That's just how the magic system works. Usually, you got to sacrifice something (it can be physical or conceptual (I once had a guy sacrifice his body heat to do fire stuff)) and use an accompanying thought to trigger how the spell works. In the case of the nuggets, she sacrificed some iron nuggets and used a memory of her being protected to conjure a magic barrier.
Ah, gotcha. That's a pretty neat system, can do a lot of cool things with it (which I now only just realize you've already done . . . who wrote this secondary again? Hey look, I did an ellipses right! I think).
The Duchess was based on Spartans from Halo, actually, but way more over-the-top. I wanted to pick a kind of character that resonates with me personally given what the story is about, so I picked Halo because it's one of those fictional properties I still have a lot of love for (I had a different idea involving a Transformers pastiche and another involving Bionicle pastiches but this was more fleshed out). The bit with the screw was intentional. Basically that was one of the parallels I tried to draw between the Duchess and the Doppler, since the Doppler's whole thing is that he worships her and tries to emulate her. When he finds that screw in his pocket, I wanted that to be one of those throwaway gags that ends up being important. The Doppler ends up mimicking the Duchess unintentionally, but he isn't on the same scale as the Duchess, so instead of his ship's power failing completely, it just breaks a speedometer, although it ends up having pretty big consequences anyway.
[*]jtb: This one kind of overstayed its welcome with me. The guy is crawling toward the supposed voice of god and goes on about tax reform; it felt like we just kept revisiting the same handful of details repeatedly while not actually advancing anything. The fact that "calling for help" in this guy's mind meant calling into the talk show was a great detail to slip in at the end there, though.
I don't know how obvious/utterly incomprehensible this was lol (I lean towards the latter), but the idea was originally that he killed all these people with his car (a la Charlottesville) and every time he mentions "tax reform," he doesn't actually mean tax reform. The premise, on paper anyways, was that the idea that killing someone over tax reform was so absurd on face that it becomes a dogwhistle of sorts for some other, more sinister unspoken reason. I think that failed in this draft because there was too little tying it down to the real world and it gets absurd and apocalyptic way too early, so your average reader treats rationality and realism as suspended rules that don't apply before they probably should - and, as you mention, it gets really repetitive.
I'm a really stingy writer when it comes to doling out details and information (my fav writer is Ishiguro, heh!), and I wanted to test the limits of how little I could make explicit in this draft. Figuring out how to distribute the breadcrumbs is always the biggest challenge in writing and rewriting for me.