'So hard to get rid of old habits, and so easy to relapse back.'
Orisa lay on her bed, musing about her potion addiction. Not only it was extremely efficient to study and practice under the Concentration potion, but she also slept perfectly and was fully rested after the Endless night potion. She recalled her vicious circle of energy drinks in the morning to wake her up and sleeping pills in the evening to calm the mind down.
'On the other hand, considering the world would last only six more months, I can't care less about long-term side effects of these potions.'
Mira's bed was already empty, while Onuki still lay on hers, and these facts together played a major role in Orisa's plan, as she still wanted to talk at least some people into following her suggestions during today's Dungeon practice. She gave up on Mira from the get-go and was sure that Toatre would follow her so that only left Onuki to persuade. She slowly sat and turned to her roommate.
"Onuki, I'm sorry, can I talk to you for a moment?" Seeing her reaction, Orisa quickly added, "it's about today's practice."
Onuki slowly rose from the bed and sat across Orisa, slowly nodding with a conflicted expression on her face.
"Iten told me about the yesterday's... situation," she began, carefully choosing her words, "and I happen to have some experience with guiding a small team in an emergency situation."
It was mostly a lie, but she still had a raid leader experience from many MMO games on top of a team lead position that she held in the past. Together, these two skills made her at least somewhat confident in managing a compact group during exercises. 'But if I'd see anyone at least on my level, I'd gladly transfer the reins.'
"So I thought that maybe I could try and organize the squad, help to form small groups and even coordinate us all. That is if you and other members are okay with that." Orisa paused before throwing small bait, "also, you are the first person I'm asking. What do you think?"
Onuki had a strange expression on her face that Orisa couldn't parse.
"If that is all you wanted to say..." She stood up, took her hygiene items and slowly went to the door. In the doorframe, she turned around and finished, "I'm okay with following your orders."
As she left the room, Orisa felt that she either chose the wrong dialogue option or missed some quick time event, which she could have used to steer their conversation into a more friendly direction, earning back some Onuki-points. But it was too late, as she already left, and Orisa sat on her bed, pondering why Onuki put so much stress on the word 'orders.'
Together with Iten and Kanai, they talked to Rakasha, Crion and a few more squad members. While their negotiation slash persuasion went well, Orisa constantly felt that she was digging her own grave.
On their way to the Dungeon, the trio met Nana and Nene, and they greeted each other. Before leaving, Nene quickly planted a kiss on Iten's cheek and ran away, giggling from his grumbling about manners and inappropriate behavior of certain youngsters.
"By the way, Iten, I was curious about something and wanted to consult our most renowned expert in the field of nobility."
Kanai chuckled while Iten rolled his eyes and grumbled something again.
"So, I more or less figured that Nobles are much stronger because they were taught from the younger age," she saw Iten nodding to her assumption, "but it still leaves me with another question. Why the hell are they here in the camp?"
"Well, this part is quite complicated, and I'm not as knowledgeable as you'd think. If I had to put it simply, Noble offspring are required to attain a training camp for one month and then serve one year in the Military when they are of age." Orisa and Kanai exchanged looks of confusion and doubt, and Iten added some more information, "this tradition stems from the past, and as far as I know, which was written in a history of the Military book, it was a topic of many disputes even among Nobles."
"Still kinda strange, I'd say. If it were me, I would never risk sending my kid here." Kanai said, and a few moments later added with a sarcastic voice, "especially if I knew that he was a spoiled piece of pink shit."
"Yeah, that's true. Also, I think the parents themselves are no better." Orisa added with a voice full of spite.
The squad entered the second floor, and Orisa was finally able to see everything with her own eyes. The room was much bigger to a point when it was better to call it a closed stadium. The floor's interior represented an ancient city devastated a long time ago. Remnants of building's walls were no higher than a person's waist, creating many small obstacles all over the ground. They were too small to use as a shelter but too big to ignore, so Orisa had to consider not only the squad's abilities but their positioning as well.
'I'm sure the Skels would easily rush over these trashed walls, while we won't be able to trespass them that easy. That leaves us with a little tower defense game, I think.'
From Iten's explanation, she recalled that the goal was to survive the waves until the Captain says it's over. Another important aspect was that they were not allowed to cast spells before the start, denying the squad any chance to prepare beforehand.
"Line up!" The Captain yelled at them. "We are going to do the same thing until you pass or all of you are dead."
He paused, walking in front of the squad back and forth, looking each member in the eyes as he passed them.
"If you lot are too dumb to figure it yourselves, we'll have to hold a small strategic meeting about tactics and whatnot. But I hope you are better than that and would be able to think at least of some plan. Am I clear?"
"Crystal clear, Captain Pain!"
"Good. Spread out or do whatever you decided to do. We are going to start now."
"Captain Pain, sir, can we have five minutes?" Orisa made her move.
"Be my guests," he replied and went to the Summoner.
"Guys, I'm sorry, can I have a moment of your time?" Orisa turned to the squad to grab their attention. "I know how it sounds as I wasn't here yesterday, but I talked a lot to Iten and Toatre, and I think I can be of some help to you all today."
"What do you mean?" Clemen Tinn played along well. He was one of the members they talked to beforehand, and Orisa asked him to ignite the discussion. For some reason, he was extremely enthusiastic about all this, which made Orisa worry slightly. But they had no time to check on him more, and they had no other choice, too.
"Well, I have some related experience, and I thought about the approach we could take in our situation."
"Please, go on," encouraged Iten.
"Why the hell should we listen to a crazy bitch like her?" Mira interrupted their play with an aggressive retort.
"Mira, your opinion as a deputy is quite valuable," Iten said in a cold voice, "but I think we should at least her Orisa out. Please, go on."
"My suggestion is to split the squad into few smaller teams based on the skills and roles every member could fill. That way it would be easier to communicate inside the group, and they'll be able to act independently while also staying in touch to cover each other's backs." She waved across the room, "plus, we need to take the topology of the floor into consideration, too."
"Sounds good, but can you do that all by yourself?" Clemen added a concerned off-script comment.
"First of all, I won't be doing it by myself, as we are all together here. But I do have some skills in this field, so at least I'll be able to suggest something."
"We are running out of time," Iten rounded up the discussion. "Who is against letting Orisa's experience help us today?"
Mira rushed to raise her hand but saw that nobody supported her and gave up.
"Awesome, guys! I'm counting on your help today." She bowed down before turning to Rakasha, "could you lift me up so I could see the room around us?"
He calmly took her on his hands and threw in the air. After a split second of free fall, she landed on his arms, placing her feet on Rakasha's palms like a skilled cheerleader. It was hard to keep balance, but Rakasha assisted her well, and Orisa was able to get a good look at their surroundings. She quickly spotted the place she was looking for and signaled to drop her down.
"Okay, follow me, please," she began to walk and continued her briefing. "As far as I know, Toatre and Onuki can use healing spells. Anybody else?"
Nobody answered so she moved on:
"Okay, then they'll be our center of operation. We'll have to protect them at all cost. Also, girls, don't waste Mana on anything besides healing, unless it's something lifesaving."
As they arrived at the spot Orisa chose, she turned around and said:
"Okay, so here is what I suggest..."
Her idea was simple. First, find a spot you could defend well, with as many obstacles and covers as possible. Second, place three to four small groups around the place to protect from melee attackers. Third, set a central team of healers and ranged attackers, who would be able to deal with enemy archers and mages in every direction and help all the close combatants at the same time.
"I would try to cover the central hub with my shields, but you need to hide behind walls as much as possible." She turned to the central group, "don't waste your Mana on small injuries. Also, attack only mages and archers, leave the rest to our defending teams."
Orisa looked around, seeing a mixture of concern, acknowledgment, and understanding.
"Aside from our casters, I will stay in the central hub to give shields." She looked at Clemen wielding two daggers, "you'll stay with me, and I hope you are good in tight spaces..."
"Why?" He was puzzled.
"Let's just pray that we won't need you." She waved to the Captain who was standing on a small balcony together with the Summoner and shouted, "we'll be ready in twenty seconds."
The Captain simply nodded and turned to the Summoner, while Orisa addressed the squad again:
"Alright, guys, we can do it. No shouting, signal when you need heals or help. Listen to my voice, and we'll probably be good. Good luck, everyone."
"Tch." Mira was slightly irritated, to say the least.
Three melee teams went to their respective posts while other members gathered in the center of a small elevation with remnants of what seemed to be a watchtower. There were three major routes to get there, and they were covered by the melee groups, but Orisa was sure that at least some Skels would be able to climb from other directions, too.
She placed Kanai, Crion, and Mira to support each their respective melee group and cover them from mages and archers, which left her with Onuki, Toatre, and Clemen in the center, and he immediately asked again:
"So, what should I do?"
"First of all, we'd use you as mobile support to cover the holes in our defense. Your main task is to keep an eye on foes bypassing melee groups and protect everyone inside the hub. As for the second one, I'll tell you later."
When she finished, the first wave of enemies appeared, and Orisa immediately rushed to create as much cover as possible. What remained of the walls was slightly above the knee level, and was of little use as a good cover, so Orisa ran around the tower, placing few of her barriers at each defending direction.
"Force Wall!" - "Force Wall!"
"Use them as cover, and I'll try to replace them later on!"
"Orisa, are you sure I shouldn't join the combat?" Toatre asked her calmly.
"No, dear, at least for now you should save your Mana for healing only, and we'll see how everything is going and decide on the move."
She was done with the barriers for the moment, leaving three translucent walls near every ranged attacker, and a few more for Toatre and Onuki in the middle. When Orisa looked around, she saw Mira relentlessly attacking all the enemies in her sight.
"Mira, what are you doing!? You are wasting resources, that's not how-"
"Shut the fuck up, bitch. Who do you think you are, our boss or something?" When Iten was away and unable to talk some sense into her, Mira reverted back. "I'm deputy here and know what to do, so close your trap and go do something useful for a change."
"This is no time for your crap, Mira," Orisa said calmly, although her insides were boiling and lava flowed through the veins. "The Captain is watching, you know? Are you sure you want to repeat the first' floor scene again?"
For a split second, Orisa saw fear in Mira's eyes. She knew exactly where to punch the girl.
"Let's stick with the plan for now, please?"
Mira grumbled back something inaudible but stopped her arrow rain and hid behind the shield, as first arrows and spells began to fly their direction.
Orisa's shields were not big, less than two meters wide and tall, but they had no other options.
"Lesser Mend!" - "Lesser Mend!"
She saw Onuki assist Iten who was struck by the arrow.
"Good work, Onuki. Keep it up." Orisa came closer and smiled at her, but there was no reply.
"By the way, just in case," she continued, "can you cast Dispel?" Seeing Onuki nod, Orisa finished before going away, "then I'll be in your care if things go south."
As she moved to check on melee groups, few arrows flew inches away from her position, which caused a terrible flashback. 'Come on, keep it together. You have more problems now, so no need to add an arrowphobia to the list!" She gritted her teeth and carried on.
Rakasha was alone, covering the first route with Crion as his ranged support, and things looked quite good on this front. Orisa renewed the barriers around Crion, as one of them was already destroyed and two others full of cracks, and went to the second sector.
This path was protected by Iten and another squad member, with Kanai covering them from behind. Orisa came closer to him and renewed the shields.
"How are you, bro? Everything's okay" She asked, inspecting few small arrow cuts on his hands.
"More or less, but I've almost halved my Mana pool," he said with a concerned look, and then peeped out of cover:
"Decay!" - "Decay!"
"Well, it can't be helped. You are doing great!" She moved away, hiding her grim expression. It was little over a minute from the start, and she didn't know how long they had to fight, so this was quite bad already.
When Orisa was heading to the last party, she felt a burning sensation in her back and was thrown on the ground after being hit by the Firebird spell. She rolled on the ground twice before hitting a wall, grunting. Thanks to her high Spirit stat these low tier spells were more about pain than any real damage, but the impact was still strong enough to send her to the ground.
When she tried to get up, a Skeleton jumped over the wall on which she was leaning. It quickly turned to Orisa and swung its sword.
She conjured the barrier just in time for it to take a hit. The Skeleton rammed his sword again and again, and cracks began to spread across the wall's surface. Orisa quickly rolled away and made two more walls, trapping the Skeleton inside.
"Clemen, I need help!" She yelled
"Busy!" He shouted back, smacking the Skeleton on the opposite side of their improvised base. Another Skeleton moved over the edge and rushed to him.
Stone spear emerged under the Skeleton that Orisa trapped, immediately shattering him. As she turned around, she saw Toatre waving to her with a cheerful smile. 'That girl..." Orisa shook her head in amazement and rushed to her previous destination.
"Guys!? What's going on!?" She saw two squad members who were in charge of the last path pushed way back, and now they were mere five meters away from Onuki and Toatre. She also saw Mira fighting with them using her dagger.
"Mira is out of arrows, and we are out of Mana!" Yelled one of the defenders. They both had bruises all over their bodies and were out of breath. Mira to her credit was in no better shape, too.
"Toatre, help with defense here!" Orisa yelled before turning to Mira, "how many arrows did you have?"
Orisa immediately jumped over the wall and rushed in the direction of Mira's attacks, looking for arrows.
"Are you fucking crazy!?" Mira shouted, but Orisa ignored her pointless rant. 'It has to be done, or we'll be out of Mana in no time.' She saw a few Skeletons taking aim at her with both bows and spells.
Blue layer of concentrated Mana covered Orisa's entire body, greatly increasing its Toughness. Another, already familiar shield appeared around her right forearm, and she used it to cover her head.
While Thickness barrier was many times weaker than Force Walls or Force Guard, it was so effective against weak enemies that when an arrow struck her in the stomach, the only thing she felt was a weak punch. The cost of this, however, was astronomical even for her, as aside from Mana constantly being drained in an alarming rate she also had to use one of her two Mana layers. Considering that the second Mana layer was attached to her forearm guard, she could not perform any other actions. 'Not that it matters, I can't attack anyway.'
She saw two Skeletons in front of her being burned down by a Firebird spell and moved forward to collect more arrows, smiling happily from the fact that somebody was covering her back.
Orisa found almost two dozens of arrows so far and turned around to run back when suddenly three figures appeared in front of her. These were Skeleton Knights, heavily armed and armored warriors much stronger than normal Skeletons.
'Are these the last bosses of the session?' This was her only thought as a moment later one of the Knight closed the distance and swung its Morgenstern, smashing Orisa in her left side. The Force Guard she wore on her right arm was of no use, and her Thickness barrier only softened such a heavy blow slightly, so something cracked inside, and she was sent flying, crashing loudly into the nearest wall.
As she weakly slumped to the floor, spitting out a lot of blood, Orisa tried to shout but couldn't even take a breath. Aside from immense blinding pain, her left lung was also punctured in several places and collapsed.
She slowly rolled on her back, silently opening and closing her mouth like a fish out of water. As she was gasping for air, tears rolled from her eyes. The pain was insufferable, and her mind began to slowly fade away from the lack of air, while she looked at the Skeleton Knights rushing towards her.