Polyanna waited in her office for her scheduled appointment with La'Tavia and William. The pair had the honorable distinction of being the first students to be issued a detention for the school year. On the first day no less!
As the the appointed time drew nearer, La'Tavia had time to calm down and get herself together before facing her nemesis. Polyanna and La’Tavia did not have the best relationship but La’Tavia was always too scared to say what was in her mind. Today though, today was going to be different as she knocked on the door to the office. "It’s us."
William entered the room, his self-loathing blacker than usual. He had come to the conclusion that his' taking on the detention was just him pretending
to be kind and selfless when he in fact was a selfish jerk out only for his own 'greatness'. Exactly what his family thought about him.
He waited for La'Tavia to knock on the door and Polyanna to open it. He'd enter after the former.
Polyanna stood up, aging quickly in that span of time. Going from a girl in her teens, to a woman in her late twenties, the hazel haired Head Enforcers' uniform grew alongside her, accommodating her rather filled out proportions."Hey there kids,"
she said, grinning down on the two "Hope you brought a change of clothes. You'll be helping me scratch a small itch, so you'll be getting sweaty."
That, by the way, was a very
deliberate choice of wording, on her part.
William lifted up his right hand, which held a bag containing a change of clothes. He then asked, "We'll be cleaning gutters or sewers, or is this going to be a combat mission?"
Dropping the bag she had strung over her back, she looked at William and replied to his question. "This isn’t a mission. We are about to fight Polyanna so get ready."
William looked at La'Tavia and said, "But that's what I tried to go to the forest for! To get materials for a weapon that can help me fight Polyanna on an even level!"
She laughed a bit before continuing, "Even level? Do you even know where that level is?"
Polyanna raised a brow, looking at the two. Should she say something...? It felt like she ought to say something. She was kind of flattered that they were breaking the rules to get on her level, but she really shouldn't be inspiring rule breaking in the first place."Anyway, it really doesn’t matter what the level is,"
The fire starter punched her palm, causing flames to ignite and dissipate, "if we want to win, we need to start improving now."
William blinked, "My blood, when combined with the proper materials, allows me to duplicate the weapons of legend, up to Excalibur. The closer the forging process was to the original weapon's, the less of my blood - You're right. Problem is that I have no combat spells whatsoever."
He then placed his palm on the floor, trying to conjure up a vision of one of Polyanna's previous fights! Polyanna swiped her staff through the air. With a sound like shattered glass, Williams burgeoning spell broke apart."No casting in my office you,"
she said dryly just as La'Tavia asked: “Did you bring materials with you?”
"Sorry; forgot that we weren't in the arena yet," William said to Polyanna before he said to La'Tavia, "Actually... I have a steel ingot in my backpack," he tapped said backpack, "And some wood and leather. But those will only be enough to make a Gram, Durandal, or very weak Excalibur." A pause. "And I would not have brought those if I hadn't remembered you were a fire mage."“Good.”
Looking at the kid, she could see how much alike they were. Always thinking of the next way to get stronger. The next best thing. Yet she had it in her mind that the best way to get stronger was to refine the basics. “Use this as a chance to refine the basics of what you know. Don’t worry about the quantity, it’s the quality....or something like that....”
At that point, her brain went silent. She was thinking way too hard for her usual self and it was getting uncomfortable for her mind.
Her eyes then shifted back towards Polyanna, who seemed to be patiently waiting for the two to students to allow her to speak. “You ready to do this, old lady?”"Pft, you kids really ought to learn some respect,"
the scolding was halfhearted, and Polyanna just kept smiling. La'Tavia might not have the warmest feelings for her, but she herself found her grit admirable - even if she was somewhat reckless."Good mindset, by the way. Refining your basics is a good path. Now, I've got a spot reserved for us in the training field."
Stepping closer to the window of her office, Polyanna tapped it thrice in three different spots, before opening it."After me."
And with that, she jumped right through it. On the other side, she landed right in the training field.
William followed her, fighting feelings of futility and despair as he pursued Polyanna, knowing full well that he was going to lose, that he'd prove himself nothing special, and that he was an unsuitable instrument for the 'Golden Ending', an unsuitable instrument for Humanity's advancing narrative.
La’Tavia jumped in last. Landing next to William, she fixed her gaze onto Polyanna. Her eyes burned with passion as she readied herself for battle. She ignited her entire body, engulfing herself into a raging flame, eyes white waiting to make her move."Nice to see you're all 'fired up'."
Polyanna twirled her staff, the white instrument of her magic sending vibrations into the air as it went. The area around Polyanna turned hazy, and she set her staff down. A lollipop materialized in her hand, and she promptly put the treat in her mouth."Now, we go for three rounds. Each round is five minutes. I've got no win conditions, so just give me the best you've got."
William looked at La'Tavia, set down his backpack and clothes pack, and took a steel ingot, leather strips, and a block of wood from the former, along with a hammer and two knives; a woodcarver's and a combat knife. "I am going to need you to provide a forge," the young man said to her.“You’re looking at it.”
She flared up more; offering her fire to her temporary companion.
William nodded, and slit his right wrist with the combat knife, soaking the steel ingot with his own blood, before the young man held out said ingot onto La'Tavia's fire.
"Normally, I'd attempt normal smithing," the young man said as the steel ingot began glowing with a golden light, "But right now, my blood and the magic of Stories will just have to compensate for my Un-Zane-ness."
He then began hammering the steel ingot into a blade, before whispering to himself, "Gram will be the best sword I can make; I hope Polyanna is no Odin."“Odin or not, forge Gram better than it has ever been forged before.”
Her voice was clear and stern. Her gaze still fixated on the instructor.
Polyanna gave the pair a cheery thumbs up. "Feel free to start at any time, by the way!"
William quenched the blade by slitting his left wrist and drenching the heated, forged metal with more of his own blood; it was clear that he was stretching the power of Story Magic to ward off the inevitable burns that his forging process would realistically bring. And by that, William's magic kept his hands from being burnt as he forged the blade, but that increased the amount of blood needed to forge Gram anew.
Taking the quenched blade, he splashed his still flowing blood on the leather and wood he also brought, and took the woodcarver's knife to carve a hilt. Another few minutes later, and with a golden glow, Gram was forged anew.
William then faced La'Tavia and said, "I'm ready now, and the sword is too."I'll also be dramatically passing out once I lose too much blood, but that'd be a feature that makes me look good in this fight, not a bug.“Took you long enough.”
Now that the story boy was finished, it was now time to begin. She then took all of the flames that she was emitting and condensed them into a single point in the middle of her chest. The concentrated power of the flames then shot out like a laser beam towards Polyanna.
William lifted up his sword and slashed it downwards, unleashing a wave of pure force; nothing on the level of Excalibur's ability to manipulate light and heat, but surely enough to knock a person off their feet...
Polyanna vanished on the spot, the vacuum of wind left in her place imploding, before exploding violently. Nothing damaging, but definitely something that could get a person off balance. The candy mage herself appeared to their left, on the far side of the training field, waving at the two. "Almost got me there!"
William could not win a battle of attrition between him and Polyanna, even if he wasn't bleeding from both wrists. So he cut downward again, unleashing a wall of force that covered an entire side of the arena, hoping to catch his opponent as she ran.“Get over here Will.”
She beckoned to Will to come next to her. When he did, La’Tavia immediately used the opportunity to engulf the entire backside of the arena in flames, using the wall Will created as a cage. “As long as you’re next to me you won’t be burned."
If she couldn’t catch her, she was going to smoke the woman out. There was one opening, and that would be the time to strike.
Will followed the instructions, saying, "Thanks, but I need you to cauterize my wrists; they're still bleeding out."
La’Tavia grabbed both Will’s wrists to close his wounds.
William hyperventilated in pain as the wounds were cauterized, presumably by the burning flames emanating from La'Tavia. He couldn't help but blurt out, "You know, you're quite a fine lady; once you're eighteen, call me."
La’Tavia looked at him briefly as how untimely his comment was. She was flattered but not overly impressed. Though he was man enough to attack Polyanna. Still she needed to stay sharp.
Polyanna nodded. Smart idea to limit her movement, though she was not so unaware that she'd run into a wall. Nodding to herself, Polyanna put another lollipop in her mouth, and cocked her fist back. Her punch crashed through the all like it was made of glass, and she sprinted towards the two staff at her side.
William wasn't blind; he knew that the lollipops weren't just a quirk - they somehow empowered Poly.
Detaching himself from La'Tavia's grip, the young man slashed again at Polyanna's shins, sending out a scything wave of force to try and get her to jump higher in the air; this was to buy time for La'Tavia to attack and force Poly to pull out another Lollipop.
Then he'd put his plan to action.
As Polyanna dashed forward, La’Tavia used the flames she set behind her to attack Polyanna, head on. The entirety of the flames came forward into a stream of fire hiding the two students from her direct line of sight.'Excellent judgment,'
thought Polyanna. 'Control could use a little work.'
Polyanna hopped over Williams attempt, her stride practically not stopping.
Throwing her hand into the air, a thick cloud of sugar rained across the battlefield. A bit of the cloud pushed forward, smothering the flame and further muddying the vision of everyone in the field.
Of course, for Polyanna herself, she could sense the two students - with the battlefield covered in sugar, practically nowhere was a blind spot for her."What the hell!!"
La’Tavia was a bit shook and saddened at her current state. Being covered in sugar was not the ideal feeling she had in mind. Polyanna’s candy magic was unique yet it was so annoying. The lollipop mage was a force she could not help but admire.
With her flames put out, her plan to train her control with Fire went up in smoke. Or so she thought. Not only that, she couldn’t see anything. So, how will she get out of this situation? She could not see anything around her and her ability to sense Polyanna’s presence was limited. Her mind thought for a second before coming up with an idea. ‘I’ll use my magic to find her.’
The fire mage closed her eyes and surrounded herself with a thin layer of heat. She could feel the team run up and down her body, as if being wrapped around a blanket. Then she slowly tried to push the sensation outward, to feel William next to her. This was her attempt at seeing without seeing.
William, however, didn't see this, and settled for slashing his sword downward once more, releasing another wall of force meant to push the candy-cloud aside.
Polyanna's impression of La'Tavia shot up a few centimeters. That was some quick thinking on her part, adapting her own magic to use the way she was using hers. Still, it was rather rough around the edges and she was unsteady with it.
Gripping her hand, the sugar covering the duo suddenly attracted each other, drawing them towards one another. If the two of them collided, as planned, they would be stuck to one another rather fiercely.
As William tried to keep his footing, he yelled at La'Tavia, "Burn it off! Burn the sugar off!"
La’Tavia could feel her body start to move on it’s own. Just as she was about to get a glimpse of something great, her efforts were cut short. Though she wanted to train, this fight taught her that efficiency means quickness. Efficiency means adaptability. So while she was trying to learn new ways to use her magic, she also couldn’t afford to waste time taking things slow.
Immediately, La’Tavia’s eyes opened at the sounds of William’s voice and she reacted to his words promptly, she burst fire from her body and began to use the force to spin herself around, she then, her body was engulfed in flames, again trying to burn the sugar off of her.
As she spun, the pillar increased in size to reach William, she tried hard to ensure his body was not burned by the flames. No, she made sure his body did not get harmed by her power.
While the sugar on La'Tavia burnt to ashes, those on William reacted very differently. The sugar instead melted, becoming a viscous fluid that covered him, dripping underneath his clothes before Polyanna's will arrested them, encasing the boy in the sweet from the shoulder downwards. Immediately, she rushed towards La'Tavia, while her concentration was still on William, and from her hand, a chocolate bar the size of volleyball appeared. With great force, she threw the treat towards the red-head.
William, still holding Gram, tried to use a localized wave of force to free his sword arm from the encasing shell of sugar. If he succeeded, he'd be trying to knock the chocolate bar off-course with a smaller 'lunge' of kinetic energy.
The sugar broke off, but his attempt to knock off the chocolate bar turned into something else. Rather than change course, the brittle sweet broke apart and melted as it approached La'Tavia. The chocolate landed in puddles at her feet and Polyanna changed directions, going for William instead of her.
A pinstriped candy cane the size of a lamppost appeared in her hand and she swung it towards the boy with bad intentions.
The fire mage took the fire that was around William and moved it below her feet to blast herself into the air. Once there, La’Tavia would revert to her usual combat style. Only this time, she would try that heat sensing again.“Coming at ya, Teach.”
She said as she moved the fire from her feet to her hands and blasted herself towards the lollipop queen.
Another swing of Gram, and a wall of force appeared at William's side, hopefully enough to blunt the candy cane's impact; blocking it completely was out of the question because of the energy he had spent. Polyanna hopped to the side, out of La'Tavia's way and waved at her with a smile as she headed for a straight on collision with William's wall.
William risked it all; pouring the last of his strength into his wall, risking unconsciousness to strengthen the barrier to the point where Poly would have to pour effort into shattering the wall lest she risk a concussion.
La’Tavia was concentrating on her near sense ability. Her range was limited and it was new to her. Why did she not think of this before? Who knows, but it’s never too late to try. However her concentration was on her sense and not what was directly in front of her. Polyanna moved out of the way of her dive. At the last moment, she used her flames and used it to change directions to avoid impact. However, the sudden change blasted her so far that she hit a tree and feel out of the fighting area.
Wincing, the candy mage looked at the place where La'Tavia had crashed, her back turned to William. "That was one hell of a crash. Hope she's okay, yeah?"
William blinked as he said, "Oh, no; what have I done."
His' strengthening the wall had caused this. Inhaling and exhaling, he said, "Let me go to her."
Still not looking at William, she replied: "Match isn't over, and she probably hasn't suffered anything serious. Nothing that can't be fixed, anyhow."
William nodded, and with one dip into his reserves of energy, pushed his strengthened wall at Polyanna, launching it at a high speed.
The chocolate that had melted near La'Tavia earlier suddenly sprung to life. They had been behind William's wall when it melted, and now re-hardened into spikes that shot towards Williams legs.
"ARGH!" William screamed and fell down on his knees, but did not dispel the wall even as his legs bled, spending more precious blood. He kept driving the wall towards Polyanna, finding one last pool of desperate strength.
“Ugh, that was crazy. I really need to get better at multitasking. I need to make this ability as automatic and subtle as breathing.” La’Tavia got up slowly after smacking the tree very hard. Her back aching, she could only move on fortitude alone. Through her many battles, she never gave up once in a fight. She either won or lost.“Hey Poly!!”
She yelled over towards the woman, “how do I get YOUR approval for graduation?
As William pushed his wall towards Poly, he asked, "I must echo the question - How do I get Master rank?!"
Jumping over the wall and around William, the woman responded with an incredulous voice. "You're asking that now?"
Just as she was about to retaliate against William, a loud clanging sound echoed through the training field, signaling the end of the round. Huffing in mild satisfaction, Polyanna approached the duo."Good effort, the both of you, especially you La'Tavia. I noticed you tried adapting my move with the sugar with your flames. Now, I believe you were both asking me something?"
William nodded, "What are the exact procedures to get Master Rank? A test set by three Masters, right?""We yeah but I’m not asking what the test is. I’m asking what do I need to get your approval. I have spent most of my time with you, Poly. You honestly care more about me than the other teachers do. They just look at me like I don’t belong.”
She said gritting her teeth. She never really fit in anywhere. Always felt like an outcast so she always gravitated to others who were also outcasts. Probably why she could not stand people who act as if they are above others or those who just like to abuse people for their own enjoyment.
Still she knew she was into something. Something she needed in order to breakthrough to something. Once she was done speaking, she sat down to listen for her instructor’s reply. While she did that, she practiced expanding her Heat Sense’s territory.
William turned to La'Tavia at that, feeling ashamed for some reason.
With a sigh, Polyanna placed her hand on La'Tavia's shoulder. She didn't say anything immediately - much as she'd like to, she wasn't equipped to deal with emotional baggage like this. She was a fighter, through and through, and though that helped her enforce the rules, counselling was way out of her skillset.
Still, she could address the girls more immediate concerns."You know, most people don't ask for my approval for a reason - I'm a hard taskmaster, and my inclusion in your panel for your graduation will make things much harder than it could be."
Polyanna, after all, did not discriminate between students - whether she liked them or not, all would be subject to her rigorous standards if they saw fit to call upon her judgment."As for you, William, the Graduation, or Full Circle Exam, is a test you have to undertake in order to be recognized as a Master. It's held in the presence of seven Masters, one Grandmaster, and ol'Nick himself, they will provide judgment and overview of you as you complete seven assigned tasks."
Her gaze shifted to La'Tavia again. "Most students don't pass, and many simply drop out of the school entirely to make a name for themselves outside our walls - there's no shame in that either,"
she added quickly. Becoming a Master was a difficult task, after all, and while many a mage dreamed of becoming Grandmasters or Archemages - or more childishly, Archetypes - few were able to surmount the bottleneck known as Masterhood. It was not a title simply given, but a recognition of skill and power.
She broke her concentration to immediately retort to Polyanna, “If I wanted something easy, I wouldn’tve asked you. But I did for a reason.”
La’Tavia stood up with a fiery look in her eyes. “I don’t ask for favors, I don’t ask for shortcuts. All I want is for you to be the Grandmaster present for my exam. AIIGHT?”
William, meanwhile, spoke to Polyanna, "I'll be honest, La'Tavia shows more determination than I do or I could."“That annoys me to no end!!”
La’Tavia snapped at William, “Why did you just stick to making That sword exactly how it was from the book? What is the point in limiting yourself so much?”
William blinked, "Because it literally is one of the limits to my sort of magic." He continued, "Basically, my Magic plays around with the stuff of stories; plot devices, plot components, tropes and cliches. And more importantly, it can only alter stories that already exist, like mine and yours' and Poly's."“But is it?”
La’Tavia asked inquisitively. “You can recreate Garm but you can’t make it out of a tougher material? Maybe a material that holds and elemental property. And who said you could not exceed the boundaries of your magic? Isn’t that why we come to this place? To do the impossible?”
William said, "Yes, yes, and the boundaries of my magic are also its skeleton; if it does not form or contribute to a Story, bad or good but hopefully good, then it collapses and becomes raw magical energy and not a spell; the magic falls apart the moment its skeleton is lost."“Then put it back together.”
Hands akimbo, Polyanna watched the byplay between the two with a mix of amusement and exasperation."Anyway,"
she cut in, "if ever you want me to oversee your exam, feel free to ask, La'Tavia. That spirit of yours is admirable; I look forward to your exam."
Another gong rang out, signaling that their break time was over. The Candy Mage grinned and took a step back as she brandished her candy-cane staff."A'ight, looks like it's about time for round two. Get ready kids - it's only gonna get harder from here."
Roughly ten, grueling, minutes later, and their detention time elapsed. Polyanna was true to her word - with each round, she escalated the difficulty, not outright overpowering them but bogging them down and continually harassing them with creatively terrorizing sweets, and neutralizing their strengths again and again and again
Frighteningly enough, by the end of it all, the Head Enforcer hadn't even broken a sweat - naturally, she finished their bout with a popsicle in her mouth as she looked down at her charges in her child form, thoroughly satisfied.
William, meanwhile, had fainted.
La’Tavia breathed heavily looking up at Polyanna. She sat down and let out a deep sigh as she gathered the strength to talk. “What should I do next?”"Right now? Change your clothes. You did good, you two. Your detention has officially been served."“No, not about right now. I meant, what am I missing to become a master? Is it power?”
Polyanna nodded. "Power, control, creativity - take your pick. If you really want my honest opinion, you're lacking in all areas."
It was harsh, but it was also the truth. La'Tavia was not untalented, and she was not even unskilled, but she was aiming for an entirely different level of skill, and so it was only natural that she fell short.“I guess I should start over in my journey?"
Polyanna snorted. "No need to start over. You're developing nicely already - just keep in mind where you're lacking, and work on what you need to."
William had stirred awake by then, but was closely listening without intruding; this was Polyanna and La'Tavia's story.“Fine then. I’ll just change my approach."
La’Tavia stands up and begins to pick up William who she thought was still passed out. “Thank you teach. I’ll be calling you later to take my exam. I’ll pass first try.”
She said with a smile and new found energy. Power, control and creativity. All things she could work on.
Hoisting William on she shoulders, she gathered fire around her and blasted off. This time, she didn’t use a giant amount. Her fights with Polyanna showed her how much energy she was wasting and she refined her skills some. Plus, she was tired so she needed to manage her power. With a better handle on her magic, she flew in the direction of the dorms.