says Bryce.

"She'll eat weird things," says Joel. "One time I gave her a ketchup packet and she bit it open and sucked out all the ketchup."

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"That's not so weird. I've ever done that."

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"Ewwww," giggles Joel.

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"I was hungry!"

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"Why didn't you eat normal food?" Joel asks.

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"The school cafeteria doesn't let you get a second tray."

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"Did you have gym right before lunch? Sometimes I'm really hungry if I have gym right before lunch," says Joel.

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"No, I just hadn't had breakfast that morning or dinner the night before."

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"Why?" says Bryce. Joel, a little older, is looking at his mother in puzzlement.

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"'Cause my guardians were mad at me."

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"What'd you do?" asks Bryce in a whisper.

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"Tripped and made a loud noise by accident."

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"Oh look the choir's coming out," says Mrs. Wong brightly.

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Oooh! Anna-Charlotte perks up and pays attention to the choir. 

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The conversation thus ended, the choir sings a lovely hymn. Veronica delivers a sermon about serendipity and the role of God in coincidence. At one point Imani flies up to the lectern and sits on her notes and has to be put aside.

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So good!!!!!!!!

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There's more singing, and then the service is over; some people go down to the basement for snacks and a concurrent Quaker-style meeting.

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Ooh, snacks. She leaves all her books except the one she's currently reading on the pew and goes downstairs. 

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There are cookies and lemonade and a crudite platter and fruit salad and a bowl of puppy chow and a plate of crackers and cheese.

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Cookies and lemonade!!!! She makes a beeline for the cookies and lemonade, careful not to whack anyone with her wings. 

She does trip over someone's foot and go sprawling on the floor, though. 

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"Whoopsie! Are you okay?" says the someone, who is a little old lady.

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"I'm okay. Sorry," she says, briefly starscaping to fix her skinned knee and pushing herself to her feet.

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"At least it was before you got your lemonade!" chuckles the little old lady.

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"Yep."

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The little old lady resumes her conversation with her little old husband.

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She goes and gets her lemonade. 

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It's very sweet. The cookies are oatmeal raisin.

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DECEITBERRIES.

She finishes the cookie she took to be polite but does not get another. 

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Nobody comments. Everybody's very quiet except sometimes someone stands up and comments on something, usually a personal problem or triumph but sometimes a current event.

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She finds a quiet corner and sits down to keep reading her book, keeping an ear out for interesting comments. 

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The comments do not tend to be particularly interesting up until Joel stands up and announces that he doesn't think people should send kids to school hungry enough to eat ketchup. Some people look at his parents oddly; Mr. Wong murmurs in the nearest concerned ear.

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Oops. 

She stands up. "That wasn't Joel's parents."

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"Thank you, Anna-Charlotte," says Veronica.

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"Y'welcome." 

She sits down again and hides her face behind her book.

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There's a silence before someone stands up and says something about their dog having gotten hit by a car.

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That's sad. 

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Yup.

Eventually the meeting dissipates. The snacks are packed up, less a plate of them Veronica takes up to put in Imani's dish area.

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Anna-Charlotte follows her in the hopes of getting to pet Imani again. 

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Imani has made herself scarce. "Sometimes she leaves for a few days, but I put out something for her every day if I think she's gone and twice if I know she's around," Veronica mentions.

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"That makes sense."

She enwagons the rest of her library books. 

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And Veronica shows her back to her house. Tabitha catches up partway there. "Hey love," she says, kissing Veronica on, oddly, the ear.

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Anna-Charlotte giggles. 

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"Hi, Anna-Charlotte," says Tabitha. "How was church?"

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"Church was good!"

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"I'm glad! I try to go most weeks but there's more than one service so I don't go to all of them, and for all I knew wifey was off her game today."

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"I guess it's possible she's usually even better, I've only been to the one."

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"I think today was about normal," laughs Veronica.

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"--Um, before church I found out what my magic was and accidentally started and put out a fire with it."

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"Is everything okay?" asks Tabitha.

"I would have texted!" says Veronica. "It's fine, cosmetic damage to a tree and Anna-Charlotte's going to hold off practicing more with lightning till she's a bit older."

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"My first spell is rain and my second spell is lightning and I was seeing if I could get more oomph out of lightning by having a lightning bolt motif and I set a tree on fire by accident and I put it out with the rain. And then I went in to tell Veronica."

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"You handled it very well," says Veronica.

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"Thank you."

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"You're welcome."

They reach the house.

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Anna-Charlotte loads her books onto the coffee table in front of the couch and then gets rid of the wagon. 

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Veronica and Tabitha have tea.

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She curls up and reads about paladins. 

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Veronica suggests it might be bedtime at about ten.

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She nods and bookmarks her place and goes to bed. 

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In the morning there are pancakes! "I usually have cereal for breakfast, but when there's company I seem inspired to make an effort," says Veronica. "There are morning services today, eat up quick and we'll head over."

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"Okay!" 

She eats her pancakes quickly and waits by the door, bouncing slightly. 

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And they make it to church in time for the morning service, which is almost exactly like the evening one.

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Anna-Charlotte likes church a lot. 

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That's convenient, since her current caretaker is a thaumaturge. They hang out at church for most of the rest of the day, Veronica being available to people who want private spiritual counseling and in between those doing some church maintenance tasks and swapping Imani's food out.

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Anna-Charlotte pets Imani and reads her books. 

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The next day the CPS people call. 

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"Veronica Norton," says Veronica, when she picks up.

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"Hello, this is Child Protective Services. We understand that the minor child Anna-Charlotte Sharma was placed with you under emergency circumstances while her legal guardians were investigate for child abuse."

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"That's right, she's been staying here. Unfortunately my wife doesn't want to accommodate her long term."

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"That's understandable. The case has been resolved, and we've begun looking for long-term foster placement. When would be convenient for you to bring her for interviewing?"

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"I'm available all day today but have an appointment tomorrow afternoon."

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"Would one o'clock this afternoon work?"

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"Yes. Where is it?"

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The person on the phone gives an address. 

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"All right, we'll be there."

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"Thank you!"

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And Veronica looks up the address and gets flying directions and tells Anna-Charlotte.

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"Okay. Should I leave my library books here in case my foster parents don't live near this library?"

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"I don't think they'll send you home with foster parents today, but in case they do maybe don't bring all of them, just two or three so I can carry them home easily."

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"Okay."

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And off they fly.

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Anna-Charlotte is nervous, but working to hide it; only the white of her knuckles clenched around the books she clutches to her chest give her away. 

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"It'll be all right, Anna-Charlotte."

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"I know."

Her fingers do not unclench. 

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"Dear God, we pray that You will guide Anna-Charlotte to good and loving people who will make a place in their home for her, shaped just right, and that she will grow up there safely and happily."

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"I would definitely hug you right now if we were on the ground."

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"Well, we'll be landing soon."

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Nod. 

They land. Anna-Charlotte hugs her. 

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Hug!

And in they go. "Hello, I'm Veronica Norton, we have an appointment?"

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"Oh, hello, yes! And you'd be Anna-Charlotte Sharma, is that right?" 

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Nod. 

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"Okay, I'll page the social worker assigned to your case, and then you can talk to for a bit, okay?"

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"Okay." 

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The social worker ushers her into her office and talks to her about what she thinks she needs in an environment and what problems her guardians had that they should be particularly careful to watch out for and also various other information about her that wasn't on her legal documents, and then gives her a piece of candy and sends her back out. 

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Veronica's waiting, reading a waiting room magazine which she sets down when Anna-Charlotte emerges. "How'd it go?"

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"Fine I think. She gave me a piece of candy."

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"Candy was the highlight of my life at your age."

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"It's really good but I think I like church better."

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"Awwwww!"

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"Church has singing and Imani and everything's so beautiful! And it lasts a lot longer than one piece of candy."

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"I'm glad you like church. It's a good thing to have in your life."

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Nod nod. "I wish my parents had gone to church."

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"What kind of church would they have gone to?"

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"I mean I wish they'd gone to Thaumatologist church, Christian church is boring."

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"It's certainly not as pretty. Some of them sort of try, but we can't open a church in the first place if it isn't beautiful."

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"And you have to sit through a lot of boring stuff."

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"I'm glad you thought my sermons were interesting."

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Nod. "You talk about important stuff."

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"I'm sure the Christians sometimes do too."

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"I guess it's not surprising if my guardians just picked a church that sucked."

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"They may have. And Thaumatologist churches vary, too."

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"Mm."

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"They're all beautiful, though, they can't be dedicated if they aren't beautiful."

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"That's important."

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"It is."