As the camp drew closer, the scenery gradually changed. Forests became thinner and bushes disappeared altogether. When Orisa finally saw the camp in the distance, two things struck her.
The first was that the camp stood on the plain. There were no trees, no bushes around, and even grass was practically absent. The plain was riddled with craters and covered with scorched earth. It looked like a battlefield, and a frequently used one.
The second noticeable thing was the camp itself. It was neither a camp nor a city. It was a giant fortress with high stone walls stretching for hundreds of meters.
'How wide is it?' Orisa mused, astonished. 'One kilometer? Two?' The sheer size of the stone structure made her shiver.
As they drew even closer, she saw another thing that made her awe. Every fifty meters or so, stone walls were guarded by giant turrets. She was unable to contain her excitement and curiosity, and asked Youko:
"What are these things on the walls? How do they function?"
"Managuns. I'm no engineer and will not be able to provide you with a detailed description." She paused, phrasing her reply. "In general, they are loaded with Mana Charges. An operator can infuse them with his own Mana to add an elemental effect. Then the Charge is released, propelling elementally charged projectile towards a target."
Orisa's eyes turned into shiny stars. 'Now, this is what I call firepower. Literally.'
When they were a few hundred meters away from the gate, a strange phenomenon occurred. For a moment, the air around them became thicker, distorting the view. Orisa felt like something immaterial passed through her. The feeling was similar to a sensation that you can experience during a plane's takeoff. Youko swore quietly, then took out a pocket watch and swore again.
“What was that? What’s wrong?” Orisa questioned Youko.
“A Wave. An hour earlier than predicted.”
Orisa was a little scared by an occurrence, but she calmed down after hearing Youko's tone - more irritated than scared or troubled. She decided to postpone other questions as they were approaching the gate, which was still open.
The gate's entrance was blocked by at least a dozen soldiers. Some had swords in their hands, others had bows. Behind all stood two short girls, one held a huge halberd on her shoulder, the other one was leaning on a long, elaborate rifle.
'Twins?' Orisa was surprised, considering the nature of this world. 'Either you, little girl, is insanely strong for some reason, or your halberd is made of cardboard.'
When they passed through the gate, Youko nodded to one of the soldiers. He nodded back, then confirmed something in the book he was holding, and said:
"She is the last one. Close the gate."
Orisa heard a machinery noise, and then thick metal gates started protruding from the walls. Closing, they made a loud metallic clang, which repeated four times.
Another surprise awaited Orisa inside - the second stone wall, a little lower than an external one, blocked their pass. The second gate was already closed, but the wall beside the gate contained a small, already familiar luminous opening.
"Why are there two rows of walls and two gates?" Orisa asked in confusion.
"One for the Wavespawn, another one for cadets." Youko replied. After a moment she turned back and, seeing Orisa's still puzzled expression, continued. "Cadet's movement is limited, they can't leave the camp until their graduation. External walls require constant maintenance, a lot of movement and transportation is usually going on there. We don't need cadets getting in the way of daily routine."
Orisa sat on a comfy sofa in a small room, waiting. The clock showed half past three in the evening. 'At least, the time system is the same.' She let out a long sigh.
The door finally opened and two people entered the room. The first to enter was Youko, and she sat down on the opposite sofa. The second person closed the door and remained there, looking thoughtfully at the folded letter.
“Okay, kid. Before we start, I’ll give you a choice.” He suddenly started speaking with a hoarse voice. The man looked like your typical gym trainer - a tall, bald and tanned jock. A small pointy brown beard was the only uncharacteristic element.
“There is still an empty spot in the squad you should have entered. Pros – think of one yourself. Cons - you'll be a few days behind them all." He paused, looking at her intently. "Or you can send them to hell and wait for a new squad." He shook the letter. "I'm giving you the choice only because of this thingy."
'Why does it feel like the right answer is not an obvious one?' Something inside Orisa itched, nudging her to think thrice. 'Brain, the heck are you doing? Spit it out!' After fidgeting for a minute, Orisa finally decided.
"The old one." She said in a heavy voice.
"Empty spot. I'm no big deal, but they still need it filled, right?" Orisa managed to phrase her hazy thoughts.
Youko and the man looked at each other thoughtfully. The man finally introduced himself:
"Name's Paulo Cardelio. From now on I'm your captain, and you're gonna call me Captain Pain, nothing more, nothing less. Clear?"
"Sir! Yes, sir!" Orisa remembered some military manga she read once. ‘I wonder, should I stand up?’
"Correct answer - crystal clear, Captain Pain." He paused, waiting.
"Crystal clear, Captain Pain!"
"Good." He waved the letter again. "Don't expect any special treatment. Though for today and today only, we'll give you, our special guest, appropriate treatment."
After hearing his words about her being a special guest, Orisa's mind began to draw alluring pictures of her being someone special, treated well and with respect.
'~Please, don’t think of yourself as an exception. You are no hero with hidden power.~' Suddenly Rita's words appeared in her mind, and her cheeks reddened a little in shame. And then Orisa saw Youko’s wicked smile. ‘Wait-wait-wait, let me think again!’ But it was too late.
"The special treatment that the Captain told you about, it will start right now. And by 'being special' he meant that you'll be getting an intense course of study to catch up on everything you've missed." She checked the clock on the wall. "We have six hours to close a three-day gap. Let's get started!"
"I'll send someone from the squad to take you to your room." The Captain left the room, quietly chuckling.
"We are moving to the classroom, follow me." Youko stood up and left the room.
Orisa sat in a small and almost empty classroom. Inside, there were only fifteen seats and a chalkboard. When Youko arrived, she handed Orisa a stack of notebooks, two pens, and two pencils.
"We'll start with the language. Open your notebook and..." Orisa was distracted from Youko's words by a sudden flashback and slapped her forehead in frustration. She grabbed her backpack and took out a bottle of cherry-colored liquid.
"What is going on?" Youko demanded angrily.
"I'm sorry to disrupt the class. Rita gave me this bottle and, if I understood everything correctly, I need to drink it before the language study."
"What a rascal..." Youko mused, smiling slightly. "You do know how to use it?" Seeing how Orisa shook her head, Youko explained. "One sip before the class. Once a day, never more."
Orisa opened the bottle and took a sip of a sweet liquid. At first, nothing happened. More than a minute passed before it hit her.
'Before, I was blind. And now I see.'
The world around her became brighter, the sounds were clearer. In a single moment, she noticed a lot of new things:
'Youko's glasses had left a mark on her nose, meaning she had a bad sight for a long time. Chalkboard is new, was used only once or twice, though the classroom itself and the seats are old and worn-out. The popping sounds... wait a minute!'
“What are these clapping sounds I’m hearing in the distance?” She asked.
“It’s a sound of Managuns shooting. The Wavespawn is here. This is of no concern to you. Let’s study.”
And so, they began.
The simplified written language was easy. It was created to be easy. The main rule here was 'I write as I hear it'. She memorized thirty letters in ten minutes. The rest was easy since she already could speak the language. Now, she only needed to think about the word to understand how it is written.
Next was a brief history. She'll learn the rest from the books.
The Origin of the Calamity, that took place one thousand and seventeen years ago, is still unknown. And the first two hundred years were poorly documented. It is known that the Calamity broke the giant continent into two parts, leaving the archipelago between them. One of the many consequences was a curse that left 99.99% of the population infertile. In the present, one woman in ten thousand is fertile, and this number is around ten times higher for men.
"I hear explosions. And people, screaming in pain. Who is Akai Shatsu? They say he is dead." Orisa mumbled in trance.
Youko bit her lower lip, trying to hide her grief. She took a deep breath to calm herself and then pulled a small metal wand out of her pocket.
"Hang on for a second, it will hurt". She said before chanting:
Orisa screamed when her head suddenly burst in sensory overload. She could hear tens of people shouting, hundreds of beasts wailing and snarling. She could hear spell names, she could hear commands. She could hear everything.
The nightmare was over. ‘So quiet… So peaceful…’
“What was that?” She asked Youko.
“A spell to increase your hearing and sight, and another one to inverse the last positive spell effect. Now your hearing should be a little worse than normal. Let's continue our study.”
Another consequence of the Calamity was the appearance of the Chambers. Although at first, they were just spots on the ground where naked teenagers periodically appeared. It was hectic at first, but gradually a society was built around this phenomenon.
Among other information, Orisa learned that not only the inhabitants of the Earth, but also a dozen other worlds were gathered here. Among them were even worlds inhabited by non-human beings. But in this world, they looked like humans, anyway.
'Must be especially tough for them.' She thought.
"Miss Satou? Do I understand correctly that this potion is not used by the Cadets?" Orisa asked the question she was pondering at the back of her mind.
"No. It is not."
"But why? It's extremely effective."
"Every bottle is worth my weekly wage."
And they returned to the lecture.
They also briefly touched many other topics such as the structure of society, the basic laws, a bit of the economy and much more. Orisa was studying the structure of the camps and the reasons why the beasts first attacked them and not the cities when somebody knocked on the door.
“Cadet Onuki reporting, Miss Satou.”
Orisa turned and looked at the owner of the voice, still being under the influence of the potion. 'Same height as me. Thin but not too skinny. Dark-blue hair gathered in a knot.' Orisa focused her vision on the girl's face. 'Glasses with almost no distortion. Then her vision is okay. Means she is wearing them for another reason, probably to distract from freckles. Took a quick peek at me, didn't want me to know she is interested.' Orisa turned back to Youko:
"I can still go on, Miss Satou."
“No, that’s enough.” She quickly cut Orisa off. “Thank you, Onuki. Take care of the girl. Good night.” Youko nodded to Orisa and went to the exit. Standing in the doorframe she took out her wand and chanted two spells after looking at her pocket watch:
"Lesser Delay!", "Lesser Dispel!"
And so, she left.
"Nice to meet you, Orisa." Onuki said in a calm voice, though Orisa was still able to discern a slight hope and excitement.
“Thank you for your help, Onuki. And it’s nice to meet you, too.”
When they left the room, the potion ended. The world before Orisa’s eyes lost its sharpness and she suddenly found herself on the floor. Everything was grey, boring and unpleasant.
"Oh god, are you alright?" She heard a disturbed voice and felt something cold but very soft on her forearm. "Let me help you." Onuki pulled her up as if Orisa was stuffed with cotton.
The rest of the way they walked holding hands. Even though Orisa was feeling better, the world around her was still dull and disgusting, and a soft feeling of Onuki's hand made her mood slightly better.
'Is it a norm in this world to be this close after meeting a person? What a strange girl.' Orisa was a bit confused by their handholding trip. The internal critic was singing something about cherry chapstick, but she promptly ignored him, uninterested in anything related to handholding.
Behind the door that Onuki opened was a room with four beds. Two beds were already occupied by their owners.
I'm not sure how I should feel about an all-girl room' Orisa mused. 'Is it even okay for me to live in one room with other girls?' But it was too late.
“Orisa, this is Mira Rahna.” Onuki waved towards a girl with gorgeous black hair.
"'sup, girl." She replied, uninterested.
“I am Toatre. Greetings.” The second girl nodded. Her gaze made Orisa shiver. She radiated strange, otherworldly aura.
“My name is Orisa. I’m glad to finally be able to meet you all. Please, take care of me.” She bowed and continued a bit awkwardly. “And… I’m sorry in advance, but I might scream at night…” She bowed again, deeper than before.
“It’s okay.” She felt a familiar cold sensation on her back, gently stroking her in a soothing manner. “We are here for you. Everything will be okay.” Onuki smiled for the first time. “Welcome home.”
Orisa felt that clutches of misfortune, which had gripped her heart until this moment, became weaker. ‘I’m home.’