Orisa was quite high from all the positive emotions she got from the squad, so the following training flew by in a blink of an eye.
At first, she practiced with the squad, helping to hold down Knights or block their attack, but later on, the Captain pulled her away and let Orisa train alone using her Enrage.
"Palm Push Strike!"
The Knight was hiding behind the shield, and the first attack made a huge round hole in its defense. When The Skeleton tried to swing its sword, Orisa blew its entire hand away and finished the fight with her dual palm attack.
The Summoner stopped her rampage and went back to the squad while Orisa rested a bit. It was her twentieth foe slain, and while she was quite tired, she also felt much stronger, so Captain Pain's words proved to be true. Against the first Skeleton, she had to use seven attacks and even got hit a few times, although she blocked most attacks with her Force Guard. Now she only needed four strikes and thought about finishing the Knight in three hits next time.
Another positive thing stemmed not only from her today's training but from previous efforts, too. While all other casters were out of Mana and had to rest, she was near the half of her Mana pool only. Considering her severe overuse of Mana, it meant that Orisa's reserves were already formidable. The fact that her training and crystal charging paid off made her even happier.
"Alright, squad. We are going to wrap things up for today," the Captain gathered them sometime later to announce their plans. "Tomorrow is your last day in the Dungeon, followed by the exam the next day. I expect you to clear at least two more floors, got it?"
Unlike Orisa, the squad members heard this for the first time and were quite shocked, but the Captain continued in the same tone:
"I gave you the half of what you need to beat them, that being more power from training and slaying Skels. The other half depends on you alone, as you need to learn more skills by tomorrow. Even one more attack or trick would do you good, believe me." He gave them all a stern look, "that's why we are ending it earlier, so you could practice something new."
He waved to the Summoner who assisted them today and continued:
"Together with this man, we'll be waiting for those who need advice or more training in the big gym. Dismissed."
As people began to disperse, she met with Kanai and Iten, who were all sweaty and exhausted again. Orisa, on the other hand, felt great despite her injury a few hours ago. New strength that she sensed inside and all the positive feedback from the squad members inspired her greatly. Even Onuki thanked her, although less eager, but already without scorn or spite.
"My fellow Skeleton slayers, care to join your friend on her trip to the canteen?" She made mischievous smug, elbowing boys. "Also, my schedule today includes a private session with two dead-tired cadets in a smaller gym. What do you think?"
Both Kanai and Iten rolled their eyes tiredly and walked to the stairs, grunting in anticipation, because the path to the freedom from the second floor of the Dungeon was twice longer now.
After dinner, a wave of exhaustion reached even Orisa, so when they made it to the gym, they decided to take a short nap.
"Whoever is up first should wake the rest, okay?" Orisa yawned and fell on the mat like a sack of potatoes, with Kanai following her a second later. Even Iten sat and leaned his back against the wall, closing his eyes, and they all quickly fell asleep.
She dreamed of a Skeleton in an elaborate, jet-black academic gown adorned with golden and violet edges. He towered over her, laughing and calling her weak and foolish human, red dots glowed inside his two empty eye sockets, emitting an ominous light. Suddenly Mirai appeared, telling him to flip off and do something useful instead of posing in front of the readers, and turned to Orisa. She smiled brightly and chided her lightly for being reckless, and for turning into a girl, too. 'I'm not into yuri, how could you forget about that?' She shook her beautiful pink-haired head and let out a sigh, 'It turned into a difficult situation...'
Orisa could not disagree with this statement, and then she woke up, hearing a muffled speech.
"-think I understand your position, but wouldn't it be wiser to properly educate and empower them instead of ignoring and discarding away?"
"Is such a feat even achievable in an adequate time span? How many resources do you think we would waste on this project?"
"Lady, it is not my place to draw conclusions, of course, but I think it is a worthy application of accumulated resources and knowledge."
Orisa finally opened her eyes and was flabbergasted by the scene in front of her. In the opposite corner of the gym, Iten and Tiana sat on the mats, having an intricate discussion. Orisa stood up, surprised beyond words:
"Wow, Tiana, it's nice to see you here. How are you?"
Tiana abruptly got back on her feet and turned to Iten:
"I think I should go now," and headed to the door.
"Tiana, please, wait!" Orisa rushed to block the exit, "I'm sorry if I said something to upset you the last time..."
"I can't care less about your words." She said in an indifferent voice.
"Okay, right..." It saddened Orisa to see that she had to battle Tiana's demons again. "Well, at least I really wanted to thank you for your generosity with potions and jewelry."
"Is that all? Can you get out of the way now?" Both her voice and eyes became cold.
Orisa bit her lip, agonizing over a gamble she should take and weighing her options and possible outcomes. In the end, this is what she decided to do, so it was too late to back away now:
"Would it be too brazen of me to ask you to stay with us and help?"
Tiana's eyes widened in surprise, but she quickly turned back to her cold self:
"And why should I do that?"
"To accumulate people who’d genuinely appreciate and respect you?" Orisa replied, sweating internally because of all the nonsense she was spitting.
Tiana quickly glanced at Iten, who nodded back, smiling encouragingly. She let out a sigh, turning around and going back:
"Wake up your boyfriend, as I have no plans of repeating myself or wasting time on him alone." She said and sat back on the mat.
Orisa decided to ignore the boyfriend remark and kicked Kanai's butt lightly. When he blinked sleepily and sat on the mat, Orisa whispered:
"Hey, you, you're finally awake. You were trying to cross the border, right? Walked right into that Imperial ambush…"
Kanai looked at her with round eyes before finally coming to his sense:
"You are beyond salvation on so many levels..."
"Tiana, this sack here is Kanai. And, Kanai, over there is lady Tiana vas Kavenfenn, our super awesome coach."
Tiana nodded slightly with a plain expression, but Kanai's eyes grew even wider. He quickly stood up and bowed:
"I'm very happy to meet you, lady Kavenfenn."
"Gosh, why are you so serious?" Orisa eyed him suspiciously, surprised by his attitude. Kanai never seemed like a person who would wag his tail in front of big names.
"You need to show respect and gratitude to people who'll be teaching you," Kanai rolled eyes and shook his head. "Not that you'd know about that, of course."
"No! My heart is broken! How could you!?" Orisa replied with a posed look.
Tiana looked at Iten with a raised brow, but he simply shrugged, suggesting her to ignore their banter.
"Are you done? I had no plans on watching a play today." She gave Orisa and Kanai dissatisfied look.
"While we haven't started yet, I'd like to ask a question, lady," Iten grabbed all the attention with his sudden interjection, "while I read a lot on this topic, I'd like to hear from a reliable source. How would a normal Beast fare against the enemies we fought in the Dungeon?"
All eyes turned to Tiana expectantly as she pondered the question.
"I fought them only thrice," the trio's respect towards Tiana suddenly grew after her casual revelation. "If I had to compare them to the summons, then under a lantern they would be similar to the sevenths or eighths floor."
"And without a lantern?" Kanai asked after a few seconds of shocked silence.
"Depending on the Beast, they are generally five to ten times stronger, and no Summoner can conjure something that powerful, as far as I know."
"You sure know how to kill the mood," Orisa muttered, looking at concerned and depressed members of her improvised team. "Oh, by the way, can you summon Skeletons, too?"
"Skeletons? No, of course not, why would I do something so vulgar?" Tiana furrowed her brow slightly, "but I can conjure creatures, of course, since my education was quite diverse."
"Really!?" Orisa's eyes shone in excitement, "show me, please."
Seeing the same eager expression on Iten’s face, too, Tiana let out a sigh and chanted:
A brown deer appeared by Tiana's side and stamped his right hoof twice, looking around for possible threats. He was slightly taller than Orisa, that's not counting massive and pointy antlers, so it was neither big nor small, judging by her knowledge.
"In general, appearance doesn't matter. It may add some functionality, but what's important is its overall strength which comes from the caster's Magic level." Tiana explained with a hint of pride in her voice.
"So cool..." muttered Kanai, moving a bit closer.
"Indeed, a magnificent sight, to say the least." Iten was impressed, too.
"Tiana, it really looks great, and actually suits you well," enthusiastically exclaimed Orisa, almost clinging to the girl "and this actually brings me to the thing I wanted to learn with the help from Summoners."
"Hold on just a second," Tiana put a hand to distance Orisa, "first, we need to establish our plan and goals for today. You asked me to stay and help, but with what exactly should I help, and whom?"
"Right now I am quite content with my pace, so you should focus your attention on other people," Iten shrugged and waved his hands apologetically. For a moment, Orisa saw a slight discontent showing on Tiana's face.
"I could use some advice on continuous healing," Kanai added in a modest tone, "other than that, I have my notes, and they should be enough for me, at least for now."
"Then I would prefer to start with you, although I'm not a healer."
"Tiana, wait a minute, please," Orisa began uncomfortably, "I know that it's not my place to be asking, but..." she shuffled uneasily again, "is it okay for me to share your potions with guys here?"
"You can throw them away, for all I care," she said, showing a lot of revulsion.
"I know it's nothing for you, Tiana. But you can't even begin to imagine how valuable they are to me and how much I appreciate your generosity." Tiana simply shrugged and turned to Kanai indifferently.
Orisa was already fed up with Tiana's behavior to her limits, but she decided to be nice and thankful until the very end in hopes to break through Tiana's wall of hate. It was hard to continue eating the dirt she threw at Orisa, keeping a cheerful smile and thankful attitude. But it was too easy and too tempting to give up and succumb to her boiling rage, and she already threaded this path in her past life, always yelling and lashing at people who somehow wronged her. So, in this case, she decided to give it her all and push for Paragon Shepard ending, at least with Tiana. While Orisa's thoughts were not entirely pure, as she considered Tiana's wealth, connections and knowledge as invaluable resources, she genuinely thought that somewhere deep inside Tiana was a decent, even an honorable person.
When she looked at Iten, she saw him nod subtly in approval of her behavior. Orisa smiled weakly and went to pick up her backpack. She then got back to Iten and handed him two potion bottles.
(end of the first part of the chapter)