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Penny grits her teeth as her strike lands true, shattering through the giant mecha's armor and right into its chest cavity and right through to the ground, creating a small crater where she landed. She pauses there, catching her breath as she recovers from her newest attack.

Penny can feel a sudden heat as something cuts a line through the machine just above her. Blair’s flaming claymore carves a wicked line through half of the thing’s center mass, and Penny for a moment feels like the heat of a furnace as the Scottish girl skids to a halt next to her in the gaping cavity that Penny’s created.

“Fuck,” She complains, “Y’took all the fun, ye’—”

Before Blaire could finish, the machine erupts into an explosion as Cordelia delivers one last strike to the dying war machine. Soon, all that's left is the sound of bending metal and breaking concrete, and then silence. Penny looks up at the fallen titan, then turns to Blaire.

“Field’s clear. Orders are to hold until exercise is over. We’ll rendezvous shortly.”

"Copy that," Penny replies into the comm. She turns back to Blaire. "I vote we get away from the giant, ammo-filled engine of destruction and get back to the group. We'll argue some more later."

“All right!” Dana cheered, jumping up and punching the air, before holding out her hand in a victory sign. “We did it! Nice work guys!” she added with a dazzling smile, as the various officers and Ars Magi gathered together. “We made a great team!”

"Oh, I don't know," Penny replies with a slight smile. "It got pretty hairy there for a bit, wouldn't call it a milk run. Still, I'd have to agree; that was some great teamwork."

“Penny!” Says Dima, breaking briefly away from the group of officers. “You were awesome. Like—way better than Altea.” It’s unclear if he heard all the swearing. Considering he’s supposed to be handling Blair, he might have gotten used to it. “I’ve got to go set stuff up, but, I’ll talk to you later—soon—hopefully--”

Penny is temporarily embarrassed by Dima effectively flirting with her in the middle of a field debriefing. Though she's surprised he's handling Blaire of all people, but then again, she supposes you get used to her. Sort of.

"Oh come on, you're just buttering me up," she says defensively. "I just did what I was told...

"Oh, okay, yeah, talk to you later..."

“Hah. Penny’s got a boyfriend, huh?”

Penny shoots Blaire an annoyed glare, but feels like she can't let the Scot get the last word in.

"Why? Are you jealous?"

“How cute.”

Penny's attention shifts to the blonde, wondering if she has another snarky remark up her sleeve. Well, that's just fine, Penny thinks, I can just fight fire with f-

“Good work, Grenoble.”

Okay, that genuinely catches her off guard. Amanda seems to be honest about her complement. Maybe she's not bad after all. Penny just takes the hand, and shakes it in a firm but friendly manner.

"Thanks. You were pretty good out there too," she replies with a genuine smile.

Priya's offer of paying for lunch doesn't escape Penny's attention.

"Hey, I wouldn't mind that offer - assuming you're not inviting just the sword-wielders of the group," Penny comments.

“Operation complete. All teams prepare from transport. Repeat—operation complete, return to base.”

"And I guess that's our cue to leave," Penny says, hefting her giant warhammer onto her petite shoulders. "Oh, and Blaire, don't sweat it; you'll probably get the killing blow next time."

As the girls head back to base, Penny pipes up.

"Hey, Nichole?" she says. "Remember how you asked if anyone had a good idea for a team name and Dana said she was still trying to think of one? How does the name 'Team Radiant Storm' sound? A little pretentious, but I think it fits us nicely..."

Back at the dorms, Penny is plain tuckered out. The day had been rather exhausting, what with the heavy fighting and the long-ass mission time. Still, there's no denying there's a strong sense of accomplishment, not only in surviving the mission in one piece, but in managing to succeed in accomplishing their goals. Even so, the tired Penny finds it a struggle to get out of her school outfit and into her sleeping clothes, and is almost tempted to just flop onto the bed in her schoolwear.

Somehow, she manages to get to put aside her clothes neatly (guess she owes Mom's discipline a thanks for that one) before dropping onto her bed.

"G'night, Dana," she mutters before she goes to sleep. "Sweet dreams..."

Penny proceeds to rush as fast as she can, barely outpacing the giant mecha's tracking systems, though she still has enough breathing room to fire off a blast of lightning at the mecha, taking out its weaponry on one side while Blair handled the other. Between them, Penny would say they're doing a good job taking out the giant mech's offensive capabilities.

Of course, the machine then makes the smart move to switch its attentions on the nuisances taking out its weaponry - which unfortunately for Penny, happens to be Penny herself.

"Well, of course it fucking would," Penny grumbles, now pouring on the speed trying to avoid getting vaporized by the sheer firepower thrown her way. "Motherfucking thing has a goddamn vendetta against me!"

She starts veering left, right, up and down, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and it's barely keeping the beam off her ass. If she isn't focusing on survival right now, she bets she could admire the sheer devastation the thing was inflicting on the ruined cityscape.

"I'd admire its determination," she grunts as she avoids yet another explosion, coasting off the shockwave to gain a bit more speed, "if it wasn't trying to turn me into a grease stain against the concrete!"

Another near-hit causes a massive blast that throws her off one rooftop and onto another, where she manages to regain her balance and tumbles almost skillfully back onto her feet, scraped and scuffed all over, but still in fighting shape. She spits as she wipes the dirt and grit off her face.

Fortunately, she finds reprieve as the machine is toppled through the combined efforts of Nichole and Priya, causing the massive thing to crash against several buildings, knocking a couple over and causing a plume of dust and debris to shoot up into the sky. She'd celebrate, but the thing is down, not out, even as Amanda and the other girls are trying to take it apart.

“Grenoble! McKenzie! Smash it!” Calls the girl in white.

"On it!" Penny replies on the comm as she races back towards the fallen metal titan. She dodges incoming fire and weaves between the vengeance blasts aimed at her, and then grabs a chunk of flying concrete, vaults over a missile, uses the concrete as a shield from the blast, and uses the shockwave to send her flying upwards. Jumping from one piece of flying debris to another, she ascends skywards, barely avoiding an airburst that nearly sends her hurtling on an uncontrolled trajectory. She quickly regains control, using her rocket blasts to stabilize her spinning. As she regains her focus, she finds herself hundreds of feet into the air, right above the toppled mecha. Now's her chance.

At her command, GroB Eisen fires up its rocket as lightning crackles around it, charging up its power even as it pulls Penny downwards in a reckless dive. As she goes further and further down, coming to earth as a runaway meteorite, she grips her giant hammer tightly as she charges it with power. Soon, she's enveloped in a terrifying display of lightning. She gives a mighty roaring warcry as she comes down as hard as she can at the mecha.

"KAISERSCHLAG!" she cries out. "STURM! UND! DRANG!"

She comes down on the giant warmachine, bringing with her the full wrath of the thunderstorm. Lightning strikes as her hammer hits metal, bright arcs of pure electrical power striking the target in a terrifying technicolor display.

Penny quickly skates over to Blair, who had gotten out of the debris she had been thrown into.

"Hey Blair, you gonna sit around and let that oversize tin can do that to ya, or are you gonna make it regret it?" Penny teasingly asks the Scot, only to get a very rude gesture in return. She just grins; Blair's fine, just pissed at being smacked around like a bug. "So let's turn the tables on this thing and show it what Ars Magi can do working together.

"We need to work together, though. We need to move in quickly, but remember Instructor Xiang's words; dodge and weave, use agility and abilities," Penny says. "You go left, I go right, we hit that thing with physical strikes and ranged attacks, try and take the pressure off the rest until we can counterattack. Yeah, I know we're not the best at ranged attacks, we're assault specialists, but we can still throw the odd fireball or lightning strike around. We need to keep moving, and use cover and terrain to avoid that thing's heavy firepower.

"So, you ready to kick that thing's ass?"
she asks Blair, lighting up her rocket hammer as she does so. She grins when Blair affirms angrily, glaring at the giant robot in the distance. "That's what I thought. So let's turn this fucker to scrap!"

She charges off on her rollerblades, skating and weaving between debris and ruins and avoiding the mecha's attacks, Blair close behind as the Gaelic Ars Magi uses blasts of fire from her boots to 'jump' long distances and even maneuver mid-air. The Siscian girl then jumps onto a nearby building and wall-skating on it as she zips around like a bug on meth, firing away blasts of lightning as she uses the momentum of her rocket boosts to keep skating. She primarily aims for the weapons systems, seeking to disable or fry them with electricity, though she imagines the antimagic technology would make that a tall order.

"Hey, shithead!" she calls out the mecha, though she doubts it can hear her, much less respond. "Over here!"

She starts maneuvering herself to get as close to the mecha as possible, using her agility to dodge attacks and jumps to switch from the street to the buildings, trying to keep the fight three-dimensional and giving the war machine's trackers and sensors a workout trying to keep up with her.

"Wait, what?" Penny says in surprise as the mecha seems more annoyed than hurt by that last brutal attack. "Oh come, on, nothing?!"

Before she could wind up for another attack, she felt herself sway and struggle with her footing, the giant mecha trying to either shake her off or crush her against the nearby buildings.

"Oh, motherf*cker!" she swore, barely managing to regain control, skating down the giant machine as quickly as she can without tripping or getting splatted against a building. She barely managed to get off the metal behemoth, though a lucky swerve of the machine sent her flying into a pile of rubble with a resounding grunt of surprise and pain.

Penny growls as she helps herself out of the pile of rubble, spitting out some gravel she had accidentally ingested during her tumble.

"So you think you're hot stuff, you oversize tin can?" she grumbles, dusting herself with an aura of anger. "Guess what, asshole, I'm not done yet!"

Penny approached her just as she spread and stretched her legs, testing her ankles with little twirls. She grinned coquettishly back at Penny as her bespectacled teammate inquired about their relationship status, and leaned in to give an emphatic smooch to the Siscian girl's freckled cheek.

"Nahhh, we're like this," she confided, locking her index and middle fingers in a tight cross. "Thick as thieves always, Penny, you know that. Great firepower out there."

"Wha- hey!" Penny says, rubbing the cheek, blushing rather strongly, probably out of embarrassment. But then she breaks into a grin at Nichole's response.

"Hey, you know me," she replies. "Hit hard, hit fast, no mercy. You know what they say; when all you have is a hammer, everything else is a nail."

Her smile widened and she swung around on her perch, lifting up her legs and wrapping them around Cordelia's midsection. Nicole's right leg tucked between her midriff and her tightly drawn legs, wedged underneath her head protectively.

"You girls don't think I'm that jealous now, do you? Think I need to try and keep all the hotness to myself?" she asked the two nobles playfully. "You can dance if you want to, Cordy. All my best friends love to dance. Especially with each other."

Nichole was a shameless flirt, no doubt about it, Penny thought as she could barely contain a chuckle at Cordelia's predicament. Between Nichole and Dana, this team was a real ray of sunshine, even if Nichole can be quite teasing about it.

Cordelia’s voice faltered while she spoke in a way that was informative to how unused to speaking while laughing the young Ars Magi was. “I can imagine you and your bevy of men, women, probably even the nox would line up for a dance with you!” she managed between quick breaths. Her face carried forward, its smile and lightness this time. “Thank you,” she wrapped her arms around the leg pressed against her midriff. “I’ll be easier on myself, I promise.”

Cordelia watched as Dana responded to Aiya’s question, innocence incarnated on full display for all to see. It made her grin just that bit wider, and she laughed with the group at the name dropping of one Guardian Gunslinger Alexis. For a moment, Cordelia didn’t feel as though they were on a mission. It felt almost as if they were simply hanging out together. She relished in this. This moment of serenity admist the rain, and the ruins. Cordelia felt for the first time in a while that she was getting used to it. That she wasn't in combat. This conversation wasn't life or death. It was just a bit of fun.

She turned to Aiya, resolutely. “Whenever you want to dance, just let me know.” Her words were confident this time. “If you think you can handle me,” she added, trying to wink but only managing a slightly delayed blink.

"There ya go, you gotta be more confident in yourself," Penny adds, hefting her hammer onto her shoulder one-handed as though the giant gladius were a prop item. "You gotta take things easy, smile a bit more. You got a nice smile."

“Aren’t you the cutest.” Aiya replies to Dana, the dark-haired girl resting her chin in her hands as she casts a winning smile at the energetic Norban. “Don’t worry, you’re not doing anything wrong. I don’t mind sharing the spotlight.”

The girl’s chestnut gaze turns to Cordelia after, listening to the other girl’s musing with a careful gaze. “Cordy,” She says, appropriating Nicole’s nickname with not even a hint of hesitance, “You’re one of the most powerful, most important women in the world. You should enjoy it while you can.” Her lips split into a wide, almost wolfish grin at the girl’s offer. “I won’t disappoint you.”

Craning backward after, the dark-haired girl stretches her arms overhead and remarks, as if reading Nicole’s train of thought: “We should all dance,” She suggests, musing. “Maybe I’ll arrange a celebration, if we pass our little exercise.”

Penny can't help but grin. Aiya was as big a flirt as Nichole was, it's rather scary. You'd think a Duodecim would be more serious and cordial like Vanna, but it seems they come in all types. She's a strong fit for Nichole, and she can see how the two hit it off.

"As long as it's not a formal dress affair, it's fine with me," Penny comments.

And it’s the mention of that exercise, perhaps the reminder of it, that seems to break the tranquil spell that’s settled over the group.

“We’ve got a request for assistance. Webber’s group.” Says Garnier, the boy raising his head to motion toward his fellow officers. Both Aiya and Holst abandon their perches, huddling close around the communication equipment. The speak quickly between themselves, breaking after a hurried minute and turning back to their escort.

“One of our teams has run into a problem.” Holst explains shortly. “They’re requesting our assistance. It’s about a mile out, we’ve already got a route for you. Tell you more on route.” She tosses an earpiece to each of the Ars Magi, adding: “Go fast.”

"Webber?" Penny asks cautiously as her gaze turns to Dana. "You mean Noah Webber?"

She's clearly thinking of Dana's dance partner at the ball, though part of her wonders if Dima's there too. However, the request for aid and the haste required calls for speed, and Penny catches the earpiece, hurriedly puts it in, then starts rollerblading as fast as she can without straying too far from her teammates.

The Ars Magi find themselves at the mercy of the elements once more.

The route that Aiya’s squad has charted for them leads off the roof of the parking garage and on to that of a nearby building, and another after that, racing across the rubble-strewn rooftops of a long-ruined skyline. Ahead buzzes one of those triangular shaped objects that the officers had unpacked; a baseball-sized drone that leads the way. In the darkness it leaves a contrail of burning green light in its wake, a guiding beacon for the girls that follow.

Up high the wind is even more fierce, though the rain has slowed the veil of clouds has begun to part, illuminating the ruined district in the moon’s pale light. It’s still difficult to see the ground down below however, and the footing is uneasy on the shattered concrete the Ars Magi make their was across.

And then they see it.

It looms out of the darkness, easily three stories tall, but impossible to mistake for just another ruined building in a crumbling cityscape. It’s humanoid in shape, bipedal, two arms and two legs, though it eschews a head in exchange for a blocky central body. Its armor-plated body is gunmetal gray, illuminated by the garish red lights dotted over its massive frame. All along its frame are lined the weapons of war: machine-guns, missile pods, a dozen compartments filled with a dozen violent instruments.

Some of those instruments are currently in use. One of its arms, a massive cannon, glows with magitech energy as it discharges into the street bellow it.

Things do not look like they’re going well.

Penny ignores the driving rain; it's cold and uncomfortable, but they have someone to help. Besides, being an Ars Magi comes with more endurance and ability to weather the elements, so she doesn't complain. Besides, if her mom can do this day in and day out, who is she to complain? She uses her agility and rollerblading experience to skate around obstacles or over them, while trying to stay close to her teammates in case anything happens.

The real kicker is when they see the mecha. This was no small fry, this was a goddamn beast, tall as a building.

"Jesus, that's a big bitch," Penny mutters. "That's going to take quite a bit more to take down..."

She winces as Blair gets tossed like a ragdoll through a wall, but knows the Celtic girl can take more than that. Still, that the thing took Blair's strikes and barely noticed doesn't bode well for this group, her own dislike of Wagner aside.

"Yeah, this is clearly going to take more effort to take out than the previous two," she notes, studying the thing through her visor. She tries to spot any weak points, but realizes the size and bulk of the thing would make it harder to bring down. "And how much firepower does that thing have?! It's attacking in two-three-four different directions and not slowing down!"

“I’m going to give everyone quick access to the battlefield,” she spoke commandingly now. “Above our main target, and as close to both compromised parties as possible. These will be two-way doors I’m making, so if need be, they can be used for evacuation and then disabled.”

Penny turns to her silver-haired teammate, surprised at first, but then grinning at the possibilities.

"So we can sneak up on that thing or move quickly? Not bad," she says with a smirk. "Do your thing, Cordy! Let's start this off with a bang!"

Cordelia’s hair and clothes flew upwards in a brilliant display of power and pressure, the strands of her clothing coming apart at the seems revealing below them not skin nor flesh, but brilliant, glimmering possibility. It shone a bright blue, twinkling light a painted reflection of the night sky as details of her Parma started to sharpen into focus. Cordelia shot to her feet, trailing from her hand was what looked like a spinning thread of molten glass, slowly dangling around her as if it was a ribbon. The rain halted around her for a moment as the sound of cracking glass erupted from her, and the spinning thread took shape into the great sword known as Pridwen.
The massive blade stood nearly as tall as the Ars Magi herself. The length of the blade appeared to be made up of many different pieces of stained glass, perfectly crafted and honed to a dangerously sharp edge. As the details of her Parma honed into detail, the rain began to fall around her once more, the once Verdant unconfident eyes of a butler had now shifted to a yellowish cat’s eye glean that shone confidently in the moonlight. Her once simpler outfit now bursting out white, black, and blue with ribbons and crests too regal to be found on the typically reserved girl.

The biggest change, perhaps, was the now crescent moon grin, wide as could be and hungry. She hefted the magnificent great sword with a single hand reaching it up into the night sky, as if daring lightning to strike, before spinning it and plunging it into the Earth.

A pulse echoed out from it that expanded well past their target as Cordelia began to sense in the area just how much glass she was given. The grin only grew from there. All at once shards of glass all around the ruined battleground they were being thrust into, and in front of her team began to form into doorways made of piecemeal shards made up of just about any kind of glass you could think of. Sea glass, windshields, windows, mirrors, if it could reflect an image it began to rise into the air. One doorway was located by the pinned down team, another towards the redheaded Ars Magi Cordelia had watched get thrown into a wall. The third, however, shimmered magnificently above the humongous three-story mech.

Penny has to squint to withstand the glare of Cordelia's new transformation, surprised at the new trick her teammate pulled out. Part of her can't help but think of her old shows, before she forcibly quashes the notion, reminding herself that several lives were at stake and that they're going up against something that could splatter them across the landscape if they're not careful.

Glass from the cityscape shot back over to Cordelia as well, just enough to create three doorways in front of her team. “First leads to the pinned team, second to the top of this mech, third to the pinned down Ars Magi. If you need a doorway once we’ve entered combat call for me over the radio with your location and I’ll do what I can.” Cordelia had transformed, in more ways than one. “Let’s do what we do best, once we’re done, we’ll see about that dance.”

Penny grips Groß Eisen in both hands as the rocket begins warming up.

"Guess I'll take the second gate, if it's okay with you girls," she says, preparing herself. "Oh, and if Blair starts swearing at you, don't worry, that's just her way of saying 'hello'."

The rocket hammer then blasts, propelling Penny forwards at breakneck speeds as she disappears into the second portal, leaving a trail of crackling lightning behind her. She materializes a moment later above the giant mecha, boosting her speed as she comes down hard on the top of the giant war machine.

"Surprise, bitch!" she calls out cheerfully, slamming her hammer right on top of the thing full-force. "CANDYGRAM!"

After quickly striking at the mecha, Penny slides back, bracing herself for a second for a last-gasp attack, or worse, reinforcements. When those failed to materialize, she takes a breath of relief and skates back to the others. She finds herself perhaps a bit disappointed that the adrenaline rush had to end early, but she recognizes the need to keep this mission stealthy and avoid confrontations. Even if it was only a practice run.

She follows the others to the destination, keeping an eye out to see if they're being followed. Fortunately, nothing seems to have seen them, so she joins the team in cover. She walks up to Nichole and pats her on the shoulder.

"Hey, Nichole, you know I was just kidding about earlier, right?" she says with a smile. "We still cool?"

When the protein bars are being handed out, Penny catches hers one-handed and rips off the cover. She moves to throw the wrapper on the ground, but then thinks better of it and shoves it into her pocket. No sense in littering, even in an abandoned wasteland. She begins to dig in when Aiya springs the question on her.

"Hmmmnnff?" she grunts in response. "Ah, yfee-"

She catches herself, pauses to chew and swallow the bit in her mouth, and then resumes.

"Eh, I wouldn't call it flying," she responds. "Nichole can fly. I just know a bit of parkour and rollerblading, so I know how to use movement and momentum a bit, and I'm just crazy enough to carry around a rocket on a stick.

"As for the Juno engineers... sorry, but that's how it goes. The knee joint was sort of a gimme; I reasoned that there's only so much you can do to armor up leg joints before it hampers the mech's movement. The comm unit was a necessary target; I didn't know how fast their reaction times were, so I needed to stop it from calling for help. The head, though, that was a lucky guess. I was afraid they'd put the control unit deeper into the chest cavity, where it would have had better protection. I guess I'm lucky I specialize in melee, and that I hit pretty hard.

"Then again, that's why we're having these training exercises, right? To figure out where the weak points are and how to compensate for them in future fights."

Cordelia's response to Aiya surprises Penny just as she's about to resume eating the protein bar.

"Aw come on, don't be so hard on yourself," Penny offers in weak encouragement. "I mean, at least you can dance pretty good. I've never danced a waltz before, so all Dima and I wound up doing is stepping on each other's toes the whole time."

Penny feels Groß Eisen's hilt in her hands, waiting for the right moment to either sneak by the mecha along with the rest of the group, or to deliver one hell of an opening powerblow. It's nerve-wracking, facing an unknown opponent - one admittedly much bigger than the team combined, and possibly one that can counter their abilities - but it was their job to test its abilities. Perks of being drafted into this war, she guesses.

The anxious silence is cut by Nichole issuing orders with her usual bright energy.

"Penny! It's time to do what gotcha to the dance, babe. If you can kill them, great. If not, focus on weak points. Let's crack the biggest, most expensive parts we can eyeball wide open and let Dana shoot 'em up, yeah?"

This in turn gets her a wolfish grin from the Siscian.

"'Bout time," mutters the brunette through her grin, and fires up her rocket and rollerblades, running around a corner picking up speed, before jumping into the air directly at the first mecha's head, Groß Eisen charging up with lightning as she swings it for a mighty blow.

"KAISERSCHLAGEN!!" she roars as she slams the rocket hammer with the force of an anti-tank missile directly in the robot's head, hopefully taking out the sensor equipment and possibly the control unit as well. Lightning Elementum flows through the strike as well, reaching into the sensitive circuitry within to fry it and take out the damaged mecha. She then leaps into the air, pirouettes with Groß Eisen firing to increase her striking power, then takes a diving strike at the other one and delivers a powerful blow at what she hopes was the comm unit.

"Whoops! That looked important!" she calls out mockingly.

As she rolls down the mecha in her rollerblades, she delivers one final strike to the second mecha's knee joint, trying to throw it off balance and hopefully toppling it into the other one.

"Well, that looks expensive!" she calls out as she slams her mighty rocket hammer into the joint. "Hope ya didn't need it too bad!"

Penny listens to the other girls' plans, carrying Groß Eisenon her shoulders. While Cordelia's plan seemed eager to use herself as bait (then again, it wasn't like Penny's own plan didn't have her basically take the brunt of the attacks), Nichole and Vanna voiced caution. She listens to their plans, thinking them over.

"So I guess we're going with Nichole and Vanna on this one?" she asks. "More on the caution-slash-stealth side, but then again, we're escorting VIPs, so stealth and speed are more important here.

"Good plan, really,"
she says with a shrug. "So we're all agreed? Stick to cover, move quietly, snipe drones when they get too close, and keep heading for the target area."

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 overvalued.

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
𝙱𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚏𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚁𝚘𝚘𝚖
𝙹𝚞𝚗𝚎 𝟸𝟿𝚝𝚑, 𝟷𝟷𝟽 𝙰𝚅
𝟺:𝟶𝟶 𝙿𝙼
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
𝙰𝚋𝚊𝚗𝚍𝚘𝚗𝚎𝚍 𝙳𝚒𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚒𝚌𝚝
𝙹𝚞𝚗𝚎 𝟹𝟶𝚝𝚑, 𝟷𝟷𝟽 𝙰𝚅
𝟼:𝟶𝟶 𝙿𝙼
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.

"Yeah, I think I've seen a few of the posters over the past weekend, when I was out with the girls," Penny replies, thinking back. "But yeah, okay, we'll talk about that later..."

'Assuming we get to see each other, that is,'
she thought to herself. 'Not sure if I'm ready for a steady relationship yet... Wait, why am I even thinking about this?!'

She catches Nichole looking at her, the Hastan social butterfly seemingly busy with another girl, this one a fancy-looking officer, maybe even a Duodecim from the way she carried herself about. She sighs; the redhead seemed to just ooze natural charisma that pulled others in. Nichole may not be an attention-seeker, but she seems to be in her element here.

"Hm?" she turns back to Dima when he asks about her mother. "Yeah, like I said, she's a Seargent First Class, 3rd Platoon, 51st Infantry Division. Her troops call her 'Iron Jane', and yeah, she's a tough old bird. Great mom, though.

"What about your folks? Any military among them?"

Looking at the camera crews and the bigwigs, Penny gives a slight frown.

"Ah, I dunno about that," she replies. "I suspect I'd just get nervous as hell. Probably just follow the lead of my teammates and pray I don't leave a bad impression."

She then realizes her dance partner left her, but finds herself awkwardly looking around, not sure what to do next. She thinks about rejoining her table before she catches sight of a familiar Hastan redhead - not the chic social butterfly, the other one. Blair McKenzie was spending the dance down at a table scarfing down food and drinks, talking to her teammates, generally nonchalant about the whole thing, an interesting contrast to the bubbly Dana or the adaptive Nichole. Penny chuckles as the rough Celt scares off a few sorry bastards who try to work up the nerve to talk to her.

"Oh man, those guys didn't know what hit 'em," she mutters under her breath. She then realized there was someone behind her - Dima was back with drinks.

"Oh... thanks, I was really getting thirsty," she says, taking one of the drinks. "It's not alcoholic, is it? Ah, screw it, old enough to fight, old enough to drink, like Mom always says."

She takes a healthy swig, grateful for the hydration. She then guides Dima to a table for the two to sit down and relax a bit.

"You know, I think we should take a seat," she says. "I think my feet are beginning to kill me..."

She engages in pleasant talk with Dima about an assortment of topics, mostly casual conversation. She pauses a bit, trying to see where her teammates had gone. Vanna's off to the fancy section (well, the really fancy section), the new girl is... somewhere, she finds herself wondering what happened to Astrelle, whereas Nichole and Dana were...

Oh, there they were. Nichole's the star attraction at the table of a few officers, drinking a whole champagne flute as the eager young men cheered her health. And Dana was at Dima's old table, chatting up a storm and generally being hard to miss.

"Nice to see them fitting in so well," she says. "They seem to be having a blast. Yeah, never really gone to a formal occasion like this before. Always thought I'd flub something big, being this working-class girl stumbling along among a whole room of fancypants nobility. Hell, I kept trying to find ways to get out of this shindig, but Dana kept dragging me back here. Don't ask me where the off switch on her is, I gave up trying to find it. Not that I mind really; she's... well, she's got the sort of energy to brighten up a room, if you noticed. It's nice, actually; makes you feel like the world's a bit brighter with her in it. Maybe some find it annoying, but eh, screw 'em. She's fine by me.

"And Nichole... I don't know how she does it. She already had the city mapped out by our third week here and just seems to turn heads wherever she goes. It's like she's born for the spotlight, y'ask me. Me? I'm just fine with trying to get along, but I'll be honest, it's nice to be in this bunch. The other two, Vanna - sorry, Lady Khay Vanna - and Astrelle are more aloof. Yeah, Vanna of Diane. It's kind of intimidating around her sometimes, to be honest, the way she constantly carries herself, but then again, she's Duodecim, so I can't imagine how her life's like, so I'm not passing judgement. Astrelle... I dunno, she just... she got transferred one night, that's all I know. No news, no goodbyes, just... she's in a different dorm and a different team."

At the end of the ball, she bids Dima good night.

"Thanks for the dance, Dima," she says. "It's been a fun night, maybe we can meet again soon. Thanks for the company, it's helped me keep my mind off my anxiety."

She then notices they're passing by a vending machine as she moves to leave. She crackles her knuckles as a mischievous grin draws on her face.

"Hey, Dima, wanna see a neat trick?" she asks. "Here's a drink on me, hope you like surprises. Oh, and keep a look out in case anyone notices."

She snaps her fingers, summoning an arc of electric, before smacking the machine with the palm of her hand, causing it to shudder strongly (Penny is clearly seriously strong for her size) before a clatter of cans results, spitting up two free drink cans without Penny having to insert a single coin.

"How's that for a magic trick?" she says to her partner, giving him whichever flavor he prefers. "See you around..."

The fresh breeze on the walk back to the dorm was sobering and soothing, allowing her to relax properly. Overall, the dance wasn't as bad as she was worried it would be, so she guesses she owes Dana an apology. She spends the walk savoring the outdoors, the sights, and slowly sipping her root beer along the way, thinking about the stars and her folk back home. She should really write soon. She almost misses the approach of a particularly bubbly girl.

“So, how are ya feelin’, Penny?” Dana asked her roommate during the short walk across the campus. “Did ya have at least some fun?”

"Well, it certainly wasn't as bad as I thought," admits the Siscian. "It was actually sort of fun. Dima's a nice guy, good to talk with, bit dorky, but I think it's nice, really. Though I clearly didn't have nearly as much fun as you or Nichole. Don't think I didn't see you at Noah's table, chatting up a storm like you always do. And Nichole being the toast of a table of officers. Seriously, I have no idea how she does that, just catch all the attention like that."
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