The few weeks after the ball marked a turn for an increasingly hectic school program. Between the military and combat training, the Ars Magi specialized training, it's been a pretty busy time. However, Penny wasn't anything if not hardworking and diligent, and the desire to prove herself kept her going forwards. It helped that she was a smart cookie and workaholic who thrived under rough conditions. However, she'd soon learn that sometimes, maybe "no pain no gain" was a tad
Through her diligence, studying the curriculum (and a bit of luck), she managed to land an appointment with a dueling instructor, a Mars native by the name of Instructor Xiang Baozhai, Armagus name Shimmering Flowing Sapphire. However, she had been so caught up with the idea of testing her skills against an experienced Ars Magi she forgot about a prior agreement she had with Blair McKenzie, who demanded to know if the "wee Yank c*nt thought she were be'er than ta talk ta some Sco'ish hooligan". Of course, once Blair found out about the training duel, she used her usual charm (i.e. stubborn insistence) to join the match. To Penny's surprise, Instructor Xiang was polite and even accommodating to the idea of taking two Ars Magi on.
With hindsight, that should have been a massive red flag.
Come the duel, Instructor Xiang promptly spent the next ten minutes pounding the two girls into the arena and the walls, not using her Elementum until the eight minute mark and just deflecting everything with skillful swipes and strikes from her gladius, the extensible spear Shifting Water Serpent, parrying both Penny's rocket hammer and Blair's burning claymore with deceptive ease. Penny learned to respect the range of a gladius, the skill with which one can fight without an Elementum, and how an effective defense can suddenly switch to a vicious counterattack and vice versa. What Instructor Xiang learned was how surprisingly stubborn two first years can be even under extreme abuse, and how well they could take a beating - which of course encouraged her to use her Elementum, at which point the real
pain began. It ended with both students being knocked clean through a solid concrete wall with a power blast of high-pressure water, followed by a short congratulatory speech on their courage and determination, just to try and work better together and work on their individual skills and abilities; Elementum is useful, but it isn't everything.
Dana would find out about her roommate's experience when she gave Penny an innocent hug that caused the other girl to flinch in refreshed pain. Penny, in turn, would explain the fresh welts across her body and the slow, almost crawling movements she was forced into; maybe her Ars Magi recovery abilities would mean the bruises would be gone in a few days, but it still stung like crazy."So basically,"
Penny concluded to her concerned roommate, "if you ever get the chance to duel an instructor, remember three things. One, take the chance to learn as much as possible, it's what you're there for. Two, ask the teach to take it easy for crying out loud, they mean business. Three, for the love of God, learn to dodge."
Fortunately, by the time Dima asks her out on their date, the pain's mostly subsided (with help from Dana's healing powers) and there's only the faintest stiffness in her joints, so it didn't bother her that much during the outing, and she could explain it by 'had a rough week of training'. During the movie, she stayed mostly quiet, following the events of the story, even though she was nervously aware of Dima's larger frame next to her. Still, it was a nice experience all round. Afterwards, she started asking him more about his hobbies and plans for the future."I mean, it's probably still rhetorical at this point, but,"
she starts, "let's say the whole Void thing ends tomorrow. A hundred years of conflict over. And humanity comes out of the sanctum cities. Hopefully in a good place for the future, and we're all thankfully alive. What are your plans then? Me, I'm not sure whether I'll still be an Ars Magi or not, but if not, well, I'll just settle down and work electronics for a living. Pretty good at it, been fixing stuff since I was twelve, helping my dad around the workshop."
She got the chance to prove it when Dima's watch stopped, so she pulled out her miniature toolkit from a pocket, and fixed the watch in a couple minutes. Turns out, it just had a bit of cleaning and recharge, which took no time, before she handed it back, good as new."Of course I keep a toolkit on me,"
she says. "I mean, I like magic girl shows as much as the next girl - well, maybe a bit more than the next girl, unless you're talking about Dana - but I occasionally fix stuff for the other girls. Phones, PDAs, mostly small stuff and under warranty so they can move on with their lives quicker. I like being the handygirl, I like helping out."
They talk a bit more about personal hobbies, interests and goals before calling it a night, and awkwardly saying good night and proposing to go out on a later date."Oh alright, it wasn't that bad,"
Penny would defend herself to her teasing teammates later. "It... was... actually kind of nice. It's just... well, it's the first real date I've ever been on, okay? Just... didn't know what I should do, and tried to be pleasant about the whole thing. Dima was a gentleman about it all, so yeah... I might see him again."
The revelation that Nichole was going out with a Duodecim girl, on the other hand, induced wry mocking from the Siscian."Seriously?"
she chuckles. "You must really enjoy teasing the boys. I mean, half the officers at the dance ball were fawning over you, you could have had your pick.
"Then again, maybe that's the curse of the Hastan beauty,"
she continues, assuming a melodramatic pose and tone out of a cheap girl's romance. "To be desired and loved by all, but oh, what cruel fates, only the worthy may reach her, for she has been cursed - cursed! I say - by a terrible spell that the unworthy shall wither at her touch, while she remains forever alone, trapped in her own radiance! Oh who shall be the Prince - or Princess! - Charming to release her from her mournful fate...?"
The news about the new fighting machines is a bit of a surprise to Penny; while she does find the idea intriguing, she does wonder if it's feasible, especially since resources were pretty stretched in the ongoing Void war. Eventually, though, her curiosity overcomes, and she tries to find out as much as possible from whatever leaked information she can lay her hands on. From then on, it's a constant internal debate between her professional Ars Magi pride and her geek side on whether on not she should be glad there are new weapons in the war.
Soon, though, comes another major field exercise, one meant to test battlefield cooperation and tactics...
𝙽𝚘𝚟𝚊 𝙻𝚞𝚡 𝙰𝚌𝚊𝚍𝚎𝚖𝚢
𝙹𝚞𝚗𝚎 𝟸𝟿𝚝𝚑, 𝟷𝟷𝟽 𝙰𝚅
Dana Noel, Penny Grenoble, Nicole Cognoscenti, Diana Khay Vanna, Cordelia Whittaker
Penny listens to Instructor Drier's briefing on the training mission. It's good to know that while the drones will put up a fight, they're not actively going to try and kill them, or at least not going to go all out on it.An escort mission,
she thinks, one of the worst you can find in a video game. Still, I think our VIPs would probably have a lot more sense than your average NPC, so it's not going to be that bad. Hopefully.
𝙿𝚊𝚕𝚖𝚢𝚛𝚊 𝙼𝚒𝚕𝚒𝚝𝚊𝚛𝚢 𝙴𝚡𝚎𝚛𝚌𝚒𝚜𝚎 𝚉𝚘𝚗𝚎
𝙹𝚞𝚗𝚎 𝟹𝟶𝚝𝚑, 𝟷𝟷𝟽 𝙰𝚅
Dana Noel, Penny Grenoble, Nicole Cognoscenti, Diana Khay Vanna, Cordelia Whittaker
The weather, unsurprisingly, was being uncooperative. Rain was pouring heavily, meaning Penny would have to be a bit careful with her Elementum lest she cause unwanted collateral damage - like shocking the hell out of their VIPs.
After a brief round of greetings and introductions in case they hadn't met already, Penny gently nudged Nichole."No flirting with your girlfriend on the mission, alright?"
she teases."Hmm, eight, probably more, and you say they're networked?"
Penny muses on Holst's summary. "Means we can't just go blasting in. We need to make this fast and try to be quick about it, but also need to keep our eyes peeled. Probably won't be able to pick them off one-by-one, they'd pick up on that, and we probably need to do this quickly. Still, if we could make a quick ambush, take out a few on a first strike, then move quickly, we could prevent them from ganging up on us..."
She turns to the other girls."Okay, girls, any ideas on how to go about on this?"
she asks. "I could take the brunt of the attack, that's pretty much my forte, but I don't think I can take on a whole swarm. Should we soften them up first with a quick strike, or just make a break for it with a flying wedge and beat feet to the objective? I say we should try and take the quickest but clearest route, blitz the first patrol we meet on our way, and then make a break for it. I can run interference, Dana offers ranged support, but we also need to keep at least one or two people next to our VIPs to ensure their safety. What do you think?"
She also turns to the VIPs to see if they have any suggestions, though she suspects this part of training is on Team 3.