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Aug 10, 2020 8:10 PM
A Margaret in Actualization

A century or two ago, magic was the stuff of legend; feats such as shapeshifting, stopping time, or fighting monsters were restricted to tales of the gods, set in the distant past when they still walked the earth. 

Since a little before living memory, that has been changing. Magic has come back into the world, and it is coming to ordinary people. Not many, in the grand scheme of things, but their number increases with every year that passes. Adolescents in every nation and from every walk of life know that, at any moment, they could be one of the fortunate few whose lives are changed forever. 

In a city in the nation of Azama, there is a teenage girl. She doesn't know it yet, but today is her lucky day. 

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Pero Mariga is a sixteen-year-old student. She does well in classes, hangs out with her friends, occasionally helps out on her father's repairman job to get some hands-on experience with machinery. And she wants magic more than anything. Why wouldn't you? Magic lets you shapeshift. Supposedly, if you get good enough at it, it lets you live longer. And you can use it to help people in ways that there aren't lots of people already doing! Yeah, magic would be awesome.

At this particular moment, Mariga is riding the bus home, thinking about how cool magic would be and what form she would take. She's thought about it a lot, but of course without trying it she can't tell what form would feel Right.


There are no flashing lights, no sparkles. Nothing outside of Mariga's head indicates to the other occupants of the bus that anything has changed. 

But between one instant and the next, she becomes aware that, if she wanted to change shape, she could. All she has to do is fix her desired form in her mind, with all the details of size and shape and colour filled in, then take this indescribable mental action to transform. She'll be able to return to her original form any time she likes, and she'll have to go back to it when she runs out of magical energy for the time being. On the plus side, she can keep altering and refining her new magical form forever!  

(There is also a diffident suggestion that, since her time in her new form will be limited at first, she might want to wait for the best moment to try it.) 




Mariga's on a bus and doesn't have a mirror. And a lot of the forms sketched in her school notebook would interact differently with bus seats than this one does. She will very reluctantly wait the twenty minutes until she gets to her stop, then dash upstairs to her bedroom, yelling "Hi Mom hi Dad I got magic gotta go set up my form see you at dinner!"

Okay, now to take off all her clothes and get down to business. Her new form should have glittering blue scales instead of skin or hair, patterned like this and overlapping like so. It should have dragon wings and a long flexible tail and be even shorter than she is now so the wings will work. It should have hollow bird bones, and bright green eyes, and long fingers and toes ending in something in between nails and claws. Go!


Now there's a flash of light. Just a brief one, and just bright enough that it fills the room. 

And then she is something new, between one blink and the next. There's a sensation in the back of her mind like an hourglass flipping over. Glittering sand begins to drain from the new top into the empty half below. Somehow, she knows the sand represents her time remaining in her magical form before she has to change back. No way to tell how long, just yet, but she'll be able to see when it's close to running out. 



Oh, that does feel nice. Mariga stretches her wings, flexes her claws, twitches her lovely new tail. She had always hoped that if she got magic it would fix the sense of wrongness, of subtle disgust and dissatisfaction with being embodied, that's been plaguing her for goodness knows how long. And it does. Not completely, not yet, but she can tell that with more experimentation and practice she'll be truly happy with her body.

The sense of urgency from knowing she's going to have to go back to human soon meshes weirdly with the reassurance that she'll always have magic. On the scale of the coming minutes, she is going to enjoy this while she's got it. In her case, that means tweaking it more. First, is anything about this version consuming magic just from existing? Can she even tell?


It doesn't seem to be; when she investigates, the magic tells her this is a normal amount of magic consumption given that she's standing around doing nothing. A tiny bit slower than normal, if anything. Maybe poking and prodding at the details of her magic is good for it?

On that note, it isn't just Mariga's physical shape that's changed. She had magic already, but now, in this form, she is magic. She doesn't have a clear sense of what else she can do yet, but there's at least one other new mental action she can take, aside from transforming.

The magic lets her know that using her mysterious new abilities will make the metaphorical sand drain through the hourglass faster than if she just went around in magical form. She can also tell that there are things she can do to slow the sand down or even make it flow upwards, granting her more time to play with her new form and powers. 


So many things to try! She doesn't want to try flying just yet, not when she might fall out of the sky if she loses track of time. Instead she'll experiment with her eyes. She can give them reflective layers like a cat's! She can move the blood vessels to the place they ought to be so they aren't in the way and she doesn't have a blind spot! She might even be able to give herself extra cones, where's her anatomy textbook, there it is, yeah she wants some cones that get these wavelengths, does that go through?


The magic would be delighted to make those changes for her! It corrects a little bit of the detail work on the cones to get exactly what she wants, but otherwise just does what she tells it to do. (The sand trickles even slower, but it's still falling. She has maybe fifteen or twenty minutes left.)

Now she has cat-like reflective eyes that can see a little way into the ultraviolet and infrared parts of the spectrum! Getting rid of her blind spot doesn't noticeably change anything about the way the world looks, but she can test it and check. 


Yeah, the blind spot was really more about the principle of the thing, but it's cool to check and see that it's gone. Seeing infrared and ultraviolet, on the other hand, is extremely cool. Her eyes should also resemble a cat's in pupil shape, now she thinks about it, because that's just cool.

She picks up a pencil, tries writing with it, refines her claws and the scales on her fingers for better grip and more dexterity. It wouldn't do to have a form that couldn't take notes or sketch a blueprint.


Indeed it would not.

The magic continues to be very obliging about changing things to suit Mariga's preferences, and her time in magical form continues to sloooowly run down. It looks like it'll stick around long enough to show her parents, or she could take a photo on her smartwatch to show them later. 


She shows them in person when she has a few minutes left. They don't seem to understand how totally awesome her new form is, and are in fact a bit discomfited by how inhuman she got and how quickly, but once they get accustomed they're sure she's going to do great and accomplish all sorts of things.


And then her magic runs out of charge and drops her unceremoniously back in her original form. She got less than half an hour, in total. And now that she's in this form, the other mental actions available to her, the ones attached to mystery powers, have disappeared. All Mariga can do with her magic from here is transform, and she doesn't have enough of it for that at the moment. 

The metaphorical hourglass flips over, so the sand is all in the upper half. Sand grains start falling, very slowly, building up charge at a rate of about one per second. At this rate, it'll be a while before she can transform again. But, the magic reminds Mariga, she can do things to change how fast the sand flows. 


Dropping back to human form is like expecting one more step than the staircase has, combined with sticking her hand in something gross. She resolves to build up a nice big charge before the next time she transforms, so she can put off doing that again as long as possible.

That evening she eats dinner with her parents (and talks about their work and her schoolwork and magic), does her homework (she finished most of it at school), and checks out the internet's supply of "so you just got magic" pages.


Here's one that's neatly laid out in clear, grammatically-correct language, on a well-organized website with no obnoxious colours or silly animations. It has footnotes. 

Most magical people get magic between the ages of 13 and 18, but if you're a little older or younger, don't worry. Statistically, people who get magic earlier or later aren't any different in other ways.[1] The youngest recorded magical person was a few weeks away from her twelfth birthday, and the oldest person to get magic was 22.[2][3]

There are links to anatomy guides, fashion dictionaries, pages on colour theory, and other resources for optimizing your magical form, or "magiform". A whole page of the website is dedicated to names people have invented for "magical person" in more than a dozen languages, including tentative translations into the major centaur tongue.

Other sections explain how magic works, covering topics like how to recharge, how to figure out your unique powers, and ways to get better at magic. There's also a section on finding groups of magical people in your area. 


Magiforms 101

Magiform Tips - Anatomy

Magiform Tips - Fashion

Magiform Tips - Colour Theory

Magic Theory 101

Magic Theory - Charge & Recharging

Magic Theory - Unique Powers

Magic Theory - How To Improve

What Are We Called?

But What Do I DO With It?

Connect With Other Magicals


Well, this is obviously going to end with way too many open tabs. She starts with the four magical theory ones; they look like they'll be practical without making her as desperate to transform again as the tips pages.


Magic Theory 101

You are a magical person, which means you can use magic. The amount of magic you have to use at a time is called charge. You spend charge to do magic, and it builds back up over time. See Charge & Recharging for more on how to recharge faster. 

While you're in your original form and not transformed, all you can do with magic is transform. Spending time in regular form lets you build up charge faster, because you're not using it for anything.

While you're in magiform, you spend magical charge constantly to stay transformed, and you can also use it to power your unique abilities. You can regain charge in magiform, but it's harder because it's balanced out by what you're spending. 

How much charge you expend just by staying in magiform depends on whether your magiform obeys the laws of physics, or if it needs magic just to make it work. See the Anatomy page for tips on how to reduce magic expenditure—for example, if you have wings that can't really lift you, you'll spend extra charge every time you try to fly with them. 

Every magical person has at least one unique power other than the ability to transform. If you have more than one power, they usually follow some kind of theme. You gain more powers, or your existing ones get stronger, the more you refine your magiform. (If you don't have any powers yet, it's because your magiform needs work, not because you don't have any.) See Unique Powers for help figuring out what your powers are, what they can do, and what your theme might be. 

Over time, most magical people find that accumulating charge gets easier, they can spend longer in magiform, and they have access to stronger powers. See How To Improve for some techniques that make this easier. 


Have more questions? Check the FAQ


She should read the FAQ before going farther into the theory. She's taking notes, of course, and she flips to a new page to write down anything surprising from the FAQ.



Q: I witnessed a magical incident or magic-related crime. Who should I report it to? 
A: Here are some links to contact details for the appropriate authorities in Azama, Bhier, Gidran, Tenzhan, and Parabi. If you see your country's name, click on it; if not, you'll have to do your own research. Let me know what you find and I'll add it to the list. 

Q: Are you going to make a version of this website in my language? 
A: I'm working on translating it into Bhiran. For resources in other languages, see this page

Q: Who are you anyway?/How do you know so much about magic?/Why are you qualified to tell me about this?
A: My name is Radha. I've had magic for the last seven years, and I've spent that time finding out as much as I can about magic and magical people. My unique powers are telekinesis and time manipulation, and I'm a member of Sideways, a magical problem-solving team operating out of Corali, Azama. 

Q: I think I might have magic, but I'm not sure. How do I tell?
A: If you had magic, you'd know, because it would tell you. It's not possible to have magic and be unaware of it. 

Q: Why do some people get magic and not others?/I really want magic! Is there something I can do to increase my chances of getting it?
A: No-one knows. A lot of studies have been done on this subject, so we know magic doesn't choose people based on genetics, ethnicity, sexuality, morality, religion, diet, location, or a whole list of other qualities.[1] Studies have found that magical people are about twice as likely as the average person to be transgender, but that's not something you can change about yourself and trying doesn't tend to result in magic.[2][3]

Q: I heard that magic makes you gay/trans/kinky/polygamous. Is that true? 
A: No, there's no evidence for any of that. 

Q: I heard that magical people are immortal. Is that true?
A: Not really. Our magiforms can be whatever physical age we want, so if someone managed to build up enough charge to stay in magiform forever, they wouldn't die of old age. They could still die in other ways, though, unless their powers protected them. 

Q: Can animals be magical, or is it just people? What about centaurs? 
A: Wildlife researchers haven't noticed any animals transforming, and centaurs say they don't have any magical people.[4] 

Q: But isn't magic eeevil?
A: Evil is hard to quantify, but statistical analysis shows that magical people aren't significantly more likely to commit crimes than before they got magic, correcting for age and other factors.[5] Also, they're not significantly more crime-prone than the rest of the population.[6]

Q: That's not what I meant! I meant that magical people are godless heathens!
A: Magical people show the same distribution of religious beliefs as the rest of the population, with the exception that some magical people who were previously atheists or agnostic have converted to the Fellowship of Enlightenment, a religion which essentially worships magic.[7][8] People with existing religious beliefs tend to attribute magic to their own gods.

Q: Why doesn't your website acknowledge that magic is clearly the work of my deity/deities?
A: I have received questions along these lines from every religion with a significant Makazo-speaking population, and a few others with varying levels of fluency and coherence. At the time of writing and to the best of my knowledge, no divine entities have yet come forward to claim credit for introducing magic to the world. 

Q: Why doesn't magic work like in my favourite fantasy series/this better version I made up/exactly the same except for my pet peeve?
A: I don't know. All I can tell you is how magic works, not why. All I will say is that it would be very surprising if the author of a fantasy series, writing before the first magical people existed, had managed to correctly predict how magic would work.


Nothing particularly shocking in there, as is often the case with FAQs for the general public. Onward, to the rest of the magical theory pages!


Charge & Recharging

"Charge" is the amount of magical energy you have available at a time. You can spend it to transform and (while transformed) to use your unique powers. Spending time in magiform also drains charge.

Fun fact: On average, a magical person has enough charge for 17 minutes in magiform the first time they transform, assuming they don't use any other powers.[1]

If you don't do anything special, you'll recharge slowly while in your mundane form. Sleeping for 8 hours, which we use as a convenient baseline because you're not doing anything to throw it off, will bring you back up to about a third of your maximum capacity, which grows over time. For a new magical person, that might translate to half an hour in magiform; for someone who's been practicing magic for longer, it could be several hours' worth of charge.[2]

Sleeping isn't usually the most efficient way to recharge, though. Hanging around awake can be slightly worse, depending on what you're doing, but you'll find that some activities are a lot better for recharging. Unfortunately, this is highly individual and varies from one magical person to the next, but a general guideline is that activities you find enjoyable and/or rewarding will give you more charge than things you hate or find boring.[3] If you have a favourite hobby, that's likely to be a good way to recharge.

(Author's note: One of the best recharging activities for me is reading, especially nonfiction. My brother finds reading nonfiction worse than sleeping, and recharges best by playing Dungeons & Dragons. It's different for everyone.)

If you don't have many hobbies, or you don't have any that you enjoy, it might be worth trying out a few that catch your interest, especially if there's one you've been meaning to try but haven't found the time. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, taking time away from magic can help you get more of it done. That said, many people find that playing with their powers, or refining their magiform, is rewarding in itself and therefore helps them recharge. 


Huh, she got longer than average the first time, probably from all the tweaking. 

It's really good that recharging goes as a percent of capacity, because that means getting charge gets easier over time rather than just storing it.

She definitely finds all things magic rewarding, and suspects magic-related research is similar! Having magic is so great, even if she's now even more aware of having skin than previously. She reads on.


Unique Powers

As the name suggests, unique powers are different for every magical person, so there's a limit to how much a general guide can help you figure them out. That said, here are some aspects of powers that are relatively consistent.

Before you had magic, did you dream about having one specific power, or being able to do one specific thing? If so, chances are that you'll be able to do it eventually, even if it's not your first power. If you have multiple powers, they'll be shaped around that one thing. 

Every magical person has a theme to their suite of powers: it's rare to find someone who can both conjure fireballs and make plants grow, for example, unless they conceptualise those as the same thing somehow. Themes can be fairly abstract and general, though, and the connections between powers aren't always obvious, especially once someone has three or more powers.

Often, later powers seem to "branch off" in different directions from the first, so somebody with telepathy might grow the ability to speak to animals and a hypnosis power. Taken on their own, the latter two aren't obviously connected, but they're both outgrowths of the initial telepathy, and come under a broader umbrella of "mind magic".  

(Personal example: the power I always wanted was time manipulation, the ability to make the world slow down or stop so I had time for everything I wanted to do. Telekinesis would have been a close second if you'd asked me to choose one. The first power I manifested was the ability to stop a moving object, which has branched out into telekinesis and, recently, the ability to slow down time.)

Now that you have some idea what your powers might be, how do you trigger them? Some people do it accidentally or instinctively, when a situation comes up where the power would be useful. For example, falling off something might trigger a flight power, or wanting to stop being the centre of attention might activate your invisibility. 

(Personal example: I discovered my first power when someone shouted, "Think fast!" and threw a ball at my face. I threw up my hands, willing it to stop—and it did.)

Alternatively, you can try activating your powers deliberately, with an act of will similar to the one you use to transform. If you don't know what you can do, this has to be a fairly general "I want to use my magic", but it sometimes helps to specify a target: "I want to do magic to that piece of paper". In case your power is something destructive, it's best to choose something you won't miss and put it on a surface that's hard to damage. 

Some powers, such as telepathy or animal speech, need a living target. Start with objects, but if nothing happens, a good next step is to try using magic on plants, an animal if you can find one, and then a consenting person. Other powers might need specific substances available: hydrokinesis needs water, for example. Try using magic in different environments, like the park or the bath. 

Have a particularly stubborn or shy power? Get in contact with other magical people and ask them for more tips. Have a trick that worked for you? Let me know

There's a link to a wiki that's attempting to catalogue every known power. Some abilities seem to come up a lot with different variations, like telekinesis and telepathy, but no two powers work exactly the same way. 


Mariga is pretty sure her unique power is going to be something with persistent effects, possibly on the theme of "making stuff". She writes down a list of things to try:

* Look for mental actions

* Generic magic on:

- an object (rock, paper, water, air)

- a location 

- a plant

- an animal

- myself

* ask for volunteer classmates? Find local magic group?

Doing experiments on her powers is going to be so great. Hopefully by this weekend she'll have enough charge for a solid few hours of testing. Relatedly, the next page is the promising "how to improve".


It is indeed.

How To Improve

Getting better at magic is a dual process: on one side, you need to refine your magiform to increase your maximum charge and gain access to stronger powers. On the other, you need to identify more efficient methods of recharging, so you can stay in magiform for longer and use your powers more frequently. 

Both of these processes, fortunately, rely on the same underlying skill: self-knowledge. It's been fairly conclusively proven that there's no objective standard for magiforms, and what's "better" for one person's magiform has no bearing on what's "better" for someone else.[1] Studies have also shown that the strength of a particular magiform is directly correlated with how much the person likes it: in other words, the magic and the magical person agree on what constitutes an improvement to their form.[2] 

This means that refining your magiform is about knowing what you like and what you want—the same skill that helps you figure out how to recharge, just applied to what you want to be instead of what you want to do

Naturally, this is a highly individual process, but here are some tips if you're struggling. 

1. Try things. Even if you have some idea what sorts of things you like and don't like, but especially if you haven't got a clue, take a step back and experiment with different options, especially ones outside your normal comfort zone. Sometimes, you'll immediately hate the idea, and over time you'll get better at recognising what sort of things you don't even need to try. At first, though, you'll probably need to at least take a minute to imagine it in detail, even if you don't actually take on the form or attempt the activity, to gauge how you feel about something new. 

For magiform variations to try, check Magiforms 101. For hobbies, try your school or university's list of clubs, or look online for ideas. 

2. Journal. This one isn't for everyone, but some people find that keeping a journal of some kind can help them get better at noticing how they think and feel about things. On the most basic level, you could use a notebook to keep track of how good different activities are: write down what activity you tried, what you thought of it, and how much charge it gave you. It can also help to keep a daily journal, recording your general mood for the day and any significant events. If you're the sort of person who thinks best on paper, you can use your journal for more in-depth emotional processing or to help you make decisions. 

3. Make art. If writing in a journal doesn't work for you, you can try more creative and expressive methods of getting in touch with your emotions. Drawing, painting, playing music, and writing poetry or stories are all used in therapy to help people express emotions they can't put into words directly. As a bonus, if you find a type of art you enjoy, it will also help you recharge.[3] 

4. Talk to someone. This can be a friend or family member, someone who knows you well and can potentially point out things about you that you can't see from the inside. It can also help to talk to a counsellor or therapist. It's a common misconception, but you don't need to be mentally ill to go to a counsellor—all you need is a problem you want help with, and this definitely qualifies. 

5. Study psychology. Find books, or read on the internet, about the ways human minds work and all of the different ways they can be. Again, this isn't for everyone, but if you're the type who likes learning and theory then this can be a path towards a better understanding of your own mind. You could even take a psychology class or two. (Author's note: I never took a class in psychology, but I did a lot of reading about it in the first few years. It's the way I learn best.)

6. Ask other magicals for help. Remember, this might be an individual journey, but you're not the first person to walk it. Working with other magical people is one of the best—and most fun—ways to push your magic to its limits and expand your knowledge of what you can do. Find your local team here. 


That's some good advice! Mariga's already taking notes; she adds a page with columns "date", "activity", "rating", and "comments". She gives "working on magiform" 90/100 (because immediately giving something a 100 might mess up her scale later), "talking to parents" a 60, and "reading about magic" a 70. Then she writes a list of hobbies to try, including her existing ones (robotics club, reading fiction, reading nonfiction) and some new ones (baking, local magic group, flying) and a reminder to look into jobs and volunteer work where having magic in general or her particular form and powers will be useful. She opens the "find your local group" page in a new tab, but starts reading the magiform suggestions page first.

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