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.
"Orisa, I already told-" he began but was quickly cut short by her intent reply:
"What if we die tomorrow because YOU were not fully prepared?" She pushed the potions into his hands, "stop being honorable to a fault, start being reasonable, please. We are not on exams, we are not competing in a tournament ark with other upstanding people. We are fighting for our own lives."
During all this speech, Tiana curiously peeked in their direction, making Kanai furrow offended because of her distraction. When Iten let out a sigh and took the potions, returning the Concentration bottle after a small sip, Tiana suddenly said:
"If you are talking about the Dungeon, you can't possibly die there." She observed their puzzled expressions and continued, "all Summoners are also skilled healers. I have neither heard nor read about the casualties in the Dungeon at all."
Iten sharply gazed at Orisa, but she stuck her tongue out mischievously and skipped to Kanai happily, feeling Iten's murderous intent on her back. She already suspected all that about the Dungeon, for it was extremely wasteful to let cadets die there, and discouraging to other squad members, too.
"I must say, the effects are peculiar." A few minutes later he said in an amazed tone.
Orisa grinned at him and turned back to Tiana and Kanai, listening to their healing lesson. It would really help to learn at least a basic level, but the problem with it was that healing was one of the fields she could not imitate with her Mana overuse. Restoration spells relied solely on user's Magic, simply pouring more Mana won't do any good. But she still was interested in mechanics behind the recovery spells.
Half an hour later the door slammed open with a loud bang, and Twin Lightning Sisters entered the gym, making a lot of noise, although, the source of the ruckus was mostly Nene.
"I say, you found a pretty nice hiding spot, Iten. Leaving me all alone, hanging out with cute girls, I see." She marched cheerfully and hugged him, kissing his cheek with a loud smooch. "Heya, lady Ti, Orisa and some fam I still don't know the name of!"
"I'm Kanai, thank you very much for asking," he said begrudgingly.
"Stop calling me that, you Musclebrain!" Tiana almost growled back at Nene, who laughed cheerfully and smacked Iten's back in a joyful outburst.
"Nice party, or so they say," Nana added in a quiet and almost indifferent voice, her face blank and void of expression.
"So what are you all doing here, hon?" While Nene asked everyone, her gaze was pinned to Iten.
'Yandere alert. Iten, I repeat. Yandere alert!' Orisa was sweating internally.
"We were training and learning new skills for tomorrow's Dungeon session," Iten answered slightly awkwardly.
"Huh? I say, why didn't you ask me for help then?"
"You know, the thought actually never crossed my mind," Iten scratched his neck thoughtfully, "but now, as I think about it, that's a good idea."
The room was big enough to fit three to four small groups that would not get in each other's way during training, so they moved to the furthest corner of the gym and Nene began her tutoring with an agitated expression. As Orisa noticed in the course of their practice, Tiana peeked at Iten's direction from time to time. In the end, despite her previous declaration, she was left alone with Kanai. Orisa herself decided to hang out with Nana and poke her for lessons and ideas.
"So, is Nene dragging you wherever she goes?"
"Not everywhere, I think. I have not been to sister’s bedroom while Iten visited her, despite sis being quite loud and actually disturbing my sleep. And she now goes to a toilet alone, although we spent quite some time there together in the past. Oh, what a merry time it was."
Nana uttered the whole phrase in an absolutely even voice, and Orisa was flabbergasted to the point of a complete halt of any brain activity. Nana added finally:
"It's a joke," although her face was still blank, Orisa could swear that Nana's eyes shone naughtily, "Or is it?"
"I see what you did there..." Orisa muttered slowly, taking a fresh look at calm and reserved Nana.
In the end, she was of great help to Orisa, and together they even begged a grumbling Tiana to let them practice on her deer. Orisa absolutely enjoyed Nana's company, as the girl turned out to be of 'still water runs deep' type. She was genuinely quiet and reserved, but when she felt an opportunity and atmosphere, Nana quickly shifted into a little piece of nasty art.
While Nana's primary weapon was a rifle, she was quite versatile in other fields as it was important to cover her weak points as a ranged fighter. She knew a lot about distractions, escapes, and, of course, some knowledge about crowd control. Sadly, as it was usually the case now, there was no use in simply copying her methods.
"Generally, there are two types of disabling, or so they say. The first is physical, and my dear insatiable sister uses it, as the method relies on a direct shock of the enemy," out of her pocket she took out a little stuffed rabbit and smacked it on the floor a few times. "Hit it hard on the head, and it might pass out. Or maybe not, but that just means you have to hit it harder, or so they say."
Nana's explanation boiled down to various methods of physically shocking the target, be that through direct contact or via magically enchanted shockwaves.
"The second way is purely magical, and it works differently, too, or so they say," as Nana proceeded with the explanation, she took out a small needle and struck it into rabbit's heart. "Send a strong enough impulse of Mana to overcome the target's resistance, while commanding your Mana to go berserk, and you may overpower the Magic core of your foe, stunning it or disrupting it's Mana flow. The stronger your own Magic is, the better are the results, or so they say."
Orisa had to think carefully about the second part. It sounded plausible to try and rethink this method, but she could not come up with any ideas in one fell swoop. While she pondered the problem Nana played with the rabbit, also it was mostly her poking the toy with the needle. In the corner of her mind, Orisa guessed that the rabbit was actually Nana's handmade toy by the way she adjusted its loose threads with the same needle.
After some time, Orisa finally decided to try out a few things before consulting both Tiana and Nana. She also noted that Kanai made some good progress on his part, too.
Half an hour later, both Iten's and Kanai's pairs were ready to wrap things up, but Orisa had a better idea for their late night gathering:
"Guys! Before we all leave, let's play some cards!" She suggested excitedly.
"Cards? Where did you get them?" Kanai was positively surprised.
"Oh, well, after the King game fiasco I thought that we severely lack in an amusement department," she pulled a stack of papers out of her bag, "so I just made one set myself."
Both Kanai and Iten shook their heads in amazement. While Nana and Nene were ready to dive into something new, Tiana turned to leave:
"I do not partake in such vulgar and tasteless activities."
"It's a pity, really, because I thought that it would be of much use to you, Tiana," Orisa casually threw a truck-sized bait.
"Another pointless jest of yours?" She looked at Orisa contemptuously, "how could a mere card game be of any value to me?"
"It would be quicker to show you," Orisa said and took out three random cards. "Here are seven of heart, ten of hearts and king of spades. Now, shuffle them however you want to and present back to me, with their faces turned to you, and their backs to me."
She waited while thoroughly skeptical Tiana shuffled the cards and presented them back, grumbling something about the cards being different from the ones used in Lazra.
"Now I will try to pull out a king of spades," Orisa declared and, after a few seconds of moving her hand back and forth between the cards, easily pulled out the king.
"It's either a trick or you were lucky!" Tiana was outraged.
"We can do it as much as you want," accompanied by quiet giggling of others, Orisa said cockily.
They repeated the procedure several times with different cards, and each time Orisa succeeded, Tiana's face turned a tint redder. When she was fuming like a volcano, Orisa finally decided to explain:
"It is quite simple, Tiana, and I honestly think it would be of use to you as the future leader," she said gently and slightly apologetically, "what I did was a mere face reading. Every time my finger hovered over the card I announced, your lower lip twitched slightly."
Tiana quickly covered her mouth with both hands, and her face was a host of various emotions and expressions, from shame and realization to anger and betrayal.
"Let's play," Orisa said encouragingly, smiling to the girl with a staff.
When everyone sat around a still reluctant but no longer resisting Tiana, Orisa explained the rules of Old Maid game while dealing the cards, and quickly added at the end:
"It's better to have at least some stakes, so whoever is the Old Maid has to tell others something embarrassingly funny about them!"
Panicking Tiana tried to flee, but it was too late, and Nene forcefully pulled her back, threatening to dye her hair pink during Tiana's next sleep.
The following fifteen minutes were filled with laughter, cursing, and even more laughter. The first to free the hand was, of course, Orisa, quickly accompanied by Kanai. Iten and Tiana were the last two, and, like a true gentleman, Iten tried to lose as much as he could, but Tiana was beyond salvation. When, after another twenty rounds of pulling the cards back and forth and insulting entire probability theory and Orisa's mathematical education, Iten finally gave up and won, Tiana almost cried out:
"I never asked for this!"
Five pairs of expectant eyes stared at her with a varying degree of intensity and expectancy, and her face turned purple. When Tiana tried to flee again, she was brought back by Nene like a guilty kitten. After a few minutes of struggling Tiana finally opened her mouth:
"I am still bathing with Mr. Quackers. It's a yellow toy duck that my-"
But she was unable to finish the phrase as cheerful laughter erupted all over the place and people fell on the mats, convulsively twitching and covering their mouths.
Tears began to well in Tiana's eyes as she felt extremely humiliated and betrayed. When she tried to stand up, Orisa jumped on her and hugged tightly:
"Tiana, you are truly amazing! It's awesome to hang out with you, really, and great to have you around, too."
Overwhelmed Tiana looked around, but all she saw were cheerful and smiling faces, nodding to her happily.
"I... Ugh... Thank you..." She said while blushing and trying to awkwardly distance herself from clingy Orisa.
Despite being genuinely happy to hang out with non-bitching Tiana, Orisa still felt quite disgusted on the inside. She hated herself because of all her scheming and planning, because of her filthy calculative and pragmatic mind. She knew Tiana's schedule very well, and while their gym sleep was a gamble, Orisa felt that Tiana wouldn't leave after witnessing them, and they'd be able to convince her to help with their study, too. She even told Nene that they might go to the gym in the evening in case Nene would like to join them.
She hated it all because it made her real and genuine feelings towards Tiana, her honest surprise and all the other things she sensed today look fake and calculated, too. Orisa felt a chunk of dirt in place of her heart, sullying her soul. She sighed internally in disappointment, but it was not her first time being in a situation like this one, nor would it be her last.
'Operation young maid, success.'