Orisa's morning was in no way a pleasant experience. She woke up with the same dull pain below the stomach. Two out of three girls kept ignoring her, while the third, Toatre, told Orisa how 'fun and overwhelmingly simple' every exercise was to her.
The usual workout didn't grant any pleasant feelings and instead added more pain to her lower parts. The shower was no better as she forgot the hygiene items in the dorm. The only thing that kept her going was a memory of yesterday's evening. 'It's as if I won in the lottery. Let's see where this catch will lead me.'
On her way to the canteen, Orisa met Kanai and Iten, and together they took a table in the corner of the dining room.
"How is it going, my brave comrades?" She asked, trying to sound cheerful.
"I'm absolutely fine, and thank you for asking." While Iten sounded calm, she noticed some concern in his voice.
"Iten? What are you hiding from your best friend?" Orisa poked Iten in the forearm, but he just shook his head and nodded towards Kanai.
'Oh, we are back at square one again?' Orisa thought as she looked at Kanai's depressed face. He probably was even more stressed than before.
"What's going on, sweetheart?" She pulled Kanai on the cheeks, trying to make him smile. For her, it was always easy to focus on other people's problems and forget about her own, at least temporarily.
"I don't know what to do. Wasn't even able to do a simple Mana Burst." He let out a long sigh before resting his chin on the crossed forearms. "I don't know if I'll manage, because I'm completely useless and inept in everything... Can't imagine what will happen at today's practice."
"Oh, you are telling me? Come on, stop joking around maybe? You are an overlord compared to my stat build." She slapped his head with a pack of canteen's tissues in slight frustration. "Do you even know how hard it was to do all this training? And all this suffering and humiliation gave me one, and I mean it, one semi-useless spell that I can't even use properly."
Kanai kept submerging into his depression, but her story perked Iten's attention:
"I was actually interested in your training, and also curious about yesterday's departure."
And this very moment Orisa finally remembered her yesterday's catch. She smashed Kanai's head with the tissues again, this time in excitement, and declared: "You won't believe what happened yesterday!"
She then retold them the events of her evening in bright colors and with tons of sarcastic comments. By the end of the story, even Kanai perked up and lost some of his moss.
"I'm not sure I share your enthusiasm." Iten was slightly disappointed by Orisa's excitement. In his book, it was unfair to take revenge on people.
"Oi, don't spoil the fun, man. It's not like I'm planning to blackmail her into slavery or something."
"Iten, how could you? My heart is broken now, you merciless monster..." And she theatrically slumped on a chair. Iten just rolled his eyes and returned back to food.
"What are you going to blackmail her into, then?" Kanai lazily poked his food, still not quite in the mood.
"We'll just have some fun together if you know what I mean." She winked at Kanai, making him chuckle. Iten's face actually reddened a bit after her revelation.
"Setting aside adult entertainment," in the end, Orisa made Kanai laugh, "regardless of today's practice, we are going to the gym afterward. Objections?"
"I'm not an ace attorney, but I have-" Kanai was about to complain, but was quickly interrupted by a giggling Orisa:
"You are deprived of your right to vote on this matter." Then she turned to Iten.
"Sorry, not today. Nene asked me to help her with something again." He sighed with a mix of confusion and tiredness. "Although I must say, I find her requests rather pointless and dull. She can do everything herself, so why she needs my help?"
Orisa looked at him in awe. 'The only reason I can think of is that he was really old and forgot everything by that time...'
Even Kanai, being unfamiliar with Orisa's and Nene's interactions, looked like he understood the situation.
"You know what? Why don't you ask her that question today?" When Iten firmly nodded, she thought to herself: 'This will be fun.'
"Before I entrust you to the Captain, we'll briefly talk about the purpose of the establishment you are going to visit today." The squad sat in front of Youko, who began her lecture.
"In general, there are two ways to improve your abilities and characteristics. The first won't interest most of you, because it excludes anything related to combat performance. I'm talking about Mana crafting and Mana engineering." She proceeded to write it down on a chalkboard.
"Both methods implore a variety of materials, such as metal ores, crystalized Mana cores, other types of battle byproducts, and Mana ink. A crafter uses his Mana to mix, consume and create. In the process, he can grow stronger, depending on the difficulty of the task and quality of materials. But this method is both expensive and unhelpful to combatants for obvious reasons."
Youko added some notes to the chalkboard before continuing.
"As for the second method, that is what you are going to do." She paused, looking at the squad with an intent gaze. "When you defeat a real opponent, you grow stronger. Not only your characteristics will grow but the abilities you used, too."
She wrote a long name across the entire board:
"The Underground Combat Training Facility is a place to receive such growth. A special military unit called the Summoners supports this establishment by providing the so-called real opponents. In a controlled environment, they conjure a variety of enemies for you to fight."
More notes were added before moving to a final part.
"For convenience purpose, this facility is shortened to the Dungeon, for it is an underground construction divided into floors. The deeper the floor, the more complex and hard is its environment and tasks. It is not possible to grow indefinitely using this method, but it is well tailored for the beginners."
They discussed various things related to the Dungeon before Youko sent them to the Captain. Orisa waited behind to ask a few questions:
"I'm sorry, Miss Satou, but I have two questions unrelated to the lecture." Already used to Orisa's curiosity, Youko simply nodded.
"The first is about the library. We wanted to read a specific book, but for some reason, we weren't able to find it."
"And the book is..?"
"Fantastic Waves and Where to Fight Them." Orisa noticed that Youko's face flinched for a moment before she collected herself.
"I'm not sure it will be of any interest to you. I haven't seen it for a long time, anyway."
"I see..." Youko's reaction worried Orisa for some reason. 'I hope it is not an obvious foreshadowing of a deadly hidden quest.'
"Is that all?"
"The last one is related to the camp. I was really curious about our nearest future. How long are we going to stay in the camp and what else is waiting for us here?"
Youko slightly relaxed after hearing Orisa's question.
"Actually, this is your last week as a trainee. You'll have six days of the Dungeon, including a test, and the last day is for career selection."
Deep in thought, Orisa left the class.
They arrived at a small stone building that stood amidst an empty, barren field. It took the squad ten minutes to get there, which meant that it was the furthest part of the training camp.
Captain Pain lined the squad in front of the door and began his part:
"Today you are going to show me your homework. If that self-study time we gave you was wasted, then you are so dead."
Some of the squad members nervously gulped.
"Behind this door is the Dungeon. Follow my instructions, and most of you will survive."
He turned around, unlocked the door with his armlet and went inside.
"Let's move, people." Iten held the door to let the squad members pass.
Inside, Orisa saw a narrow staircase carved from stone. Its steps were uneven, and the path was dimly lit, together they created an atmosphere of an ancient castle.
Taking the first step into the darkness, she hummed quietly:
"And way down we go..."
They walked for a few minutes before arriving at a dead end. Two guards stood there - a full-plated knight and a magician.
"Capitan," nodded the knight before pressing something on his armlet. The wall behind him turned into a matter displacement gate, and the Captain walked in, saluting to the knight. Behind the gates was a rather spacious room more than fifty meters wide and a hundred meters long.
"Welcome to the Dungeon." Said Captain Pain, waving an area in front of him. "Before we start, let's greet a man who will support us every other day, starting from today."
A man in dark-blue military caster robe slowly walked to them, waving back to the Captain. He had short black hair and a look of a grumpy old detective in his dark eyes.
"Line up! Attention!" Yelled the Captain before turning to the soldier and shaking his hand. "This is Lieutenant Reezpauzo, special military unit, the Summoners. Greetings!"
"Greetings, Lieutenant, Sir!" The squad said in sync.
"At ease, squad." While his voice and appearance were both quite young, he gave off an aura of an old seasoned veteran. "Name's Reezpauzo. If you have questions or need something - ask during breaks. No distractions while training." He turned around and walked back to the central part of the room. On the back of his robe was a giant skull emblem, the sign of The Summoners division.
When he left, the Captain continued:
"This is what's going to happen..."
To begin a real exercise, they are required to show a basic skill level. First, a simple Mana flow on their palm. Then, a few Mana bursts into the air before doing the same to a real opponent.
If all the stages were completed, they allowed cadets to use their full potential in semi-realistic combat with the summoned enemies.
The end goal of this part was for every squad member to pass the first floor by completing a combat test. Unless every member of the squad was able to do so, the entire squad would be stuck on this floor.
"Palms forward and show me the Mana flow."
As the Captain walked along the line of cadets, he furrowed his brow from time to time. After going back and forth for a few times, he said:
"That's acceptable, all of you. Now, ten steps forward."
After the slightly confused squad moved to a new position, he continued.
"Every time I clap, you perform the Mana Burst."
With every clap, the Captain moved from one cadet to another, observing their performance.
"Everyone except Crion Bauro, Kanai and Taron Maus, ten steps forward."
Orisa flinched at a mention of Kanai but moved with the rest of the squad.
"You three," the Captain said to the remnants of the squad, "keep practicing the Mana Burst. I'll check on you later." He then moved forward to the rest of them.
"You will repeat the same Mana Burst, although, I will be your target." He observed the shocked expressions of the squad members with a huge grin on his face. "Don't fret, kids, as you won't be able to hurt me even if you wanted. And I'm sure you do."
He laughed mockingly before moving in front of the first squad member.
As Iten threw his hand forward, a small burst rolled over the Captain's chest, not leaving a single mark on his clothes.
"Pass." Captain Pain nodded and moved to the second person, Rakasha.
Muscles on Rakasha's hands bulged as he hit the Captain, forcing him to take a step back, which made Captain Pain chuckle and nod in approval.
He moved from person to person until it was the girls' turn. First was Mira, with Onuki being second, and they both passed. Next was Toatre:
Captain Pain bent down from the impact, his uniform' front scorched. While his body was unharmed, he still looked at Toatre with a little scorn before mumbling:
"I should have guessed..."
Before moving to Orisa who was last in queue, the Captain paused. Furrowing his brows, he crossed his arms and chanted:
"Body of Effulgent Beryl!"
He glowed purple for a moment, before finally moving to Orisa. She grinned before moving the Mana to her palm, ready to push.
As the Mana rushed through her hand, she imagined an explosion, almost feeling her Mana transform. Her hand flew forward, pushing the spell:
And nothing happened. A moment before the impact, something clicked inside her head, and the Mana dissolved harmlessly, nothing came out of her palm.
"Again." Said the Captain, looking at her intently.
Orisa shook her head in confusion, as she was already quite proficient in this spell. Just in case, she turned to the side and tried the spell in the air:
It worked like a clock, so she got back to the Captain and made the same move. Again, something clicked in her head the last second, and she weakly slapped the Captain's scorched uniform.
"I don't get it..." She was dismayed.
"Everyone, except Orisa, ten steps forward." As the squad moved forward, she looked back at Kanai, who was looking at her, too. They both were quite depressed, to say the least.
But the training went on.
By the end of the evening, everyone was able to move to real training, except for Orisa, Kanai, and Crion. They still struggled at the same steps, no matter how hard they tried.
Frustration welled inside Orisa's heart. 'Why is this happening? What's wrong with me AGAIN!?' She bit her lip in frustration.
Suddenly a big and heavy hand squeezed her shoulder.
"Don't worry, little friend. Me believe in you, so you believe in you, too." Rakasha patted her on the back before going to the stairs.
She went up, pondering the problem, but nothing came to mind. She did exactly the same, but the result was completely different depending on a target.
A few minutes later Orisa stood at the entrance of the Dungeon, thoughtfully looking at the stars. A cool night breeze slowly flapped her hair, making her look like a heroine from a romantic story.
'Makes me wonder, if I was a protagonist of some novel, how would this book be tagged? Useless MC? Endless suffering? Pathetic whelp?'
The pain in her lower parts added some more suffering on top of her failure. Orisa hung her head dejectedly.
"I'm sure that both of you would be able to figure things out on your private training." Iten shrugged, looking at Orisa and Kanai, who actually stood by her side with the same depressed look, and went away.
Orisa already forgot about her promise to Kanai, but after Iten reminded her, she turned to him.
"I... don't want to..." He began to mumble something.
"Vetoed. We are going."
Orisa grabbed his hand and almost dragged him towards the gym.
Lieutenant Reezpauzo finished the evening shift and moved away from the dungeon. Unlike the rest of the crew, he walked in the opposite direction, saying that he wanted to take a leak and would catch with them later.
As the Lieutenant went deeper into nearby bushes, he made sure that no one followed him. After walking for a minute, he finally saw a rendezvous point, a big old tree, partially charred from a lightning strike.
In its shadow, hiding even from the moonlight, was a silhouette of a tall, bulky person. After approaching the tree, the Lieutenant got down on one knee.
"Greetings, my Lord. I am here to report my discoveries."
He waited a few seconds for any reaction, and then continued his report:
"The performance is below average. I was unable to perceive any unusual skills or abilities. Should I continue the observation?"
The Lieutenant became silent, waiting for the reply. A long time passed before he finally heard a strong, deep voice:
When Reezpauzo raised his head, the silhouette was already gone. As he walked back, he resolved to dig some more information on the target, for the case of his Lord was of utmost importance.