Orisa released her grip on Tiana's robe, and she slumped on the mat, hugging her staff with an empty gaze.
"What do you mean? What is that you need, exactly?" Her voice was weak and dejected, too.
Orisa sat down in front of Tiana and looked in her red and teary eyes.
"I need training, exercises, methods to grow faster, and ideas about new spells, too. Everything you can give me to get stronger."
"Why do you need to get stronger?"
"I want to survive, of course. I need to be strong enough to stand my ground in front of what's coming."
"What are you talking about?" Tiana finally looked up, a traces of curiosity in her beautiful blue eyes.
"Tiana, I just thought about that, but aren't you a cutie?" Suddenly said Orisa and tried to take a much closer look at Tiana's features, but she freaked out and crawled back a little.
"W-w-what are you aiming at!?" Now both her cheeks were equally red. Orisa chuckled, content with how easy it was for her to manipulate Tiana and bring her back from the land of gloomy self-loathing.
'I hope she won't revert back to her usual self.' She thought to herself, and then said:
"Do you think you can help me grow stronger, Tiana?"
Orisa was in love with how conflicted Tiana's expression was, she almost felt an intense internal debate raging inside the girl. In the end, she let out a long sigh before pulling out of her robe a small notepad and a pen.
Tiana began to write something there, pausing from time to time and thinking deeply about something. During these moments she unconsciously chewed the tip of her pen, making a cute chipmunk-like face. After a few minutes of chipmunking the pen, she took out a small pocket seal, stamped the paper and handed it to Orisa.
"Go to the Treasury tomorrow and bring everything in the evening. We'll meet here at eight."
"What about your crystal charging session?" Orisa asked with a concerned voice. "I don't want you to break the schedule."
"How do you..." Tiana was shocked for a second. "Wait, never mind. I don't want to know. Gross."
"Thank you, Tiana, I absolutely will be here tomorrow." Orisa tucked the paper in her bag. "I know it's sudden, but I have a pressing problem right now that I need to solve."
She retold Tiana everything related to the Pacifism Syndrome.
"Sounds like a fairytale. Show me." Tiana's voice was full of doubt, and Orisa could not blame her.
She stood up and held out her hand towards Tiana, but the girl ignored it and quickly got on her feet. She gripped her staff in both hands before chanting:
"Empower!" - "Energy Coat!"
A blue, almost translucent silhouette appeared around Tiana. Orisa curiously raised her brow but decided to leave the question until the next time. She aimed a little away of Tiana and threw her hand forward.
"Palm Push Strike!"
The air around her palm quickly compressed into a small dot, creating an immense pressure point, and then it was infused with more Mana and released as a narrow jet of light-blue energy. It hit the wall five meters away from them and bent its armor plating.
Orisa aimed slightly closer to Tiana's position.
"Palm Push Strike!"
Tiana's hair was swayed by the wind from the attack, making a mess on her head.
This time Orisa aimed at Tiana, which made the girl bit her lip. She looked quite uncomfortable in a range of Orisa's hand.
"Palm Push Strike!"
Of course, nothing happened.
"Huh!?" Such a flabbergasted expression on Tiana's face made Orisa bent down, laughing like crazy. To add insult to injury, Tiana angrily stomped the floor with her feet, "stop this charade and do it seriously!"
'Ah, I can't! She is just too cute.' Orisa rolled on the floor, both literally and figuratively. When she finally came to her senses and stood up, wiping tears, she saw Tiana almost trembling in rage.
"If your plan was to fool around and mock me, then I'm leaving at once!"
"How can I prove it to you, then?"
Orisa threw her hand forward again:
"Palm Push Strike!"
Nothing happened, and Tiana's already furrowed brow shot up even more.
"We need to experiment on this phenomenon." She proclaimed, and Orisa saw a hint of excitement in her eyes. "Do you have any spare clothes with you?"
Orisa pulled the jacked out of her backpack and gave it to Tiana, who quickly used it to cover Orisa's eyes.
Following Tiana's instructions, they performed a number of tests and got the following result. If Orisa thought that there was even a slight chance of harming somebody, her attack failed. When she was absolutely sure of the safety, she was able to cast.
"This is both infuriating and exciting at the same time." Tiana made even more notes, while Orisa was joyfully observing a huge smile on her gorgeous face.
"Tiana, I am really sorry to wrap things up, but it is getting late," Orisa said worriedly after looking at a wall clock that showed almost ten in the evening. "Do you think you can come up with any advice right now?"
Tiana was again chipmunking her pen, and without moving her eyes from the notes she said:
"I have a dangerous workaround."
The following afternoon, Orisa joined Kanai and Iten in the canteen. The atmosphere around the table was gloomy.
"Kanai, how are you? I was so worried..."
"Yeah, so worried that you forgot to visit. I understand." He looked at her with scorn. "Oh, sorry, I actually don't understand, because I visited you every time!" He stood up and left, leaving his food behind.
Orisa was stunned.
"It's okay, so don't worry," Iten tried to calm her.
"But it is not okay! How could I..." But it was quite obvious. She was too engrossed in her training and her plans that she forgot about Kanai and his near-death experience. "I'm a garbage person."
Orisa hid her face in the palms, deeply ashamed and frustrated.
"No, you are not. Things like this one happen."
"Sorry, I need to find him. Let's talk after the Dungeon."
And she rushed away.
Kanai sat on a bench just outside the canteen, looking at the sky absentmindedly. Orisa landed by his side and turned to face him.
"I'm trash, I know it, and I'm really, tremendously, extremely sorry."
"No, you are not."
"But I am! I know how important it is that someone is by your side when you wake up from a nightmare." She paused, looking for more words. "I was so depressed after waking up alone in the Infirmary. And it made my day when you told me about your visit."
"If you know all that, then why?" Kanai sounded hurt, and Orisa bit her lip to keep herself together.
"I was simply too engrossed in my own stuff. I'm so sorry, Kanai."
"Yeah, how nostalgic." Kanai looked at puzzled Orisa before turning his head to the skies. "I already met a person who was always in the center of the story. The world revolved around them, and I was just a sidekick in his epic. In the end, I wasn't even able to find out if this person wanted to be with me or not."
Orisa was overwhelmed by his confession. She sat there with her mouth open, not knowing what to say or even think. In the end, it was all meaningless and useless, so she simply muttered again:
"Yeah-yeah, I've heard that many times." He stood up and went towards the Dungeon.
Orisa felt miserable. In her book, the most painful and shameful thing was to do to another person what you hate being done to you. 'Treat others as you would like to be treated. Huh, I'm such trash.'
Regardless of her feelings and mood, she had other pressing things to do.
Twenty minutes later she arrived at the Treasury. She had no time to check what Tiana wrote on the paper, so when a clerk began to hand her the items, she was both confused and amazed. There were three different types of potions, a pair of plain silver earrings, and a ring. And a strange-looking device.
"I'm sorry, but can you name the items for me?"
The clerk eyed her with a slight suspicion before answering:
"Concentration potion, one bottle. Endless night potion, four bottles. Stamina potion, four bottles. Earring of Sage, a set of two items. Ring of Sage, one item. Postponer, one item."
"If I might impose on you more, can you explain their functions, except the Concentration and Stamina potions?"
"Endless night potion," he pointed at a dark-blue liquid, "allows getting twice the resting time from the same amount of sleep."
"Earrings of Sage. Enchanted set to increase the user's concentration, Mana flow, Mana control. Effects are minor. The same applies to the Ring of the Sage."
The last item that the clerk pulled out of the counter looked like a wristwatch, but its face had only one hand, and the digits were different from the norm.
He looked at the stamped list again before taking the wristwatch back.
"Do you know how to use and configure it?" He asked Orisa with an indifferent tone.
"Please, explain, if it is okay, sir." Orisa could guess that it was her promised workaround, but she still wanted to get a thorough explanation.
The clerk went away and returned a minute later with a magnifier, a tiny brush, and a bottle of Mana ink.
"This," he pointed at the wristwatch, "is called the Postponer. You open it like this." The clerk pressed a hidden switch, and an upper part of the item slid to the side, revealing a clean metal surface.
"Using a Mana ink, you paint a Seal with required effect. When it is time to use the Postponer, you infuse it with Mana. Every step of the hand on its face equals one second, to a maximum of thirty seconds. The moment you stop the infusion, the countdown begins."
Orisa nodded thoughtfully. So far it was just as Tiana herself explained yesterday.
"Do you know what type of Seal you want there?" He asked Orisa with the same blank expression.
"Oh, that I do."
On her way to the Dungeon Orisa saw Tiana passing by.
"Hey, Tiana, how are you?" She happily called the girl. "I wanted to-"
"Don't talk to me, fiendfood." Tiana spat out the words and hastened away.
'Well, this was to be expected. Seems like when she is not in the right mood, she degrades back. I just hope she won't throw me away tonight.'
Things were never easy.
When the Dungeon part began, Captain Pain announced that they'd be doing the floor advancement test. He also added that Lieutenant Costaros got sick, and Lt.Reezpauzo would support them instead.
The first to take the test was Kanai, and he stood up and quietly muttered:
"Time to lose my leveling virginity."
His enemies were a Zombie with a huge club, a Skeleton mage, and Skeleton archer.
His target was a Skeleton archer. At first, Orisa was concerned by his choice, but she soon understood the idea. 'Awesome, Kanai, you are brilliant.'
While slowly backing away from the Zombie, Kanai positioned himself so that the Zombie would cover him from the Skeletons. A few moments later both Skeletons began to move in the opposite directions to allow at least one of them to attack. But it was too late, as the archer turned to dust from continuous damage of the Decay. Kanai was distracted for a moment by this, and the Skeleton mage threw a fire arrow that Kanai partially dodged the last second. He still got a small scorched mark on his left arm.
The rest was easy, as he avoided the mage in a similar manner, and finished the Zombie afterward.
"Pass." The Captain nodded and called for Crion.
"Nice strat, Kanai, I like it." Orisa tried to convey her impressions, but Kanai simply nodded and went to the rest of the squad, who were practicing in the central part of the level.
Crion copied Kanai's tactic and passed easily.
"You sure that you want to do it?" Captain Pain asked Orisa with a concerned voice.
"Yes, bring it on." She touched the Postponer on her left hand.
Tiana's entire plan was risky, and it also had many flaws and no guarantee of success. Even if it worked, the issue was that she would not be able to use it constantly, especially later on. So it was literally a workaround to pass a few tests.
Lt.Reezpauzo came to the Captain and whispered something, which made him yell:
"Stop this bullshit, imbecile. We have procedures." Captain Pain was clearly not amused by whatever the Lieutenant suggested.
"Remember what happened yesterday? I'm sure it would work out well." Reezpauzo retorted.
While they were arguing, Orisa looked back at the scenery she caused the other day. When she first saw it, she couldn't believe her eyes. There was a narrow but a ten meters long pothole on the floor that went into the wall. Her strike made a meter deep bump in the solid rock of that wall, too.
Orisa would have been proud of this achievement if it hadn't been her entire Mana pool as a price.
"Hey, girl, we are going to start." Captain Pain paused, still not sure of his decision. "If you'd want to bail out in the process, just let me know. I'll let you redo the test then, no worries."
For some reason, the Captain was unusually polite. 'My spider sense is tingling!'
Seven enemies appeared not far from her position. A huge adrenalin rush slowed time for Orisa.
'Shit. What the hell?'
She backed away a few more meters before the foes began to move.
'Time. I need to guess the time for Postponer.' She began to infuse Mana into the device while still backing down from the enemies.
'Zombie shielder, tough. Two Skeletons with swords. Another Zombie with an axe. And three ranged enemies.'
The Postponer's hand was at eight seconds mark already.
'I need to add some time for running. Not sure how well I'll be able to control the whole situation.'
Yesterday, they tried this method once under Tiana's guidance. It was scary.
'I also need a reserved time just in case I miss or take a hit. Guess, I'll stop at ten seconds plus two more for casting. If the Postponer is even a second earlier than needed, I'm dead. But if I leave too much time in reserve, things might turn ugly, too.'
It took her the rest of yesterday's evening to learn the spell, her scary and risky workaround.
The first Zombie was already three meters away from her.
When the Postponer's hand reached twelve, Orisa stopped the Mana flow and yelled: