A huge wolf stood close to her, looking at her with all his four eyes. For some reason, she was frozen in place, unable to move. The wolf bared its teeth and the saliva began to drip down. Looking down, she saw a long chunk of meat, chewed until it was indistinguishable. She wanted to scream, but…
“Wake up. Orisa, dear, wake up.” A gentle voice has shattered the nightmare.
‘Warm…’ That was the first thing Orisa thought and felt when she woke up. The setting sun pleasantly illuminated the room with warm light, creating a sense of tranquility. A lot of warmth, however, was gathered in one spot. Following her senses, Orisa saw Rita sitting on her bed and holding her hand. Holding Orisa’s hand with her right hand.
“Rita! Your hand!” Orisa quickly sat up on the bed, grabbed Rita’s right hand with both hands and rubbed it in disbelief. “It’s back!”
“Yes, Orisa. I’m fine.” She smiled warmly, placing her left palm on top of Orisa’s hands. “I’m fine, thanks to you.”
‘Shut up, it’s you who are crying, not me!’ Internal critic wiped his imaginary tears with a handkerchief.
They spent some time in silence, enjoying the atmosphere. Burning curiosity finally overpowered Orisa and she asked:
“Rita, can you explain to me what happened to you? I thought you healed yourself…”
“First of all, I’m so sorry for all the trouble and pain I’ve caused you…” She paused, squeezing Orisa’s hands tighter. “As for your question, there are two reasons...”
To summarize, Rita didn’t use the disinfection spell, because it greatly weakens the target while circling through the body and cleansing it. Healing all her injuries was not an option, because it would close her shoulder wound, making the restoration of her hand impossible. She was also unable to heal her wounded stomach, since it’s impossible to target a specific place without a second hand, and Orisa would not be able to properly direct the flow of healing, even if she would be able to help with casting.
Even during the explanation, Rita's tone was gentle, soothing Orisa's very soul. The atmosphere in the room and Rita's voice together created a long-forgotten childhood feeling.
Satoru often visited his sick mother who was bedridden in a hospital. They spent quite some time together, telling stories, joking, reading or simply holding hands. He recalled sitting by her side as she was gently stroking his palm, telling him about the future, what would the school and university bring into Satoru's life and how he should move on. A setting sun lit the room with warm light, and his mother smiled to him gently, her voice very tender and soft. He was too young to understand what she was actually implying by that speech. Also by a miracle, his mother survived the surgery, he still remembered that day vividly, her voice and her smile.
And now he felt exactly the same. Rita's motherly aura embraced him and washed away his stress and fear, and warmth filled his heart.
“You saved my life, Orisa.” Rita was deeply moved, her face emitting a strong wave of gentleness. “Captain told me about your state… I can’t even-“
“Rita, you saved my life, too.” Orisa reminded her with a bright smile. “Ten out of ten I would do it again! You are the closest person in this world to me.” She scratched her head with a slightly awkward smile. “Guess you are kinda like a family now…”
After staring at Orisa with a blank expression, Rita’s face twisted. She suddenly rushed into the arms of shocked Orisa and began to cry.
‘Whoah… I guess… She is kinda happy? Overjoyed?’ Orisa mused, stroking Rita’s back gently. But suddenly, sobbing, Rita said:
“I miss them… I miss them so much…”
An image of a strong and knowledgable gatekeeper merged together with a picture of a caring mother, creating Orisa's new perception of Rita Stronoff. She kept stroking Rita’s back, soothing away her pain.
“My third son was about your age when I…”
They sat like that for quite some time. In the meantime, Orisa noticed that she was dressed in clean underwear. After taking a quick peek at her hands she also noted that they were intact. ‘Healing magic is nice. A bit complicated and with its downsides, though.’ She thought. Her internal critic supplied another useful phrase: ‘Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.’
Finally, Rita pulled away, muttering an apology and wiping away her tears.
“Rita…” Orisa started uneasily. “I also wanted to tell you something. I’m not sure how bad it is, and…” Rita smiled encouragingly and squeezed Orisa’s hands. She nodded for Orisa to continue speaking.
“I… well… I was a man in my past life.” Orisa braced for impact. ‘Now you’ve done it. They’ll probably lock you down in some cell and dissect you like an animal now. For science, of course.’ Her critic grumbled.
“Oh, poor soul!” Rita tightly hugged Orisa, tenderly whispering to her ear. "Must have been so hard for you, all alone and lost and then this…"
“Well…” Orisa was knocked out by Rita’s support, expecting some disgust instead. “I kinda had some experience with women before… So, not that hard, but… Well, yeah, kinda.” She kept blabbering, embraced by a warm, caring Rita. She advised Orisa not to disclose this information in order to not be ostracized and ridiculed. Suddenly Rita realized something and pulled away:
“Oh, I forgot! We actually don’t have time for this! Your train is leaving soon, that’s why I woke you up in the first place.”
This time the sadness of the imminent parting was much bigger, the pain rose in Orisa’s chest.
“The Captain brought you some new closes from the fort, so start dressing. I need to tell you something before you leave.” She took out a small black box and opened it. Inside was a small crystal that glowed with purple. “This is a hound wolf magic stone from the wolf that we killed. You’ll learn the importance and value of this item later, but I implore you – do not show it around.” She closed the box and returned it to Orisa’s backpack.
“You’ll find some more little presents from me and the Captain, thank you gifts for saving me.” She smiled warmly. “And there is one more thing I need to tell you. Two, actually, but they are related.”
Orisa sat down beside Rita, dressed up and ready to leave.
“Please, take your training and everything that happens there seriously. Your whole new life and survival depend on it. Promise me.” Orisa nodded with a serious expression, and Rita continued:
“The second one is even more important. At the end of training, when you are given the choice between military and adventuring, choose military. I beg you.” Rita squeezed Orisa’s hands even more tightly. “At the first glance adventuring sounds great, but it is not. Their life is insanely hard and most of them end up in the military anyway. Or they end up on the street, homeless and broken.”
"Oh, and the last thing I forgot!" Rita stood up. "Please, don't think of yourself as an exception. We almost died last night. You are no hero with hidden power. You are just a boy in a girl's body, not stronger than thousands of people around you. And people are dying here every day. People like you. Don’t lose your head over one victory. And be safe.”
A few minutes were left before the train boarding.
“By the way, Rita, when I was bandaging you, I saw a scar on your chest right below the Seals. And, more importantly, there were five seals! Five!” Orisa said, agitated.
“Uh, well…” Rita shuffled, feeling slightly uncomfortable. “I’ll… tell you the next time. By the way, when you learn a basic writing language, be sure to send me a letter! We’ll talk more via mail.” She handed Orisa a paper card.
“Um… why can’t I read it?” Orisa asked, puzzled. “I can read my tag’s text.”
“Your tag is made from Magisteel. It’s enchanted to allow anybody to understand its contents. To read common books and papers you’ll need to learn a written language.” Rita smiled, a bit embarrassed.
Their parting was a bit teary and accompanied by a lot of hugging and handholding. Finally, Orisa approached the train.
‘I’m still amazed that there are trains in this world. So wanna learn about this world’s technology level!’
In a great mood she headed towards the boarding platform, a bright new world was waiting for her.
“Woah, what a cutie pie. Look at her ass!” Passing by two men in uniform, she heard their conversation.
“Lark, behave yourself! We are officers now!” A tall, thin man with a blond hair hissed to his colleague.
“C’mon, look at her! So thick!” A short burly officer in round glasses almost drooled at Orisa's bottoms, even though she was wearing formless training pants. "Imagine her being in my squad!"
Orisa flinched from disgust and rushed into the train.
Having settled on the seat inside the car a few minutes later, Orisa stared out of the window for a long time. Fields and forests replaced each other, sometimes rare settlements could be seen in the distance. Once, a fortress passed on the horizon. Before it became completely dark outside, Orisa saw what seemed to be a devastated village, a cloud of smoke rising above it.
When she could no longer see anything outside, she decided to take a nap. But every time she closed her eyes for more than ten seconds, the wolf appeared and chewed Rita’s hand.
She gave up on the sleep and went to check Rita’s gifts.
Unzipping her backpack the first thing she saw was a letter. ‘Huh? Rita? But I can’t read, remember? What a klutz!’
She unfolded the letter anyway and spent the next few minutes laughing like crazy. The letter consisted of uneven hiragana hieroglyphs and sloppy drawings.
Having wiped the tears, she began to study the drawings and comments to them.
-A bottle- SWALLOW ONE STUDY DRAWING.
-A hand- FIX ITS. SOUL STREAM GOOD. <- CAPTAIN
-A circle with a small picture- BUY NEED.
-A book- TOO LATE. GO AND TOWN.
-A rectangle with lines- GIVE YOU LEADER
She checked backpack's content. Indeed, there was a bottle with a cherry-colored liquid, a pair of gloves, a coin purse with some money inside, a book and a letter.
Closing the backpack, she hugged it with both hands with a happy, warm smile.
At one of the stations, a trio of teenagers climbed into the car and sat a few seats away from Orisa. She peeked at them, curious about their appearance and occupation. She also hoped to learn something new from their conversation.
‘Um, they look like some rich kids.’ Satoru mused while observing the trio. ‘But where did they come from in an infertile world?’
Indeed, they looked quite noble. Everyone wore an expensive, one might say even ceremonial attire. They even sat with straight backs. ‘The only missing piece is a butler.’
There was too much noise from the train’s movement and only fragments of their conversation can be heard, so Orisa gave up on this idea and returned to her thoughts.
“Ravastan, a chick over there, she was staring at you.” One of them said in a louder voice so that Orisa could hear it. She decided to ignore them.
“Huh, really? Perhaps even these creatures can have a sense of beauty and style.” A boy with straw-colored curly hair, apparently Ravastan, turned on his seat to face Orisa. “Hey, fiendfood, is that true?”
Orisa kept ignoring him, but it was already clear to her that this would not end well. ‘Fuck. God, or Lead Game Designer, or whoever you are, give me a break. Pretty please?’
“Oi! Beastsnack! I’m talking to you!” He stood up and went towards Orisa.
‘Is this some kind of local insult?’ Everything inside Orisa already boiled. She was ready to break someone’s nose. ‘He wants to fight anyway. I should skip the courtesy.’
“Hello? Do-you-understand-human-language?” He said, stretching words in a mocking manner. Orisa kept ignoring him, so he finally snapped:
“Yo! Trash like you should respond when a noble gentleman addresses her!" He spat, kicking Orisa's seat.
“Buzz off, kid.” Not even looking in his direction, Orisa replied.
Two other teenagers burst out laughing.
“Rav, she kind of ditched you!” Said one of them, laughing even harder.
“Looks like I need to teach some manners to a fiendfood scum!” He screamed, pulling out his rapier.
“So, what, you gonna kill me or what?” Her palms were sweating hard, but she kept her appearance as cool as possible. ‘I don’t even know the laws of this world. What if it’s okay here to just kill somebody..?’ A scary thought ran through her mind.
“Hmm, you are right! You know, for a monster ration you are kinda smart!” He giggled disgustingly. “Why let the flesh go to waste? We are going to have some fun with you! No harm in it, right? You’ll just become a monster food in a few days anyway, right!?” He pressed a tip of his rapier to her breast and poked it slightly.
She carefully brushed away the tip of the rapier and stood up, grabbing the backpack in her left hand. Then Orisa slowly approached him with a wicked smile on her face.
“So…” She said with a quiet, intimate voice. “Wanna have some fun?”
With the same disgusting smile, he nodded, lowered his rapier and squeezed Orisa’s hand. The next moment one very fast and very hard knee made contact with two very soft and very vulnerable balls. Bending over from extreme pain, he released his grip and fell on the floor, moaning in pain. The pair of nobles laughed even louder, squeaking like pigs.
“Rav! Some random chick has outdone you!" Commented the same kid.
“I… will fucking… murder you, bitch!” He groaned, trying to stand up. Orisa slammed him with her backpack, pinning him to the floor yet again and swiftly moved away from the car.
‘Okay, that was nice and cool, but what now?’ She thought while moving between the seats. ‘There is nowhere to hide. C’mon, brain, do something. Be creative!’
After passing through several cars, she saw two slightly familiar faces. ‘You've got to be kidding me, right? Brain, don't you dare suggest this embarrassment!' She screamed internally. After looking back she shuddered — the Moron was catching up, only one car away from her.
Sighing deeply in embarrassment, she moved forward. Having made the most distressed face she could produce, she stopped near the third seat and muttered:
“I’m… so sorry to bother you…” She almost sobbed while clutching the shirt around her chest. “But… I don’t know on which station I need to get off… And everything is so scary… Can you help me? Please?”
“Of course! Of course! That’s what the military was made for, right?” With a bright smile, a short burly officer in round glasses slapped the seat next to him.