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Post last updated: Sep 22, 2021 2:40 AM
I choose the path I walk
owls in Heavenly Wish
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Her plan was always "cope with her family's bullshit until she could go off to college." She would need scholarships for that, but she's smart, and more importantly, determined. And that's still the plan, sort of. But it's come to her attention more and more, lately, that potential maybe scholarships in the future are unhatched eggs, and that one shouldn't count the chickens in them. 

And her parents are getting less and less bearable to deal with as she gets older. Her brother's...fine. Mostly. Except that he doesn't want to cut ties with their parents, which limits the extent to which she can keep ties with him, in the long run. She can probably hang on until she turns eighteen; even if she doesn't manage to get into college, she can still leave. 

But she doesn't want to if she doesn't have to. 

She looks into the ways to emancipate herself as a fifteen-year old. 

One way is to get married, which--ugh, her mother might actually approve of that one, but even if there's any overlap between the kind of husband Rhonda would be willing to have and the kind her mother would want for her, he hasn't presented himself to her yet. One way is with mutual consent from her parents, which, haha, no. One way is to join the armed forces, which, extra, special, no. 

One way is to become a magical girl. 

Probably her odds aren't great. But it would be a good thing for a variety of other reasons besides just getting her out of here three years early, so she might as well check out what the application looks like. 

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Office of the Imperial Court of Magi under the Auspices of Her Majesty Jun Wu, Supreme Magical Empress
Magical Girl Application Form (US English)
Last updated 1987; please contact the office of Ling Wen with questions or corrections

1. Full name
2. Date of birth
3. Region [choose one...]
4. Is it legal, in your region, for you to become a magical girl at this time? (We can keep your application on file even if the answer is "no".)

...

14. What will you wish for?
15. Tell us about yourself.

...

☐ By checking this box you affirm that you have read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.
☐ By checking this box you affirm that you are aware of the contents of Magical Girl FAQs including but not limited to section 4.9 ("Life Expectancy Statistics").

[Submit]
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1. Rhonda Susanne Wallace

2. 8/3/2006

3. Onondaga County, New York

4. Yes

...

14. 

...What she would wish for...she knows less about wishes than she would like. She's heard a lot about them, but she has no way to separate fact from fiction. She's pretty sure the thing where you can get recently-dead people back is real, but not certain; she's heard that it has to be something you really care about, which she has no way of knowing if it's true or not but she's reasonably sure they're only one to a customer so it wouldn't do to waste one. Wishing to get out of her parents' house would be redundant. What else does she care about, really care about in the depths of her soul? And of that, what would sound good to the people who'll be reading her application? 

She considers this. She likes books. She likes dancing and singing. She generally approves of social justice movements and environmentalism. 

Suppose she gets out of the Wallace house. What does she want most after that? ...To have a job, or a college scholarship; something stable where she won't have to worry about her next meal or a roof over her head. She wants...to be self-sufficient. Independent. To be able to get out if she ever finds herself in another situation like this again. 

How does she translate that into a wish?

I wish I would never have to interact with someone I don't want to again would be nice, but she can't see it impressing anyone. I wish I always had enough money to get by on sounds impractical at best, and liable to get her arrested for theft or counterfeiting at worst. 

She considers it for a little while longer, chin propped on one hand, and writes, 

14. I wish I could teleport. 

For number fifteen, "Tell us about yourself," she explains that her father is a drunk and her mother is impractically conservative/traditionalist and just wants her daughter to be a housewife and how she would love to blame them for that, but, cut to a well-arranged screed on interracial generational inequality in America in general and in her city in particular, with an aside on how the current Interstate was built in a way as to cut through the pre-existing black community and disrupt everything, and how being able to go wherever she wanted would help her to overcome systemic racism in America for herself and hopefully to help others do so, and also she's got good grades and lots of prosocial extracurriculars and no disciplinary record, you can check with her school. 

Check. 

Check. 

Submit. 

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There's no instant response.

Three days later she has an email asking if she is in a position to accept a plane ticket to Shenyang to be interviewed in person.

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!!!!

Yes she is in a position to accept a plane ticket to Shenyang. She talks to her teachers about what she'll have to do to make up the work she'll miss and she tells her parents that she'll be "out with friends for a while" and gets a friend her mother approves of to corroborate it, and then she hops on a plane to Shenyang, almost vibrating with excitement. 

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In Shenyang a young man in the uniform of nonmagical persons employed by the Imperial Court meets her with her name on a sign at the airport. He doesn't speak a ton of English but he can get her to the palace.

The palace is ridiculously luxurious, like it's been kept in perfect repair and refined for two thousand years, which it has. There are magical girls all over the place; it's customary to go about in magical girl garb in the palatial environs.

She is handed off to a uniformed woman with significantly more English. "Welcome to the Palace, Miss Wallace."

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She had enough time before she left to look up some basic social niceties; she bows correctly. "Thank you very much--" she looks for a nametag. 

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It's in Chinese. "This way, please. Your application was received with much appreciation."

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Rhonda started a Duolingo account for Mandarin before she left but since this woman's name doesn't appear to be Li Hua or Zhang Ming she's left in the dark. She follows the woman. "I'm honored to hear that."

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There is a nice waiting room with nice antique furniture. Sitting on one of the antique chairs is some sort of creature.

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She gives the creature a curious glance but staring would be rude and she is GOING to make a GOOD IMPRESSION. 

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The creature hops into her lap as soon as she sits down.

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Well okay then!

"Hello. Nǐhǎo," she adds, in case it gets her any points for cultural sensitivity. 

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Hello. Welcome to the Palace. My name is Kyubey. Please tell me more about what you want to do as a magical girl.

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She blinks in surprise at the telepathy. 

"--Well, I don't know exactly what I'm going to want to do because so much about being a magical girl is unknown or uncorroborated--I hesitated a lot before filling in the wish slot on my application because I knew so little about how wishes work; I've heard dozens of things, some of them contradictory. But I know being a magical girl involves fighting monsters and I think I'm up to the task; I have a very high kinesthetic intelligence. I've never had any formal martial arts training because my mother didn't think it was ladylike but I'm an excellent dancer and I know how to take a fall and how to throw a punch without hurting myself. I also know a little bit of Cossack sword dance but I suspect that that has less applications for actual fighting than it could. I would like to use my powers to combat economic inequality, but I'm not going to do that in any ways that are stupid or illegal; I'm going to be careful and learn what's wise before I do anything." 

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What other wishes did you consider?

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--They PROBABLY have some kind of magical lie detection. 

"I considered wishing for a power that would let me render myself mutually uninteractable with someone--I considered wishing for more liberal economic policy--I considered wishing I spoke Mandarin--I considered wishing I spoke everything."

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Why did you choose teleportation?

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"Because it had the highest total score across the axes of plausibility, usefulness, and personal emotional weight."

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Are you ready now?

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"--I think so. How does wishing work, exactly?"

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The eartendrils of the creature lift up to touch her face. Tell me your wish, from the deepest part of your heart.

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From the deepest part of your heart. 

She thinks about it. Thinks about freedom absolute, thinks about never having to stay someplace she doesn't again. Thinks about being able to do anything she wants--if she hates these guys she could just leave, find deserving rich assholes and steal their knickknacks and hock them and live in motels that accept cash and have wifi and it's now how she'd choose to live but it'd be fine, honestly, and if someone caught up to her she could teleport to Antarctica, and for the hell of it why not imagine being able to teleport to her brother if and only if their parents aren't there--if and only if he's alone and not masturbating, maybe even--

She focuses on the sheer want that fills her with every imagining and says, "I wish I could teleport."

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There is light.

And Rhonda is a magical girl, with the bauble and the fingernail mark and the dress and all.

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Rhonda looks down at her dress--a black cheongsam with bright red dragons embroidered across it and a swishy red shift underneath that goes down to her wrists and ankles, extending from the short sleeves and the slits up to either hip on the cheongsam--and grins, and twirls around, and teleports to the other side of the room, and throws back her head and laughs gleefully. 

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Congratulations! says Kyubey.

The uniformed woman who escorted her in opens the door again. "Miss Wallace? Please come with me and register at the imperial office as soon as you're ready."

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"--Yes ma'am," she says, and takes a deep breath and smooths down the front of her skirt and turns to her cheerfully. 

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At the office Rhonda is supposed to answer a few more questions, but they already have her application information. She is photographed and they invite her to sign up for various introductory magical girl classes (she can do this back in the States, though since she can teleport she can probably do it somewhere else too).

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She grins for the photograph and answers the questions and looks over what classes are available where when. 

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Introductory Monster Hunting, Magical Resource Management, Using Your Powers.

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She signs up for classes. It happens to be convenient to take them all in the States. 

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Then she can go! If she has brought tribute for the Empress she can leave it over there but a lot of people skip that these days.

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Yeah she's gonna skip it. 

She teleports home. Well, what she actually does is teleports just outside of home, and transform back out of her magical girl dress, and stuff her soul gem in her pocket and walk inside from there. 

She can't actually move out right this second. She doesn't have a job or another residential situation lined up. She keeps all her important stuff at friends' houses, so packing isn't an issue, but everything's just changed and she's going to have to reorient herself before she starts burning bridges. 

And it turns out it's a lot easier to cope with her parents when she knows it's optional. She could just teleport the hell out. 

She shows up to the first magical girl class in her dress when it starts (her parents still haven't caught on that they no longer have legal power over her, although she has been justifying her absences less and less).

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Magical Resource Management is about making sure you're charged up! Apparently using magic uses charge, and you need monster byproducts to charge back up. Spiral-y negative thoughts can also use charge, and many magical girls go on antidepressants prophylactically so they can find a side effect profile they can cope with, or a few so they can switch if the prophylactic one turns out not to work should they have a real episode. The girl teaching the class has a photometer so they can see how charged they are now (as a percentage; different girls have different ceilings, and it can even sometimes change over time). If you get all the way to zero you will probably die unless someone rescues you right away. Here is a chart of things that magical girls do (exist, boost their physical actions, use telekinesis, use their special powers, conjure their weapons) and ranges for about how much power they take. Here is how to charge off a witch seed. When you are done with a witch seed you should turn it in to a Court chapter for disposal. There is a market for unused or partially used seeds, for girls who are for whatever reason not doing all the monster hunting they need.

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That seems like maybe a good way to make some extra cash. She would ask more about monster hunting but there is a whole other class for that. She checks how much charge she's already run down and asks how urgently it's important to turn in full seeds and how to tell if a seed is full. 

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She's at 82%. Used seeds can turn into monsters if left alone but you have a couple days. They look different, like so, plus you can't charge off them any more.

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82% isn't an emergency but she should definitely go hunting sooner rather than later. 

She's very attentive when she shows up to Introductory Monster Hunting. 

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Here is how to use your bauble to dowse for monsters. Not every monster has a seed; only the bigger and more difficult ones do. Monsters hide; when you find one you will enter an extradimensional space and will have to contend with mini-monsters, like a beehive, while looking for the monster's center, like a bee queen. When you kill that part dead enough the extradimensional space will collapse and you'll find the seed, if there is one, where you began. Monsters come in many kinds, though some are common and others are one-offs; here are some common ones that can be found and behave similarly all across North America.

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Rhonda wants to know if other teleporters can usually teleport out of a monster from inside it, if teleporting is common enough to have statistics.

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They seem to be able to. In general you can abort and leave a monster if you want to, though getting out isn't going to be easier than going in unless you killed a large proportion of the bees on your way in.

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Good to know. How much combat experience is usual for new magical girls and, if low, how do they usually start off hunting monsters?

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It's low, and many partner with a more experienced magical girl for a while, though some just dive right in and not all of them die doing that.

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How many is "not all" and how does one go about finding a more experienced partner?

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Did she or did she not affirm that she read the FAQ including "Life Expectancy Statistics"? There are websites, this teacher found her mentor on Abracadabra, she also hears good things about Puellae. Going it alone from day one is about 80% likely to get you killed inside a year.

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She read the faq! It didn't have the buddy thing on it! 

She writes down both websites and some other personal notes. 

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Here are some artists' renderings of the insides of common monsters (also called witches, demons, and horrors) with the mini-monsters and center-monsters marked. Any other questions?

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Does she have recommendations for good places to do independent research on survival and strategy?

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There are, again, websites, and also books, some of them very old and translated from Chinese and some of them newer.

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She writes down all the websites and books. 

After class she signs up for Abracadabra and Puellae and starts looking for mentors. 

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This one says she's just graduated a buddy and would take a new one!

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She'd be grateful! Where is she, Rhonda's a teleporter so she can go wherever. 

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> I live in Seattle, but I can fly so I go all over!

she says.

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>Cool! I live in upstate New York, where do you want to meet up?

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> Come by the Seattle chapter and ask for me! If you can't pronounce Shi Qingxuan I also accept Debbie!

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>I've been studying Mandarin since I got my magic, I couldn't hold a conversation but if you tell me the tones I can probably pronounce your name!

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> 1 1 4!

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She sends a thumbs-up emoji and a smiley face. 

Before heading to Seattle, she goes to her final class, Using Your Powers. 

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She might not be able to imitate special unusual powers of other magical girls without going way over her energy budget; it's more efficient to use your own power. But some things are low-effort enough to be available to everyone, like telekinesis, healing (of oneself and others), doing the energy bolts thing and the jumping around on shaped force in midair thing, and generally being especially strong and graceful and fast. She should never get more than a hundred meters from her bauble/ring/ornament, no matter what; this will render her catatonic and deplete her magic quickly. Most magical girls can summon a weapon, in addition to whatever their particular power is. It is not, despite popular myth, the case that all such weapons are equally effective in fighting monsters, and if you get a dud - or don't get one at all - then you should buy, like, a gun or a bunch of them, or a sword or something, and then boost it with magic.

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Rhonda would like some examples of particularly good and bad weapons?

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If you have a small knife, you are going to get shanked by something with more reach than you. If you have a gun, that's better, swords are traditional and work well for people who are good with them, this person in particular has a spear and is pro-spear.

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Do ranged weapons come with free ammo?

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Sometimes they do, sometimes they're limited-shot per and you have to conjure lots of them. They don't appear in the form "useless until you add a few pounds of whatever they have at the gun shop" though.

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Good to know. 

Unless someone else indicates otherwise Rhonda is going to assume they should NOT try to summon their weapons in class to find out what they are. She will wait until afterwards to do so even if this means asking less precisely useful questions. She does ask the question about recommendations for further research again, though. 

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They are actually invited to summon their weapons here but this does cost some magic so she didn't want to assume everyone would want to.

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She wants to know before meeting her sponsor. 

She summons her weapon. It is, in her opinion, an incredibly cool-looking saber. 

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In that case she can recommend specific books (there are the old Chinese variety, by a Mu Qing) and websites about sabers!

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Hooray. 

Rhonda is very cheerful when she teleports to in front of the Seattle chapter and asks for Shī Qīngxuán.

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Shi Qingxuan is easily found by the first person Rhonda asks! She bounces out of the magical resource center cheerfully in her white and baby-blue dress, which is unspeakably frilly. "Hi! You're Rhonda?"

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"Hi! Yes I am! Your dress is really cute!"

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"Yours too, I like the dragons! White and blue, black and red, frilly with sleek, we'll look awesome together. What's your weapon?"

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"I have a kickass saber!"

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"Snazzy! I have a fan. It doesn't sound like a weapon but I make it work."

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"Is it one of those fans with the steel ribs?"

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Shi Qingxuan produces the fan! It's as tall as she is. She whips it open; it looks sharp.

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Rhonda gives an awestruck round of applause. 

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"Thank you, thank you!" She bows.

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"That is so cool. I would show you my sword but I feel like it would be an anticlimax after that fan." 

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"Do you know how to use a sword yet?"

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"I...know how to do a Cossack sword dance? I learned that before becoming a magical girl, it's just a coincidence that this type of sword fits. Aside from that I'm afraid I'm at 'pointy end goes in enemy' levels of expertise; I only made my wish a little while ago." 

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"I've taken sword lessons, let's go get practice swords and spar."

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"Okay!" 

She picks out a practice sword the approximate shape of her sword and tries to stand in a minimally stupid way. 

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Shi Qingxuan grabs one that's similar. "Okay, don't worry about hitting me too hard, you're not gonna. Gimme all you got."

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Well she's definitely going to get her ass kicked but hopefully in an informative way. She lunges forward, aiming for her opponent's knee; it's farther from her arm and probably not a standard target. 

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Shi Qingxuan doesn't actually do more than tap Rhonda, but she does it a lot, and she blocks everything Rhonda throws at her. "Don't feel bad, I'm a hundred twenty, I've picked up a lot of tricks. You're good for a newbie!"

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"I don't feel bad, I knew walking into this I was going to get my ass kicked," she assures her. "I'm learning, which is the point of the exercise." 

She's learning fast, too. She still doesn't have much in the way of form, but she doesn't generally make the same specific mistake twice. 

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"I don't want to teach you anything too specific, 'cause witches're all different, and the way you fight a human is different from fighting an, an octopus with chainsaw arms, or whatever, but the very basics like how to move your feet and keep your grip're about the same. Are you getting the hang of magicking yourself so you don't get tired or anything?"

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"Yeah. I'm trying to be carefullish about charge but this seems like a good investment."

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"Oh, don't worry about that for your first, like, month, at least, I have plenty of seeds, do you need one now?"

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"I dunno about now now but soonish, yeah."

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"Okay, don't leave today without a top-off though! You don't want to flirt with going dark."

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"That I do not. I know the life expectancy statistics aren't great but I don't plan to be on the bottom of the bell curve."

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"Yeaaaaah. It's, you know, mostly people making dumb mistakes their first few times out, but it's hard not to make any. Stick with me, 'kay? It's been a while since I've lost a buddy!"

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"I definitely will! I try pretty hard to avoid dumb mistakes, I think I've managed to train some pretty good habits. But if you see me fucking up I one hundred percent will not be too proud to immediately abort if you call me on it."

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"Cool. And you can teleport, right?"

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"Yeah! One of the first questions I asked in intro to monster hunting class was 'so can I teleport out of the monster if things go FUBAR.'"

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"Cool! So you just need to make sure nothing sneaks up on you and you don't get too dark to bail and you're in great shape. Can you take passengers?"

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"Yeah, I checked with my brother. It costs more charge than teleporting solo but it works."

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"Cool. If I get in deep shit you can pull us out - to here, probably, somebody'll be around and patch us up a bit if we can't do for ourselves. Do you know how to turn pain off?"

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"No, it hasn't really come up and I didn't want to waste charge hurting myself to experiment." 

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"Well, if you want me to hit you a little harder..." She kicks her practice sword into the air, catches it.

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"Go for it." 

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Shi Qingxuan resumes swatting her with the sword, enough to sting till she has the hang of putting the pain away where it can't bother her.

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"Okay, I think I've got it," she reports after a half a dozen swats.

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"All right, good. You don't want that all the way up, you want to notice if something bites you in the ass with six rows of li'l teeth, but you want to be able to keep going if you're down an arm, you know? Anything that can take your arm off can make you regret stopping to fix it. Though I guess you could also just teleport out if that happens to you."

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"I could, but I suspect that if my arm comes off I'm going to have a time stopping the bleeding before blood loss becomes a problem. I mean, I could be wrong, but it's not the kind of thing it's convenient to check in advance." 

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"So, blood loss is actually not as big a deal. You run on magic now. You still want all your blood to stay where it belongs, and in fact on that subject if you never wanna have another period you can do that, but you won't fall unconscious from it."

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"--Those are both really good to know!"

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"Yeah-huh! You can still get dizzy and chilly and blurry and stuff but you will be awake to, uh, enjoy that."

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"Sounds better than the alternative."

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"That's the spirit. Do you want to go out hunting tonight or do you want a bit?"

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"I'm ready if you don't think it's a bad idea. --Although maybe I should top off first. Just in case."

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"Very wise of you!" Shi Qingxuan produces a seed from a beribboned pocket and brightens the both of them up.

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She grins and bounces on the balls of her feet. 

"Do you want to start dowsing here, or elsewhere? I haven't had a chance to try dowsing for real, I didn't want to run into a monster alone the first time, and I don't know where's good to hunt--if monsters are more common where there's lots of people then here or some other city seems good but if they're geographically uniform probably less mobile magical girls don't get to rural monsters as often--"

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"They're more common where there's more people, but so are other magical girls, and if we wind up killstealing or getting kill... stolen... then there can be arguments about who gets the seed. So we split up the area, here, and right now I have this section." She points at a blue pin outline on a large map of Seattle and environs on the wall. "This doesn't mean nobody ever wanders over the edge but it cuts down on the arguments."

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"Neat. I should check what kind of range dowsing has, maybe I could grid-search a rural area really efficiently...but that's for later. Let me just--" she looks up a google street view of the relevant area. "--I target better with a good mental image." She holds out a hand. 

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"Ooh, I was thinking you'd want to save the magic but count me in." Hand.

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"I wished for teleporting, it's pretty cheap." 

And then they are in a random neighborhood inside the blue-pin area. 

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"All right. So, dowsing is a little tricky to get the hang of, but go ahead and give it a go, see if you turn up anything. You might not, sometimes you strike out."

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She nods and turns her soul gem from ring mode into dowsing mode. 

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Shi Qingxuan bounces on the balls of her feet, watching the gem - flicker, there it goes. "Ooh, there's a beastie."

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"Ooh," she says, excited. Is this what people who like fishing feel like when there's a bite on the line? Not important, stay focused, these things kill careless young magical girls. She follows the bauble's direction. By foot, teleporting ahead really would be a frivolous use of charge. 

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Shi Qingxuan follows along, letting Rhonda lead for the dowsing practice.

The witch is hidden behind a dumpster.

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She takes a deep breath, un-baubles her gem, summons her sword, and steps inside. 

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Her buddy is right there behind her. "Oh, I've seen this kind before. Watch out for the - clam things, they're surprisingly mobile for clams, but nothing especially sneaky. We're looking for a toothy pink mermaid with a long strangly tail wrapped around a treasure chest, you gotta take its head off."

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She nods and steps forward, keeping a sharp eye out for clams. 

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There are clams - cartoonishly huge wrinkle-shelled monstrosities that can spring into the air on no notice on their feet and need to be stabbed inside the shell to get them dead. There are slippery floors and the smell of the ocean and tripwires made of seaweed and singing fish on plaques on the ceiling that scream when they pass and everything has a quivery dim quality to it, like they're underwater, though they are not, and an oppressive pressure pops their ears as they make their way through the maze to the center, where there is indeed a strangly mermaid. Shi Qingxuan has at it with her fan.

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Rhonda stabs a very large number of clams and steps carefully over tripwires and she...is not even slightly going to get in Shi Qingxuan's way with that fan. She might try to stab the mermaid in the tail to keep it in one place if that seems useful and otherwise she will just keep the clams off their backs. 

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Stabbing the mermaid in the tail is helpful, or at least not harmful, but the mermaid rips its tail out of the pin, spraying watery clear blood everywhere, rather than hold still. Shi Qingxuan presently beheads it.

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"We got through that with zero life-threatening injuries! Hooray!"

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"Hooray! That was a great first time out, congrats. Do you want to go get celebratory dr- you're a tiny baby, do you want to go get virgin beverages?" says Shi Qingxuan, scooping a seed off the pavement.

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"I am a tiny baby and would love to drink socially responsible fluids," she agrees. 

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Somewhere distinctly southward: 

"Lan Zhaaaan, wait up!" a teenage girl calls to her companion. 

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Lan Zhan continues power-walking. If Wei Ying wants to not be left behind then she can keep up or not flirt with the cashier at the grocery store. 

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"Lan Zhan, you're so mean," Wei Ying half-pouts, half-pants as she catches up. "Do I need to handcuff us together or something?"

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Lan Zhan stops in her tracks as she briefly short-circuits at the idea of having Wei Ying handcuffed to her. 

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Wei Ying is sufficiently behind her that she smacks into her abruptly immobile friend and bounces off, landing on her butt on the pavement. "Oof." 

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Lan Zhan immediately turns around, concerned. "Are you alright?"

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"I'm fine, I'm fine," she says, dusting herself off as she gets her legs under her and pushes herself upright again. "--Oh, I spilled the rest of my soda, though," she sighs. At least none of it got on her. 

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"I am sorry." 

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She waves a hand. "It's whatever, there wasn't that much left." 

She looks around for a recycling receptacle. 

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Someone near the nearest recycling receptacle is taking things out of it. She looks at the approaching Wei Ying, holds out her hand questioningly. The hand has a white crown-shape on one fingernail, and a ring with a white jewel around one finger. "Excuse me, may I?"

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"Yeah, sure." She hands it over. "Are you okay?"

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"I'm all right, thank you." She puts the soda bottle in her bag.

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"I don't think I've ever seen a homeless magical girl before." 

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"Wei Ying." You're being rude.

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(Wei Ying ignores this.)

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Shrug. "I'm not very magical."

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"It comes in amounts?"

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"Eh, something like that. It's a long story."

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"We'll buy you lunch if you tell us about it!" For values of "we" that mean Lan Zhan will pay for lunch and Wei Ying will listen raptly. 

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"...it was so long ago, I don't know that I'd remember quite how it went, but I can give it a try if you want very much to know."

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"I don't know much about how magical girls work at all. Everything is hearsay from thirdhand sources. I can at least upgrade to firsthand hearsay!"

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"I guess you can!" She slings her bag of bottles over her shoulder and strikes out for a taqueria.

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Wei Ying follows brightly. 

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Lan Zhan...also follows. She could theoretically put a stop to this nonsense by refusing to buy everyone lunch but she is empirically not doing that. 

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Wei Ying orders the spiciest thing on the menu. 

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Their bottle-collecting new friend gets a burrito.

"A long, long time ago," she says, "I did something I regretted very much, and I asked someone to seal away my magic, so it could never happen again."

A closer inspection of her ring will reveal that it's crisscrossed with dark lines, almost like a stray hair got wrapped around the stone.

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"You can do that?"

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"I don't know if most people can do that. The person I asked could."

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"Did you know she could beforehand? Why could she do it if other magical girls can't?"

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"Well, different ones have different powers, depending on our wishes. And some are more powerful than others."

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"How do wishes actually work? What makes one magical girl more powerful than another?"

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"The more powerful ones are the ones who - wanted their wishes the most, I think."

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"What did you wish for?"

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"Wei Ying." What an intrusive question!

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"Sorry. You don't have to answer that."

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"It was a long time ago. In another language in another country."

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"我们说汉语. 我姓魏, 她叫我魏婴, 不婴魏."*

 

*"We speak Chinese. My surname is Wei and she called me Wei Ying, not Ying Wei."

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"It wasn't modern Mandarin."

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"You know what, that is super fair. Why did you feel the need to seal off your powers instead of just not doing the thing again, if you had already learned that it was a bad idea?"

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"If you'd asked me when I was your age if I would ever fall so far I would've laughed at you. I could make a mistake twice."

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"People mostly don't make huge mistakes that hurt lots of people! ...Right? I mean, even magical girls don't do it very often, on average, probably." 

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(Lan Zhan is making a Deeply Concerned Face.)

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"They probably don't, you're right."

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"So probably you wouldn't again!"

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"Ah, I appreciate your faith in this total stranger."

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"It's not that much faith."

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Shrug. "Lots of people don't have magic and aren't immortal, you know."

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"Hm...yeah. People dying isn't great. Do you know why more people aren't magic? And why it's never boys?"

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"Sometimes it can be boys who want to turn into girls, actually, but I don't know why it's never boys who want to stay that way. It's not anyone who wants it because you have to want your wish just so, I think."

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"I guess that makes sense...can you wish for other people to be immortal, even if they aren't magical girls?"

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"Probably! I don't remember if I've ever heard of someone doing that though."

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"There are some people I'd like to be immortal. Hm. Lan Zhan, do you think you could want your brother immortal enough? If that's a wish we could do, then it makes sense to focus on the boys, who maybe for some reason can't wish at all--your brother and my brother and your uncle and Uncle Jiang--"

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"Probably." Wei Ying is the person she has the strongest feelings about, but Brother is a close second. 

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"You're thinking you'd apply?"

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"I'd consider it, at least. I have questions about the way Jun Wu does things."

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"I have a lot of respect for her."

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"If I were Empress of Magic I'd have a research division and make sure everyone knew things about magical girls and monsters from a reliable source." 

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"Maybe she has a research division. I haven't been to court in a long time."

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"But she doesn't tell people things! You are literally the most credible source on magic I have ever encountered!"

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She chuckles softly. "Maybe all her decisions were made long ago and she just hasn't updated them."

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"Maybe. It's the kind of thing I'd want to know. And what's up with monsters, anyway?"

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"...what do you mean, what's up with them?"

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"Like, what are they, why is it magical girls that fight them instead of dudes with hunting rifles, what happens if nobody fights them, what actually are they, where do they come from, stuff like that."

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"Dudes with hunting rifles can't see them - that's also why there are no photos. If nobody fights them they kill people, usually not by eating them but nonetheless. They can bud. What they are I don't know, exactly, people talk about them being made of resentful energy but I don't know if that's real."

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"If it's not a big deal that you got your magic sealed instead of fighting them then why don't more magical girls do more things that aren't hunting monsters?"

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"...oh, I do fight them. It's possible to kill them without doing any magic. You just need to be very good with a sword."

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"What do they look like, when you can see them?"

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"All different ways. I'm not an artist, you can see drawings from girls who are online probably. The most common one around here looks like an abortion clinic for some reason."

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She makes a face. "If they're so dangerous, how come nobody has managed to wipe them out by now?"

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"Lots of people die trying. And sometimes they must - mutate or something, because occasionally there are new kinds. I guess this is sort of like asking why there are still mosquitoes."

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She looks alarmed. "How many monsters are there? Like, per capita or per area or whatever."

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"...I can usually find one when I look? And I think most girls can."

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"Why do we not hear about people being killed by these things more often? Non-magical people."

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"It looks like other kinds of death. Suicides and murders usually, which can look like accidents, or sometimes - diseases or poisonings or other things."

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"Do you know what the ratio of monster-deaths to real-deaths in those categories is?"

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Headshake.

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"Okay, I'm gonna see if I can find anything out about that. It sounds really worrisome."

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"...more than monsters killing people some other way?"

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"If monsters killed people some monster-specific way, the fact that you don't hear about people being killed by monsters would indicate an upper bound on people killed by monsters. You hear about people dying of suicide or murder or accident or disease all the time."

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"I don't think it's all monsters. But I don't know how much."

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"It can't be. Diseases are definitely real and accidents definitely happen and I would be astonished if people never killed themselves or each other without monsters being involved. But a lot of it could be monsters. And it sounds a lot easier to solve 'monsters' than all the reasons someone might decide to commit murder on their own."

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"This would kill all the magical girls," she mentions.

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"It would?"

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"We need monster seeds."

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"Okay...would it be possible to domesticate monsters? Keep them contained and away from people? Maybe feed them animals?"

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"I don't think they eat animals but maybe there are some that can."

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"Okay, then, solving the problem of monsters would involve finding some that can eat animals and breeding them somewhere they can't get at people before wiping out the other ones," she says decisively. 

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(Wei Ying is so good.)

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"That sounds like a pretty good idea."

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"Thanks! You've been really helpful."

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"Thanks for the food."

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"You're welcome!" she says, blithely overlooking the fact that Lan Zhan totally paid for the food. 

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Lan Zhan doesn't have a lot of actual cash on her, but this woman was collecting recyclables for redemption, she clearly needs whatever she can get. She digs a couple of twenties out of her bag and presses them on the woman. 

"Thank you for your patience."

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"Oh, I - thank you." She is not especially in a position to turn down a couple twenties. They go in a hoodie pocket.

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"You are welcome," she says, before departing with her friend. 

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Over the next few weeks, Wei Ying does as much research into magical girls and monsters as she can dig up. 

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The Imperial Court publishes very basic need-to-know level information about magical girls and monsters. With particularly diligent searching, she can also find:

- conspiracies that magical girls (either in general or some subset) deliberately farm witches so they can harvest them
- theories that monsters are imaginary actually and just the excuse magical girls give for lording it over people
- rumors about there being domesticated monsters that give magical girls their powers
- screeds about how racist it is that so many magical girls are Chinese, even the ones who were actually born in other countries and especially the older and more important ones
- concerns about wishes being monkey's-paw bargains that never work out right
- explicit erotica shipping the Imperial Secretary, Ling Wen, with basically everyone else who has ever been seen in a room with her

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She cross-references these theories and rumors against each other, checking which ones are believed by how many credible people and which ones only seem to be believed by crackpots, and what any actual magical girls have to say about them. 

(Also, who is Imperial Secretary Ling Wen and why is she the RPF bicycle?)

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Absolutely nothing about Ling Wen's internet footprint beyond the fanfic itself suggests that the bicycling has any basis in fact, And Yet. She seems to do administrative management and records keeping for the Imperial Court.

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She starts making inquiries. She tries to find websites that magical girls frequent and ask them questions, and she asks RPF writers what's so appealing about Ling Wen. 

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Magical girls frequent sites such as various password-protected Imperial fora and informal sites such as Abracadabra and Puellae. They do things like monster tracking, monster-type name contests, meetups for sparring and hanging out, bickering about local chapter leadership elections, and getting into side arguments about the statute of limitations on people who made wishes like a really long time ago that were not, to the modern turn of mind, strictly ethical.

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She finds some sites where people are discussing monsters that aren't locked to just magical girls and asks if anyone knows anything about monsters who can feed off animals. 

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(The RPF writers who get back to her are divided among "idk it's just what we do in this fandom", "she's hot", "her job sounds super fake so probably she slept her way into it", and "look at this photo from 1918 of her and Jun Wu, look at how they're LOOKING at each other" about a perfectly unremarkable black and white photograph in which the parties are making eye contact at all.)

Someone is sure a monster killed her cat. Someone says in Indonesia there's a folk superstition that if you do enough cockfighting the monsters will be appeased.

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She asks if the cat person knows anything about what kind of monster the cat-killer was and makes inquiries about monster varietals in Indonesia. 

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Cat person is not magical and cannot see monsters but Mr. Meow would never run away.

Monster trackers in Indonesia are... written in Indonesian. With the help of Google Translate she can determine that the common types there are called (something that translates as) "evil mosque", "corpse flower", and "liquor river", but there are other less frequent sorts.

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She makes inquiries in less magical-girl-related circles she frequents whether anyone is interested in helping her translate something from Indonesian. 

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It's not widely spoken but if she is willing to pay money this guy knows somebody!

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Laaaaaaan Zhaaaaaaan?

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--Yeah okay this is a legitimately valuable project. 

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She is totally willing to pay money!

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Hand-translation of the Indonesian websites confirms the "corpse flower", "evil mosque", and "liquor river" monster types endemic to the region but does not indicate that the magical girls think any of them are eating animals or appeased by cockfighting.

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Hmm. Mildly disappointing, but she wasn't placing a ton of confidence in folk superstitions anyway. 

She continues poking around magical girl websites making inquiries, being careful not to be rude or repetitive enough for people to just dismiss her as a sockpuppet or a troll. 

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Eventually, when she has explained where she's getting her information:

noon9834: where did you say you met this girl?
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Why?

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noon9834: sounds like someone I know
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Tell me something about her I would know from having had lunch with her but haven't mentioned online. 

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noon9834: white gem
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Ok now convince me you're not a creepy stalker

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noon9834: at this point is there anything I could tell you where you wouldn't go "that sounds like what a creepy stalker would say"
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You could tell me something about yourself that if I run into her again I could mention it to her and she'd be like "yeah I know who you're talking about and they're definitely not a creepy stalker"

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noon9834: we last spoke a long time ago, she probably doesn't remember me
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You pretty clearly remember her. 

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noon9834: yes
noon9834: I don't think I made much of an impression at the time
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I recognize that the space of things that would be evidence that you aren't a stalker is pretty limited but that is farther outside that boundary than MANY things.

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noon9834 does not reply.

 

Later that week, Wei Ying is kidnapped out of her bed.

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What the fuck.

What the fuck!?

It looks like some of the artists' renditions of monsters she's seen--holy shit is she being eaten by a monster--if she is then probably this is not related to her trying to solve the monster problem but this SURE IS SUSPICIOUS. 

She yanks against her bonds, trying to test their strength. 

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They have enough give that she can shift position but she can't get out or break them.

It's a pretty witch, and not exactly like any of the ones she's seen drawn; it's themed around flowers and blood and silver butterflies. There is a silver butterfly on her shoulder, in fact.

When she starts moving, a curtain of flowers parts, and a magical girl dressed in red enters.

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She stops struggling. 

None of the monster-stuff is attacking this magical girl. 

Which means she's got some kind of cooperative relationship with it, or is controlling it in some way, or maybe is just making it ignore her. 

Which makes it WAY MORE LIKELY that her capture had an intelligence behind it. 

"So are you noon9384 or someone who objects to my monster-related inquiries?"

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"Call me Noon for short."

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"Why isn't the monster attacking you? Are you controlling it or working with it in some way? Do you know things about monsters?"

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"I know a lot of things about monsters. I can tell you about them if you tell me where to find her."

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"You realize that kidnapping me makes you about a BILLION times more suspicious, right?"

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"I am no longer trying to learn what I need to know by being unsuspicious."

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Sigh. 

"So are we starting with waterboarding or fingernail splinters."

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"Is that what it's going to take?"

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"I'm not gonna sell out someone like her to a creepy stalker! She seemed nice. She had her own powers bound so she wouldn't hurt anyone! I would say I won't talk even under torture but I've read about torture and apparently almost everyone will break and talk within three days. I think it was three days."

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"It is good of you to try to protect her.

I don't wish her any harm."

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She looks slowly up and down her own restraints and gives noon a profoundly unimpressed look. 

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"Whether I wish you harm is a separate question. But she is safe from me."

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"Oh, sure, I was going to protect her from you, but since you say so, I'll definitely ignore the only available evidence with regards to whether you harm people."

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"Is she safe now?"

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"Is anybody safe in this world?"

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"Some more than others."

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"Well, she's survived long enough for Mandarin to change into a different language, I think she can take care of herself. Against monsters. You, I would make fewer bets about. After all, you say you've survived a while too."

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"Jiejie is older than me."

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"See, you say that, but also I'm still not betting her well-being on the things you say with your face hole. And it's not like she could confirm or deny if she doesn't remember you. Isn't it kind of presumptuous to call someone Jiejie who doesn't know you from the weaver girl?"

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"I've called her it before. Do you have a way to contact her, to ask if she recalls?"

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"Not that I can be sure wouldn't tell you where she was, considering that you kidnapped me based on internet conversations where I didn't tell you where I was!"

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"All I want is to help her. Does she have friends? Does she have a house? If you can tell me with a straight face that she's doing fine, that she's happy, I will let you go without further ado."

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"I didn't ask her about any of that! She didn't seem unhappy but she did seem to, uh, have some resource constraints, if you let me go and give me a hundred bucks I'll do my best to make sure she gets it." 

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"Suppose I let you go, give you fifty thousand bucks, and if it shows up in your expenditures, we will have to have another conversation."

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"That seems reasonable. I mean, I'm not super thrilled with the part where it would involve you stalking me, but you'd be trusting me with fifty thousand bucks and have already kidnapped me, so, within the available bounds, super reasonable."

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"If it is any consolation, someone who was very good at stalking people would not have needed to kidnap you."

The wall releases Wei Ying.

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She rolls her shoulders. 

"I don't know enough about stalking to confirm or deny that but sure, I guess it makes me feel a little better." 

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She leans back through the curtain of flowers, says something in a language Wei Ying does not speak, and retrieves fifty thousand dollars in a paper bag inside a heavy-duty plastic one to give to Wei Ying.

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Wow. Okay. Wei Ying takes the bag with the gingerness of someone who has never seen that much money in one place before. 

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"If you get it to her successfully, you can keep a few hundred for your trouble. If you can't, you can tell Noon where to pick it up."

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"Cool cool cool." 

This is EXTREMELY WEIRD. She tucks the bag under her arm and looks around for any kind of exit. 

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The flower curtain parts for her. Flower curtains continue to part for her, leading her through corridors till she is spat out on the curb of a strip mall trash alley.

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Cool. 

She...doesn't have her phone on her. Or any money not part of weird-maybe-stalker's gift. Well. Time to find out if hitchhiking is as dangerous as Madam Yu always said. 

She is pleasantly unsurprised to find out that it is not, or at least didn't happen to be on this particular occasion, although being in her nightgown did get her plenty of odd looks. She is very pleasantly surprised to discover that she hasn't been gone so long that she can't sneak back into the house before Madam Yu or Uncle Jiang notice she was gone. 

As soon as she reaches her phone again, she calls Lan Zhan. 

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Lan Zhan picks up on the first ring. Wei Ying never voluntarily wakes up before nine, and it is barely past Lan Zhan's own preferred rising time of five. And it's a Saturday. "Wei Ying?" she asks, deeply concerned. 

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"Okay, so first of all, don't panic." 

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Absurd. Lan Zhan would never panic. Panic is deeply inconducive to solving problems. She does, however, get some pre-emptive Deep Concern going. 

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"So I slightly got kidnapped,"

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WHAT. 

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"It's fine, they let me go, I'm back, but, like, it appears to have been about that magical girl we had lunch with. Remember what I told you about noon9834?"

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"Yes." This sounds LESS THAN MAXIMALLY FINE.

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"Well, it turns out they have some ability to control monsters or something," and then she recounts her encounter with "Noon," adding a few stylistic embellishments and eliding over the bit where torture was discussed. 

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"There could be a tracking device on the money." 

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"The thought had occurred to me. Do you wanna come over and help me look for one? 'Cause I think she could probably use fifty thousand bucks." 

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"Fine." Lan Zhan is not convinced that this is a good idea, but hey, free excuse to hang out with Wei Ying. 

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"Awesome. Thanks!" she says brightly, and hangs up. 

Wei Ying does not tell her siblings about the kidnapping thing; they know about her new interest in monsters, but they don't have all the context that Lan Zhan does, and she doesn't want to unnecessarily worry them. 

Wei Ying and Lan Zhan don't find anything by physically searching the bills. Wei Ying "borrows" a geiger counter from their school's science lab and they fail to find anything that way. They try placing various radio receivers near the bag and twisting the dial to see if it picks up any kind of signal from it. 

This is probably not actually the state of the art in finding tracking devices but it's what they think of to try. 

The next time Lan Zhan goes to visit her brother at Stanford and Wei Ying tags along, she brings the bag, stuffed into her backpack, and keeps a sharp eye out for homeless magical girls. 

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Homeless magical girls do not appear to be lurking near Stanford.

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While Lan Zhan and her brother are having sibling time that Wei Ying shouldn't intrude upon, she explores the city, starting in the vicinity of that one Mexican place. 

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With enough concerted looking she can locate a shabby magical girl depositing bottles into the machine at a grocery store.

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Wei Ying waves. "Hi! Remember me?"

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"- hi! Sorry, I'm not great at faces...?"

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"I asked you a ton of questions and bought you a burrito."

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"Oh, yes, I remember that. Did you think of more questions?"

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"Sort of! I asked a bunch of questions online, and someone wanted to know where I got the information I already had, and I mentioned you in general terms, and," she pulls out a printout of her conversation with noon9834 and hands it to her. 

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"...huh. I have no idea who that is."

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"I made a sketch of her after she kidnapped me but if you're bad with faces it probably won't help. Did you ever meet someone with the power to control monsters? That's my best guess at what was going on with her but I could be wrong." 

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"I've heard... rumors? I don't think I've met anyone with that power."

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"Fair. Anyway, she kidnapped me, in my sleep, I woke up inside what I can only assume was a monster, I have a sketch of that too," she produces said sketch, "she continued to want to know where you were and assert that she didn't mean you any harm, I was EXTREMELY skeptical of this on account of the kidnapping, we bantered for a little while, she called you Jiejie and said she'd done it before, she inquired after your well-being, I told her that you seemed basically okay but plausibly resource-constrained, and she gave me fifty thousand bucks to give you and let me go." She digs out the bag of money and holds it out. "I can't swear that it doesn't have a tracking device on it but we couldn't find one."

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"I am so sorry that happened to you and really wish I had any idea why it did! I'm sure lots of people have called me jiejie, I lived in China for hundreds of years and it's just what you call a girl who is older than you if you're friendly, or casual, or six years old." She flips through the stacks of bills, a bit disbelieving.

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"I would have been less concerned by her acting casual and friendly towards you if it weren't for all the stalker tendencies and the kidnapping," she explains. "I'm fine, I didn't even get caught out of the house, Lan Zhan was more upset about it than me when I told her." 

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"Your quiet friend?"

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"Uh huh! She's my best friend, her brother goes to university nearby."

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"Oh, you don't even live around here and you got threatened into couriering to me?"

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"Well it's not like your stalker knew where you were! That's the whole point."

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"Well, I'm not sure who wants to stalk me and give me thousands of dollars. I'm just going to try not to worry too much about that, I guess."

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"Good luck. I guess being as old as you are gives you plenty of time to accumulate stalkers."

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"I guess! I'd expect most people have forgotten about me more or less by now."

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"You don't have to be especially interesting along any particular axis to attract a stalker, it can happen to anyone."

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"I guess I don't know much about it."

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"Teenage girls these days get all kinds of advice on not getting assaulted by guys."

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"Isn't this one a girl?"

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"Yeah, but I assume the same stalking-related principles apply."

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"...well, what's the advice?"

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"Call the police. Not super applicable in this case. The stuff I'm thinking of as applying is less the what to do and more the not-victim-blaming stuff."

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"Hm?"

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"Like, the fact that you have a stalker doesn't mean that you encouraged them or did anything wrong to make them decide to stalk you, stalkers can pick anyone as a target for any reason."

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"...that doesn't seem like advice. It seems sort of like the opposite of advice, if there's nothing to be done."

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"The advice is to not make things worse when a stalking situation already exists by assuming someone must have fucked up when they didn't."

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"All right. Well, thank you for not assuming I have done wrong, apart from the part where I already told you that I have been known to do so very badly."

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"Just because you did one thing wrong doesn't mean you did any given other thing wrong. And I think probably if this were related to that she wouldn't be giving you fifty thousand bucks. Admittedly that is not usual stalker behavior."

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"No? What do they usually do?"

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"...It probably depends on the stalker, but like, the kidnapping is consistent, and so is the tracking people down without their consent...I've heard about stalkers taking illicit pictures and stealing underwear."

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"Well. With fifty thousand dollars I can probably afford new underwear."

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"Hmm." She opens her phone and looks something up. "The Internet says on a first pass that the most dangerous kind of stalking is intimate partner stalking and that one of the greatest dangers of being stalked is psychological disturbance from fear, so... don't date her unless she promises to stop stalking you, probably. But if you want to get in touch with her I can give you her user name on the site I met her."

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"I have never dated anyone!"

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"Then I assume you're less likely to be intimate partner stalked! She's noon9834 on swordchicks dot com. Do with that as you will."

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"I do not have, uh, a great up to date understanding of the internet."

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"...Oh. Uh, what do you want to know? When was the last time you acquired any internetformation?"

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"A librarian has helped me use some job posting sites? Mostly Craigslist."

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"Okay, do you want to go to a library and I can show you stuff?"

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"It might be I should buy a phone first thing."

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"That is possible. Do you know where a phone store is or should I look one up."

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"I know where to find one. I don't know if it's a particularly good phone store, of course."

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"Which kind is it?"

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"T-Mobile."

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"They're not the worst. Lead on."

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She starts off up a hill. "I don't know that I ever told you my name. I'm Xie Lian. Sometimes people render that as 'Lee-anne' and that's fine too."

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"Hey, I told you, I'm Wei Ying and not Ying Wei. I can handle Xie Lian."

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"Sure. Just, if someone is looking for Lee-anne that might be me."

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Thumbs-up. "You got it."

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The T-Mobile store is not very far away.

"That's kind of a lot of cash," says the phone guy when Xie Lian is ready to pay.

"I'm a stripper," she tells him blandly.

"Oh. Uh... huh."

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"I'm her niece," Wei Ying lies smoothly when he starts giving her looks for being a minor hanging out with a supposed sex worker. Then she starts looking at phones and giving Xie Lian advice.

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Xie Lian gets a midrange smartphone and the patient store person shows her the basics of how to use it.

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Wei Ying waits until they're done and have gone outside before she starts explaining the Internet. Her explanation isn't one hundred percent coherent but she's pretty good at backing up and clarifying things.

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Xie Lian follows along pretty ably considering she is hundreds of years old. She does not seem particularly eager to visit swordchicks.com and check out Noon though.

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That is 100% her own business! 

Eventually she looks at the time and says, "I should meet back up with Lan Zhan soon, wanna come?"

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"Sure!"

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Meeting up with Lan Zhan entails taking a bus to nearish Stanford, where Lan Zhan departs from a college-aged boy who looks pretty similar to her and walks over to Wei Ying. 

She nods politely to Xie Lian. "You found her." 

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"I did! And gave her the money. And helped her get a cell phone. And her name's Xie Lian and white people might know her as Lee-Anne."

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"I am glad you are well, Xie Lian."

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"Thank you."

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"I am sorry you have attracted the attention of a kidnapper."

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"I'm sorry Wei Ying attracted the attention of a kidnapper!"

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"It is not your fault." But Lan Zhan is ALSO VERY SORRY ABOUT THIS FACT. 

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"Unless it is because I horribly wronged this person centuries ago, and their generosity is a clever ruse, which I can't rule out! But apparently it is not in fashion to dwell on this while being stalked."

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"Even if that was so, it still wouldn't make it your fault I got kidnapped unless you knew someone kidnap-happy was after you and didn't warn us."

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"I do not know this. I am mystified."

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"It would have been convenient if you knew what was going on but I don't blame you for not."

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"Maybe she was just wrong about who I was. There are only so many gem colors, it could be a coincidence."

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"Maybe I'll ask her to specify the name of her target when I tell her the fifty K was successfully delivered."

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"I guess I shouldn't spend much of it, in case she wants it back if I'm the wrong person."

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"She kidnapped me about you, you can keep the money."

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"Yes, but suppose she kidnaps me about the money."

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"I see your point. I will text you when I confirm the name."

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"Thanks." Wei Ying can be the first contact in her new phone.

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Wei Ying puts her in her phone as "Xie Lian 🌯💸🔮"

All of the contacts in her phone have emoji. There's an "A-Cheng 😠😤💜" a "Jiejie 💜🍵💜" and a "Lan Zhan ❤️🐰🐇" among others.

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"I understand the money and the burrito."

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"It was the closest thing to a soul gem I could find ."

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"Fair enough."

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Wei Ying does not contact Noon as soon as she gets home. She waits until she's gone several more places, places she went before she started asking questions. 

But when she has, she messages noon9834: 

I delivered the money. I also gave her your info in case she wants to contact you.

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noon9834: thank you
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You're welcome. She expressed concern that you might be talking about someone else; she's not the only one with a white soul gem. Tell me her name.

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noon9834: suppose I tell you one radical from each character, so you can confirm but not track her down if it was someone else after all.
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You know what, that's legit. 

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noon9834: Speech radical and heart radical.
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Yeah, that's right. Cool. 

She takes a picture of the conversation history and texts it to Xie Lian. 

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I still have no idea who this is!

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But at least if she kidnaps you it won't be for spending her money!

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I suppose that's true! Thank you.

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I will let you know if I find anything else out. 

She goes back to messaging noon9834. 

So what happened that has you fifty thousand bucks worth of concerned about her but left her with no memory of you?

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noon9834 does not reply.

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She does not remember you and has no idea who you are and I promised her I'd share details if I found them. I will not give you free access to her on account of the kidnapping thing but I am an available line of communication if there's anything you'd like to say to her. 

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noon9834: Let me know if she runs out of money or needs anything else.
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If I cared about someone fifty thousand bucks' worth and hadn't seen them in, what, centuries, I would have something to say to them.

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There is again no reply.

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Hey, you kidnapped me! I think that skips us over the intimacy levels where we can't talk about this stuff.

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Why don't you want her to know more things? Knowing things usually helps people be better off or stay safer than if they did not know things. 

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What if you tell my friend Lan Zhan? She's kind of mad at you for kidnapping me but if she thinks you have a good reason for not telling then she'll keep it secret. And she's really smart and sensible.

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noon9834: How would this possibly improve on telling you?
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She didn't promise to tell Xie Lian anything!

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noon9834: That hardly guarantees she won't.
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Well, you can talk to her and see if you think she will. 

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Noon does not dignify this with a response.

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When I met her, she was scavenging recyclables for deposit from the trash. We bought her lunch in exchange for answering questions. Money is a real good start. But she thinks she needs her powers sealed to prevent her from getting people killed and she kills monsters with just an ordinary sword! Something needs to change.

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noon9834: Well, if you tell me where to find her, I can help her.
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I told her I wouldn't and gave her your info! If you want to tell me anything to tell her to convince her to get in touch with you you are welcome to.

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Apparently not.

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What are you even planning to DO with her location if you won't talk to her?

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Apparently it is Wei Ying she is not talking to.

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After a little while:

Wei Ying asked me to contact you.

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Apparently this is not enough to garner a response.

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Hey. Respond to Lan Zhan. 

 

Hey. Hey. Hey. 

 

You know you can't abandon this account because it's the only one I or Lan Zhan or Xie Lian know and Lan Zhan'n me are the only ones who know where she is, right? And you can't just ignore all my messages because I might slip up and say something revealing. So I have INFINITE PESTERING YOU POWER. 

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Infinite pestering power does not actually get an answer.

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my little brother will tell you that INFINITE PESTERING POWER is not something you want me to have over you! and my little brother is a lil bit of a grouch but he's probably not wrong. 

 

hey. hey. hey.

 

guess what? chickenbutt

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I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, 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everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes: I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, everybody's nerves, I know a song that gets on everybody's nerves, and this is how it goes:

Permalink Mark Unread

Not even filling the character limit with song lyrics works.

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Lan Zhan has asked me if using Infinite Pestering Power has ever worked out for me, ever, and that maybe I should "apologize" for "being obnoxious" before you kidnap me about it again.

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If her apology is accepted, it is accepted silently.

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She texts Xie Lian again. 

Can I not tell you stuff I learn if not telling you is a requirement for learning it?

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You don't have to tell me stuff, it's fine.

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Cool. 

She messages Noon again. 

I got her permission to not tell her stuff. Will you talk to me if I promise not to tell her anything without getting you to agree to it first? For values of "get you to agree" that mean like "convince you it's actually a good idea, and you say so with words," not that mean "pester you a bunch and call it good."

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noon9834: What good would it do for you to be more informed?
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How long have you been doing this alone?

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noon9834: Doing what?
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You know what.

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noon9834: What makes you think I'm alone?
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She considers this. 

Monsters don't count. Unless they're people? I don't get the impression monsters are people.

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noon9834: I talk to people.
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Well of course you talk to people.

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You seem alone. I can't point to any specific evidence, but you don't feel to me like the kind of person who has backup they can trust. 

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Will you at least tell me things about monsters?

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The reason you should tell me things is in order to convince me that telling you where Xie Lian is is not a TERRIBLE idea. 

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noon9834: What do monsters have to do with that?
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nothing I just got bored of asking you for the other stuff

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You're the one who wants me to be convinced to tell you where she is!

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I am TRYING, okay.

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Fine. 

She continues her monster inquiries elsewhere. She texts Xie Lian on a regular basis. She stops messaging Noon. 

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(Lan Zhan is quietly relieved that Wei Ying has decided to stop poking the kidnapper.)

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Rhonda improves very, very fast. 

She quickly adopts a style involving dual-wielding her sabers, only partly because she's already familiar with doing so because of the Cossack sword dance thing. She's very cautious and scrupulous about following her mentor's safety advice, but within the area she feels confident in, she dishes out destruction to monsters and familiars with ever-growing ease. 

"When I graduate, how much experience do you think I should get before I start offering to mentor younger girls?" she asks, one afternoon. "You've been really awesome and I want to pay it forward."

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"Aww! I think you should be at least, like, twenty or so. You can give people tips and spare seeds younger than that but being responsible for two people instead of just one in a real witch is tricky. I would say twenty-five but teleporting is a hell of a backup plan."

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"That makes sense. Although in that case I should probably work harder on being safe for people to be within touching range of while I'm killing things, 'whirling dervish of death' is a good look on me but it's not the most passenger-friendly thing I've ever done."

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"It is not! You could stand on a force platform and let your mentee grab your ankle?"

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"I feel like that would involve the mentee having to deal with more than their fair share of monster bullshit. But maybe. I can experiment when I find weaker monsters that handicapping myself with weird experiments shouldn't kill me in."

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"Smart! One of the little bubblegum ones, maybe, catch it early before the gumballs hatch."

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Nod. "Rule zero: don't get overconfident and take stupid risks."

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"Rule zero, funny. Do you have other ones?"

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"Rule one: keep track of your soul gem's current charge, don't just assume you'll be okay. Rule two: check to make sure a movie or album or book or whatever isn't reviewed as incredibly depressing before consuming it. Rule three: Don't piss people off for no reason. Rule four: if you're in a shitty mood, eat some chocolate or punch something about it before it can drain too much charge."

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"You could go on the prophylactic Zoloft, you know. I'm on it."

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"I'm still working with my doctor to figure out which antidepressant works best for me in the long run. And antidepressants don't prevent all bad moods anyway. If I run into my parents it's going to ruin my day no matter what chemicals are hanging out in my bloodstream."

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"Good reason to live in another city!"

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"Yeah, but I still visit my brother sometimes. I might quit that if he insists on maintaining close ties to Mom after he turns eighteen, but," shrug. "It's not his fault he isn't eligible to skip out sooner."

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"Kidnap him and teleport him to Disneyland and drop him off six blocks from his house."

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"I don't generally run into our parents when I visit him, and there are other potentially day-ruining things that could happen to me. I want to be prepared, is all."

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"There goes your perfectly good excuse to go to Disneyland!"

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"Like I need an excuse! Want to go to Disneyland?"

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"Hell yeah I do!"

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She grins and grabs her mentor's hand and teleports them to Disneyland. 

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Where they can have a lovely time! Shi Qingxuan still loves flying best but roller coasters take no charge.

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"Can you get that kind of scary high flying?" she asks, giggling, as they debark a particularly twisty roller coaster. "Or is it one of those things like how it's harder to tickle yourself than someone else."

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"I can fling myself and then stop controlling it for a bit!"

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"Oh, fun. I bet that doesn't have such abrupt twists, though." 

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"Well, once someone dared me to fly into a tornado. ...but I got scared and killed the tornado."

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"Aren't tornadoes filled with a ton of debris? That may have been for the best." 

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"Yeah it was a pretty dumb thing to do."

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"You know what I'd do if I could fly? I'd go over Niagara falls and pull out before I hit rock."

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"Well, you can teleport, but as your buddy I am obligated to tell you that this might do you serious injury."

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"I haven't worked out a reliable way to use teleporting to cancel momentum yet. Or, rather, I have yet to develop the reflexes to reliably do it in time for it to be safe for high speeds yet. Nnnnnot gonna try any daredevil stunts until I've got that down cold."

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"Very sensible!"

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"I really don't want to die! I extra special don't want to win a Darwin Award!"

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"A what?"

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"It's a mocking award they give people who died in super dumb ways to congratulate them on making the gene pool better by exiting it."

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"Wow, that's so mean."

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"It's not something I would tell aliens I was trying to impress with the quality of humanity, no."

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"Ha! What would you tell them?"

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"Ice cream and really cool mentors."

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"Awwwww." Shi Qingxuan pats her on the head.

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Rhonda beams and tilts her head into the patting.

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"Cuuutest buddy."

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"Takes one to know one," she says, flicking one of Qingxuan's frills. 

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"It does! I am very adorable."

When they are through at Disneyland they can go home and patrol their area for witches.

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Rhonda locates one, and steps through the barrier into a monster filled with flowers and blood and silver butterflies. 

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"Oh, I've seen these, they're - harmless to us, I assume they eat people but they -" The witch barrier spits them back out whence they came. "Disappear when magical girls go in 'em. But they're not that common, I haven't seen one in years, so they can't be breeding out of control with this power, I guess?"

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"Huh. Weird. I wonder what happens if I--" she tries to teleport back in. 

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There is an epilepsy-triggering riot of red and silver and she's back whence she came.

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"--Whoah well I guess that technically succeeded," she says, clutching her head as she squeezes her eyes shut until they unconfuse themselves."

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"Are you okay?"

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"I'm fine, I did teleport back inside but it threw me out super fast, it was disorienting."

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"Huh! Yeah, it's a weird one all right. Maybe you could drop a bomb in there or something before it booted you if you were ready for it?"

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"Maybe...I did check the Anarchist's Cookbook out of the library and copy down some recipes specifically for the purpose of bombing monsters. If this thing is a known phenomenon, though, I think I want to see if I can find out more about it before I start escalating. I mean, we don't know why it's non-hostile to magical girls or why being essentially magical-girl-proof hasn't let it take over everything, or what might change one of those factors."

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"Yeah, I guess that makes sense. They're hard to find though. Dowse just like a normal witch, usually are in the least hopping hunting grounds, and not that common."

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"It's very weird...I wonder if it's intelligent. A monster who ate everything would starve afterwards, and magical girls kill monsters all the time, yeeting us is smart if you can do it."

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"Huh! And maybe there's only one kind of on purpose? So it doesn't have to compete with itself?"

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"Maybe! This is just wild guessing."

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"Well, it'd be really interesting if you could find more!"

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"I'll look into it. It's good to have a project." 

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"Good luck!"

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When she gets home, she looks up what she can find about a monster with blood and flowers and butterflies that kicks magical girls out. 

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There are some postings online! They are separated by years... and continents.

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Innnteresting. What else do they say that she doesn't already know?

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This person's grandma told her a story about escaping Nazi Germany via a flowers and blood corridor that popped her out in New York, though the poster clarifies that this is obviously made up.

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Rhonda posts her encounter, including the teleportation experiment, and invites comment. 

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lol maybe you tried to teleport to germany and new york at the same time
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When I try teleporting to two places at the same time it doesn't go.

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Nobody has a good explanation for that one.

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After a little while:

yingyingyingyingyingyingyingbananaphone: whoah I've been trying to research monsters for MONTHS how have I not heard of this before now??? anyway I think there's a magical girl controlling it

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saberdancer: why do you think that?

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yingyingyingyingyingyingyingbananaphone: well you see she kidnapped me this one time

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saberdancer: please start from the beginning!

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yingyingyingyingyingyingyingbananaphone: so I met this homeless magical girl and bought her lunch in exchange for her answering a bajillion questions and I learned some stuff about monsters and I wanted to know if there were any monsters who can eat animals instead of people and which could be bred to support the magical girl population so the obligate anthropophages could be wiped out. and I've been asking questions and doing research on that front ever since! this one time someone asked where I was getting my info and I mentioned some stuff about the homeless magical girl and they were like "I think I know her, where is she" and I was like "please convince me you are not a stalker" and instead I woke up inside a monster filled with blood and flowers and butterflies bound to a wall while she tried to get me to tell her where my source was and then when I continued to refuse she recruited me to give her stalking target some money next time I saw her. which, I agreed to that one, because, homeless.

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sounds like you had a weird dream or a bad trip
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yingyingyingyingyingyingyingbananaphone: a weird dream or a bad trip wouldn't have left me with a physical bag of cash. anyway, I made a sketch of the inside of the monster. 

She posts her sketch. 

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I saw one like that
confirms another poster.
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saberdancer: that does look like what I saw before it kicked us out the first time. I had a guess that it might be intelligent, but I didn't guess that it might be controlled by a magical girl.

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yingyingyingyingyingyingyingbananaphone: they probably look pretty similar if you don't actually see the magical girl! which I did. 

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saberdancer: I would guess that she can only control the one, since it's this one specific monster you hear about behaving that way; if I could control monsters I would use one for a while until I needed a new seed and then kill it and find a new one.

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yingyingyingyingyingyingyingbananaphone: maybe she's attached. like it's a pet.

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saberdancer: yeah it's only a guess. 

Rhonda brings her results to Shi Qingxuan next time they meet up. 

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"Wow, huh, I knew they were peculiar but I didn't know how peculiar."

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"I wonder why she's so interested in the homeless one."

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"I don't know. Maybe just because it's weird? Who ever heard of a magical girl being homeless?"

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"That is a good point and I will ask bananaphone about it."

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"I like her screen name!" (Shi Qingxuan's own screenname on that website is "boundlessly-talented".)

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"It's a pretty cool screenname! I wonder what the ying signifies. Like it could be part of her name or it could be totally random, who knows."

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"You could ask her!"

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"I could and I probably will but it's a little less important than the monster stuff."

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"Maybe having a friendly relationship with your fellow monster enthusiast is the most important thing of all!"

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"The real monsters were the friends we made along the way," she sporfles. 

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"You never know! Maybe she will learn to control monsters too and one day she will spare you because you asked about her screen name."

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"The reason she's researching monsters is so she can try to find ones that can eat animals instead of people and try to completely revolutionize the monster/magical girl ecology, I think probably we don't have to worry about her siccing monsters on people."

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"Maybe all that is just her villain origin story."

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"Maybe when she becomes a villain I can seduce her back to the side of good!" 

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"Kinky. - sorry, you are a tiny baby and I should not."

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"I don't think joking about sex with teenagers is that bad but I can understand you wanting to not."

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"I will probably slip sometimes whatever rule I set so it had better be a generously sized one!"

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"Extremely valid."

When she gets home, she messages bananaphone. 

Why was your magical girl friend homeless, that's weird. 

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She fucked up in some unspecified but big way way the hell long ago and asked someone with a power-sealing power to seal hers. 

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--How do you GET a power like that??? Do you wish for it directly? If so, why? If not, what kinda wish gets you that power???

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Even if I knew that much about wish-power interactions, which I don't, I super didn't pry.

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I will grudgingly acknowledge that as valid. How does she get monster seeds to live on if she doesn't have her powers? I assume she still needs them and didn't simply stop being a magical girl on account of how "way the hell long ago" probably isn't an age you survive to if you are not a magical girl. 

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She says she gets them on account of being merely human forms of extremely badass with a sword. 

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You know what, I can respect that. What's the ying in your name? If it's not too prying. 

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It's just my given name. 

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Neat. Chinese or something else I'm less vaguely aware of the syllabary of?

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Snort. 

Chinese, yeah. 

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Which tone?

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oh, 1. I was vaguely assuming you were a white person. 

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hey, I'm BLACK. I just started learning mandarin when I made my wish and give a shit about knowing all of the words that I know. not everyone is either chinese or white! 

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ok that was not my finest moment but IN MY DEFENSE white people are kinda...all over everything. 

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and yet

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yeah, sorry

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forgiven. hey, you said the monster-controlling girl talked to you before kidnapping, where and what's their name?

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why?

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I wanna apologize for trespassing and maybe ask some questions. 

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man GOOD LUCK she won't answer MY questions.

noon9834 on swordchicks

what else do you know about her?

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Rhonda sends her the links to the other blood-flowers-and-butterflies anecdata and messages noon9834 on swordchicks.

Hi, this is the teleporter, sorry for trespassing. The second time, anyway, the first time all I knew was monster barrier.

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Why are so many people who AREN'T XIE LIAN bothering Hua Cheng lately.

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Rhonda doesn't continue to pester her when she doesn't get a response, which probably puts her a step above Wei Ying in Hua Cheng's book. 

 

On the other hand, the next message Wei Ying sends her is 

San Francisco Bay Area. Not sure where she actually bought a house. Please don't make me regret telling you. 

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noon9834: Thank you.
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Will you answer my questions about monsters now? Not that that's why I changed my mind but you did say you would if I told you, when you kidnapped me. 

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noon9834: what do you want to know?
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What monsters ultimately are, why magical girls need monster seeds to live, how that whole ecology got set up in the first place, how monsters reproduce, and whether there are any that can eat animals instead of people so we could just propagate that strain and set them up to feed on factory farms or something--like as in taking advantage of pre-existing factory-farm-based animal suffering, not as in factory-farming monsters--and wipe out all the ones that kill humans. I'm not expecting you to know all of that necessarily but the last one is most important if you happen to know it, and anything could conceivably help. If it helps, Xie Lian likes my plan if I can pull it off. 

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noon9834: I'll look into the factory farm thing.

Magical girls "run on" joy and hope. Both in expending it to use magic and in having less to use if they aren't experiencing joy and hope. Offloading negative emotion into a witch seed, the only known receptacle, provides more space to feel magic-conducive emotions.
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Is there something else besides a witch seed that could work for that? Does witch mean the same thing as monster?

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noon9834: Yes, different words for the same thing. Magical girls can give each other charge, so in short local situations a soul gem can function as a witch seed.
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Are witches and magical girls the only magic things?

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noon9834: No.
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What else is there?

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noon9834: The wish-granters.
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Ooh, that makes sense! What are they? 

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noon9834: 孵化器 is what I've heard them called. And various nicknames.
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So if 孵化器 are where magical girls come from, where do they come from? And witches?

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noon9834: I'm not sure.
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Hm. Okay. Do 孵化器 run on emotions in any way?

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noon9834: They don't seem to.
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Can non-magical people see them? What do they look like?

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noon9834: No. Catsize mammals, mostly white.
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Huh. There's got to be a pattern, here, if I can manage to see it...of course, I don't know that I'm not missing pieces. Do you know what connection they have to Jun Wu and her empire?

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noon9834: They work together. I'm not sure if she works for them or they work for her, but they coordinate.
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I don't suppose you know anything about how Jun Wu became Empress.

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noon9834: I do not.
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Come to think of it, do you know how I could see your monster while I was inside it? I'm not a magical girl.

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noon9834: That means you have enough potential to make a wish.
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Potential? What's that?

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noon9834: Capacity for hope and joy.
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Oh! Neat! Does that mean I could see a 孵化器 too?

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noon9834: Yes.
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What do people who don't have magic or potential see if they're inside a witch?

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noon9834: The one you saw, or a typical witch?
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Either, both. How is that one different from a typical witch?

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noon9834: In a typical witch a normal person inside it would be in the process of getting eaten and not doing much visual processing. In the one you saw a normal person can see the flowers, but not the blood and butterflies.
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Do you know what's different about the flowers?

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noon9834: I only have guesses.
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What are your guesses?

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noon9834: I'm not going to answer that.
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That's fair. Can normal people see witch seeds?

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noon9834: Yes.
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What happens if a magical girl tries to photograph the inside of a witch? Why is a normal person inside a witch necessarily in the process of getting eaten, I know they can be killed without magic because Xie Lian does it. 

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noon9834: Magical girls are immune to being eaten by witches in the way normal people are generally eaten by witches. Photographs come out black, or white, depending on the type of film.
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What about digital?

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noon9834: Black.
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Hmm. If someone carried a butterfly out of your witch, would people be able to see that?

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noon9834: No.
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If I walked out of the witch with a butterfly on my shoulder, and someone put their hand on my shoulder where the butterfly was, would they feel it?

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noon9834: That depends.
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On what?

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noon9834: Me.
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Fair enough, I guess. 

 

Do you think I would have a better chance of learning the things I want to know if I became a magical girl?

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noon9834: Probably.
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Do you think it would have any unexpected consequences if I wished to know everything about monsters?

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noon9834: I don't know.
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Okay. Thanks for being patient with my questions. Sorry again about the pestering earlier.

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Noon apparently feels released from her agreement to reply to this Not Xie Lian Person.

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This is zero percent a surprise. 

Wei Ying brings up the possibility of applying to be a magical girl with Lan Zhan later on. 

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Lan Zhan frowns. "It sounds dangerous." 

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"Leaving the monster situation alone sounds dangerous." 

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"You have been speaking to magical girls. They could do it." 

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"They can't make novel wishes! And they don't know enough without wishing to know things." 

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"I could make the wish." 

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"Do you want to know badly enough?"

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She WANTS Wei Ying to be SAFE. 

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Wei Ying pats her arm. "It'll be fine!" 

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"If you apply, I will apply." There is NO WAY she is going to let Wei Ying fight monsters on her own. 

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"What'll you wish for?" 

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"If I tell, it will not come true." 

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Wei Ying laughs and slaps Lan Zhan's arm. "Lan Zhan! That's not how magic wishes work!" 

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Nonetheless. 

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Wei Ying looks at the application thoughtfully. She still doesn't know exactly what's up with Jun Wu, but if she's managed to get as much information as she has just by talking to a handful of magical girls, even though a couple of them were pretty old, Jun Wu must know more things than that. And she isn't telling people. Wei Ying doesn't trust that. 

So she doesn't want to say that she's wishing for information about monsters and magical girls. She's going to have to think for a while about what she should write down for her wish. 

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(Good.)

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Rhonda graduates to solo jaunts. She still hangs out with Shi Qingxuan when it's convenient for both of them, but she goes all over the place hunting monsters. 

She likes having spare seeds to hand out to girls who need 'em. Which isn't to say she never sells extras, because it really is a good income stream, but most new magical girls aren't nearly as fast a study at monster-hunting as her, and some of them are a lot younger, too. She does not want them pressured to head out before they're ready. 

She tries to keep track of where isn't anybody's territory, but if it comes down to a confrontation with another magical girl, she can always leave. She finishes off a stained-glass-themed witch in rural Iowa and teleports to the Bay Area; an internet acquaintance recommended a poke bowl place in the area. She goes in and has a lunch as lovely as her friend suggested, then walks out, takes in a deep breath and lets the sun warm her skin, and baubles her soul gem and dowses. 

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There's one that way! It's up hills; up to her if she wants to climb or 'port.

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She's very physically fit and can always use a little more exercise, and most monsters aren't generally in the middle of murdering someone such that killing them five minutes sooner will do anyone any good. She walks. She'd twirl her saber if that wouldn't come off as unnecessarily menacing to the civilians. 

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Some people take pictures of her.

The witch is tucked in the back of an Indian grocery store. The proprietor appears to have been tied up and there is a drinking glass spilled on the floor that smells like bleach.

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...Huh. 

At first glance, the proprietor being tied up looks like a very bad sign. But the bleach glass looks like he was going to drink it, which suggests him being tied up might be for his own good...?

Hm. 

She ducks inside the witch, summoning her sabers, her situational awareness going on high alert. 

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It's a garden monster; there are lemon wedges and zucchini slices and one still-ambulatory horse-sized tomato to get past on the way in, and soft dirt compresses under Rhonda's feet, but there's not even fake sunlight; it's dim inside.

There's already somebody in here. She's wearing civvies - it's a white hanfu, but she's also wearing sneakers. She's got a sword, but isn't using tactics that suggest she could produce another one at any time.

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And she's fighting back to back with another girl, whose outfit is of the magical girl varietal, and whose sword is too.

They're both really good at this.

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Huh. Surprisingly sexy. Something to think about. 

"Why is this woman wearing hanfu if it's not a magical girl outfit" wars with "why is she not in a magical girl outfit" in her head, before the both of them are swiped aside as a familiar approaches close enough for her combat reflexes to take over; she stays the hell out of the pair's way, but she does obliterate the familiar and any others she can catch closer to her than to them. 

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"Thank you!" calls the one in white while she disassembles an evil asparagus spear.

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Oh this isn't going to turn into a territory conflict! Excellent. 

"Welcome!" she calls, severing a bean runner that was snaking towards her ankle. 

She's very good, for her age. She's still a rank amateur compared to the two of them. But she's smart enough to stay out of her way, so she oughtn't slow them down any. It means they'll get to the main witch first, but that's fine. 

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It may not be a territory conflict but the red one doesn't seem to have any intention of letting the white one contend with the central witch (a very menacing garden-themed multitool armed with a trowel and shears and garden fork and hoe and spade) and dispatches it herself.

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"Sorry for butting in," she says when the witch is dispatched, bending to start untying the guy who was presumably trying to drink bleach now that witch influence is no longer an issue. "I'm a nomad, and I keep track of whose territory is where when I find out, but if I don't know I don't always bother checking before going hunting."

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"Oh, that's all right," says the girl in white, collecting the fellow's mop so she can clean up the bleach spill off the floor. The guy is tied up with white ribbon. "If you need the magic you can keep the seed, San Niang and I have a stash."

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"Nah, I'm a teleporter. I can get out in a hurry if I get in over my head, so I do a lot of hunting. I have enough spares to share with the newbies."

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"That's wonderful! Sir, are you all right?" she asks the Indian fellow.

"Y-yes, I think so," he says, eyeing his righted glass of bleach.

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"Just out of curiosity, why are you wearing hanfu?" she asks in a low voice that hopefully the Indian man shouldn't hear. 

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"This is what my magical girl dress used to look like. San Niang said she found it in a thrift shop."

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"Used to?"

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"Ah, I can't transform any more." She finishes mopping up the bleach and puts the mop away.

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"You can't--by any chance do you know a girl named Wei Ying."

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"She bought me a burrito once!"

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"Hi! I accidentally trespassed on your stalker once."

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"Trespassed on her?"

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"So Wei Ying got kidnapped into a monster with a flowers and blood and silver butterflies theme, which is also the description of a monster that magical girls occasionally encounter and which then immediately spits us out. My mentor and I stumbled across it, and it threw us out, and she recognized it from descriptions, and I tried teleporting in and that worked for like a fraction of a second before it kicked me out again, and I did some research, and Wei Ying found my post on a forum and told me about her kidnapping and you came up enough to, like, give context. Your stalker may or may not have saved a woman from Nazis in the forties!"

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"...good for her, then, I guess!"

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"It's a pretty cool thing to have done! I got Wei Ying to give me her info on swordchicks so I could apologize for teleporting in on her. I didn't get a response but that's fair honestly."

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"I haven't figured out internet message etiquette yet. I've never had a very high response rate for things like Craigslist but maybe it is different on swordchicks."

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"I think probably it's different when they're, uh, already invested in you."

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"That makes sense." She starts making her way out of the Indian grocery store, though she pauses to look at some eggplants, and then San Niang collects a bagful and tosses some money onto the counter for them.

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"On places like swordchicks as long as you're not an asshole you're pretty much good. There's non-zero specific etiquette but generally if you apologize after doing something wrong and don't do it again nobody who isn't an asshole themselves is going to make trouble."

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"The Internet is very interesting. It seemed like it was going to be a flash in the pan at first."

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"It's hard to imagine that, from my perspective," she admits. 

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"It looked like a worse version of phone calls!"

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"Huh. Yeah, I can see how that wouldn't seem to have a lot of staying power." 

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"I'm getting used to it. What's your name? I'm Xie Lian."

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"Rhonda Wallace! Is that in Eastern or Western order, I don't like to assume."

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"Eastern."

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"Cool. Come to think of it I think even for a magical girl I know a disproportionate number of Chinese people living in the US who haven't switched to Western order. Maybe that suggests that I'm cool and I naturally end up interacting with cool people, I dunno."

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"I don't think of it as a particularly cool thing that I'm doing."

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Shrug. "I dunno. Wei Ying seemed to think you're pretty cool anyway." 

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"I suppose she can think so if she wants!"

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"Wei Ying is right, jiejie is extremely cool."

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"And I can personally confirm that, because the way you fought inside that monster was extremely cool."

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"I just have a lot of practice."

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"And that is very cool."

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"It is! I'm going to be that good someday if I live long enough and it's going to take me lots and lots of practice to get there." 

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"Well, I hope you can live long enough to get all the practice you want."

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"I have a good power and the sense not to take stupid risks. I think I'll be okay."

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Xie Lian nods. And yawns.

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"Is jiejie tired? We can go home."

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"Just don't carry me there! That was embarrassing."

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"San Niang will carry Jiejie as far as she wishes and no farther. If you are tired enough you do not wish to walk, San Niang will rent a scooter."

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Oh no they're cute. Sorry stalker looks like you might have some stiff competition

"If you ever want to kill something together again I'm down, although I think I'd be getting the better end of that deal." 

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"I don't mind company! It's definitely easier to fight three monsters with three people than to fight one monster with one person."

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"As Jiejie says."

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Rhonda scribbles her phone number on a scrap of paper and hands it to Xie Lian, then waves before teleporting off. 

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"Does Jiejie want to rent a scooter?"

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Giggle. "No, I can walk, San Niang."

Fifty thousand dollars was plenty for Xie Lian to buy a used camper. ...and driving lessons. It's parked by Golden Gate Park.

It only has one bed in it, but every time Xie Lian asks San Niang if she would prefer not to travel home after a late night of witch-hunting, San Niang says,

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"San Niang would be honored to be Jiejie's guest."

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And then Xie Lian is hardly going to have San Niang drape herself across the little kitchen table, and San Niang won't hear of Xie Lian doing it, so they wind up in the one bed that there is, which isn't very big, but Xie Lian's slept in smaller places and San Niang claims every morning that she has never slept better.

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Wei Ying has been thinking very hard about her wish. 

Wishing to know all the things she wants to know is extremely appealing, but...even if she managed to wish to know everything about monsters, that would only tell her what was currently going on, not how to fix anything. And any given information is something she could learn, in time. She only gets one wish. 

She thinks about Noon. Thinks about her apparent control of her monster or monster lineage or whatever exactly it is that she has going on. Thinks about what she said about looking into factory farming. Thinks about the thing that ultimately made her decide to tell Noon where Xie Lian was, a hallway between Germany and New York. 

She still isn't at all sure that this is something it makes sense to trust Jun Wu's government with, so she keeps thinking about ways to phrase it to sound more innocuous. She isn't yet willing to just outright lie about her wish; it would make way too much sense for them to have lie-detecting magic. 

Meanwhile she keeps doing research. She corresponds with saberdancer and asks questions and pokes into Indonesian folklore when she runs out of better ideas. 

And she collects statistics on diseases and murders and suicides. 

She locates some news articles about a suspicious cluster of patient violence at a local hospital, and decides to head over to ask the doctors questions about it. 

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The doctors cite patient confidentiality at her.

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She's not asking about any specific patients! Just, like, an aggregate assessment of the ways in which the incident was weird. 

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The doctors are much too busy to deal with this. One of the nurses, taking her coffee break to get off her feet for a minute, will talk, though. "Oh, it's not that weird for somebody to try to pull out all their own tubes when they wake up but it's very weird for them to pull other people's tubes."

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She nods and writes this down and thanks the nurse, and when it becomes obvious that nobody else has the time for her, which is pretty valid, she supposes, she starts heading out through the parking lot. 

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Somebody is being removed from an ambulance! He's struggling and when they try to transfer him he gets free - one paramedic flings up her hands in disgust, another blames her, screaming in her face, and punches her in the ear - the patient has a gunshot wound in his shoulder but still staggers toward Wei Ying.

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Oh. 

Crap. 

She turns and runs away from him, at a diagonal--she knows she can see witches, if she finds herself inside one, but she doesn't know if that means it won't automatically eat her and either way she sincerely doubts that magical girl potential will give her any advantage whatever when it comes to the human violence that witches cause. Which means she needs to get away, and hopefully inform someone--thank you thank you saberdancer for being a TELEPORTER since she doesn't know anyone closer--

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She can outrun him.

She makes it into the hospital courtyard, where a grandma with a cannula and a wheelchair looks like she's asleep till Wei Ying gets close enough, and then she lurches out of the chair and wraps her skinny arms around Wei Ying's neck.

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CRAP. 

Wei Ying starts out more worried about hurting the grandma getting her off herself, but the grandma turns out to be surprisingly strong, and a broken arm is less lethal than asphyxiation, so she starts trying to break away in full earnest. 

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The grandma is BITING HER EAR. The grandma's nurse is staring into space, apparently unconcerned.

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Losing part of an ear is also less lethal than being strangled! Wei Ying finally manages to extract her neck from the woman's arms, and rolls away from the wheelchair, coughing, her ear throbbing and spilling wetness down the side of her face. Wei Ying does not have time to assess the damage, she sits up and starts to rise to her feet, scanning for any other possible avenues of attack. 

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The grandma can apparently walk a bit and totters at her before she can assess the Littlest Cancer Patient under the willow tree for witchedness.

She can hear tires screeching in the parking lot ahead, and screams.

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Oh that's not good. 

She makes it to her feet and dashes away from the grandma. She isn't too worried about speed, here, she's sure she can outrun her. What she's concerned about is edging along the wall so that she can maybe make it out without any of the screaming people or the people causing the screaming noticing her. 

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She can mostly do this.

There's a janitor along one wall, taking an illicit smoke break in spite of the clearly posted signs declaring this hospital a smoke-free campus, and he looks at her fixedly when she turns the corner and they can see each other.

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She gives him a nervous little wave.

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He starts striding intently toward her.

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--She attempts to run off in another direction.

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The parking lot is... on fire.

There are sirens in the distance but not close enough to be imminently in rescuing distance.

The inside of this section of the hospital is - actually deserted, maybe everybody who could run ran out to join the parking lot conflagration.

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That's probably not great on account of all the witched people. She checks her cell phone for signal with which to contact saberdancer and discovers that her phone cracked when she hit the ground getting away from wheelchair grandma and the screen is filled with random colors and shapes that don't respond to her poking at them.

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She can hear the elevator ding, on her left. The burning parking lot is on her right.

There's snarling from the corridor ahead.

There is a single-occupancy all-gender bathroom behind her.

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She ducks into the bathroom and locks the door.

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No one saw her go in. She is safe there for now, unless the hospital catches fire.

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She sits down and hugs her knees and takes deep breaths.

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Above her, the air vent rattles.

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She looks up at it with alarm.

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It's nowhere near big enough for a person to get through.

The grille pops off.

A cat-sized mammal peers at her.