While getting inside just made me happy to be away from the industry press, the inside of the Asphalt Castle brought back a barrage of memories. Memories of incredibly busy schedules and a level of disciplined competitive fervor that would make my college work feel like grade school. Memories of spending weeks working on an idol routine, crying and being ecstatic about getting a C instead of failing. It was horribly stressing, but remembering how horribly stressing it was carried its own strange sense of nostalgia. Forsan et haec and all that, I suppose.
I didn’t have much direction when inside, so I just watched the incoming magicals in quiet observation. The girls, after their walk, were being assigned their ID cards and room keys by the registration staff, which are to be kept around their necks or in their bags at all times. The registration process for magical girls is one of the most carefully-planned, deftly-executed events of the year for the facility, and with the level of determination going on here daily that’s really saying something. Temporary event staff are hired by the school and the agencies to facilitate the event, and I remember thinking to myself at that moment about how to some of them WILL misplace their keys and they WILL cry about it at some point. Fun.
I looked on at the girls’ registration for a moment. Some of the girls were beginning to look at me back in presumable confusion just as I heard an unmistakable, posh voice from behind the registration desk.
“Moonbeam, you’re finally here!”
I looked over to see Tiffany rushing over from behind the registration table; I could barely get in a polite smile before she wrapped her arms around me in that hyper-specific, animelike fashion reminiscent of how we were all taught to act in our idol classes. Tiffany was always a very performative kind of girl; and as I was soon to learn, her performance style is always dictated by her audience.
It took me a second to match Tiffany’s new appearance with her unmistakable voice; the vivid blue hair I remembered from our idol days was now that deep, midnight-sky black that magical girls get after flatlining. While it may have been a new color, her hair was just as long, just as meticulously wavy as ever. I kind of blushed and looked down; nothing could make me more self-conscious about my not-flatlining than being in the comparative vicinity of a former magical girl who had. She was wearing the same expensive clothes as always, but now with a more business-y fashion sense.
After a moment Tiffany stopped hugging me, but pressed her palms on my elbows and gazed at me with approving sentimentality. While they weren’t allowed inside the castle, the industry lane journos were snapping photos of our reunion from behind the windows, feverishly crafting the offings of a story on Moonbeam and Farside’s mentoring program in the wake of Belle’s shocking attack as a post-idol influencer. I didn’t give them really any new info, but what I did give them they were definitely gonna use.
“Moonbeam, you haven’t aged a day!” she cheerily proclaimed.
“Yeah, thanks,” I responded, unsure of the extent to which I should regard her compliment as an affirmation of my still-magic anxiety. She wasted no time in pulling out her phone and beginning that instinctive motion of snapping a selfie with the two of us. I smiled along and only had a chance to look at the photo for a second. She looked great; my smile looked way too forced, like I’m scared it always does. I tried to make an icebreaker.
“It’s funny, you always remember how we were taught to take freehand selfies, holding our phones with our magic? It almost makes me wish we could’ve done that for this one.”
“Oh my gods yes! We should totally redo that selfie with you suspending my phone!”
I had only brought that up for old times sake; it was a skill I hadn’t practiced in years and her phone looked several hundred dollars heavier than mine. Shit. I tried my best to keep her phone from wobbling too conspicuously, all while positioning it in the exact right spot and smiling again. It looked blurrier and my smile looked even more forced.
“It is so, so, so awesome to have you back on board for this mentoring program, Moonbeam! I’ve been planning this with the agency for so long, and it means so much that we can finally give back to the idols of tomorrow,” she told me, excitedly. She kept gazing at me, then turning her expression to be more serious.
“Especially after that scary incident with Belle last week.”
“Yeah, that’s crazy isn’t it?” I responded, to which she nodded primly. The girls were looking at us from their registration tables, and Tiffany was smiling back at them, now with one arm back around my shoulder. I quietly addressed her in a more casual tone.
“…You know, by the way Tiffany, we can just call each other by our real names and not our magical girl names during all of this. We aren’t kids anymore, y’know?”
Just then, one of the contracted event staff walked over with two laminated ID cards for each of us. These were just so that the other girls could identify us more easily, but dang if everything around here has to be written and verified.
“I understand, Ellery! I’m just so excited to get these recruits today in the magical girl spirit, so I was just sort of thinking we should both celebrate our adulthood and our time as magical girls! Perfect timing for that, actually!”
She took her card and gave me mine. It read ‘ELLERY MOONBEAM’, rather than ‘MOONBEAM’ or ‘ELLERY LOONBURG.’ Hers read ‘TIFFANY FARSIDE.’ Weird combo of names, but it admittedly has an appreciable ring to it. Tiffany kept her arm around me as she informed me that we were to address the girls after their registration in the facility’s auditorium. We began walking behind the registration desk, her still smiling and waving at the various individual girls as they were shuffling through interior registration.
As we walked, I looked over and noticed a strange detail I didn’t remember from when we were registered as magical girls a decade ago—each girl seemed to have a small sample taken of her blood upon registration inside. A large collection of blood syringes was being accumulated, with the filled vials being taken via cart by a facility member somewhere deeper into the facility. When registering us our parents always provided what blood type we were for the long process of medical documentation, but I never remember actively having our blood sampled as part of the entry process. Weird.