Next afternoon they were standing on the third floor of the Dungeon and observing its bizarre interior. The setting itself was in no way strange, but the fact that it was here underground made it all abnormal. With eyes wide open in astonishment Orisa observed a forest.
From the stairs connecting different floors began a small path leading to an observation balcony, but aside from that, the whole floor was a deep temperate coniferous forest. Tall trees like pine, cedar, fir, and redwood created a warm and fresh atmosphere, accompanied by an illuminated ceiling to replace light blues sky together they made you feel at ease, one with nature.
As Captain Pain told, this floor was almost thrice bigger than the previous one, around three hundred meters long and two hundred wide, which made it one of the biggest floors in entire Dungeon.
One of the things that tickled Orisa's spider-sense and raised her alert level was the fact that he did not present them the Summoner.
The Captain finished an introduction to the floor and went away, leaving them a flare gun to ask for help in case of emergency. Orisa heavily doubted its usefulness since it was much more realistic to shoot a tree than actually launch it straight in the air, but she suspected that Captain Pain had other means of observing them. One of the squad members suddenly muttered:
"I don't understand it, guys. Why forest?"
"I think," Orisa quickly answered, "to give us a diverse experience. Combat inside a forest should differ greatly from an open space battle or a city clash. New strategies, situations, enemies, decisions..."
She discreetly enjoyed their looks of respect and admiration. For someone like her, a hardcore gamer and shounen manga reader everything she just said was obvious. But for normal people without unhealthy addictions to various media, it was all confusing and unclear.
"I propose we follow Orisa today, too," said Iten to ride the tide of Orisa's collective approval, "anyone objects?"
This time even Mira stayed out of the discussion, being unusually quiet and reserved. 'Either the Captain kicked her ass, or she is plotting something.'
"Thank you for your trust, everyone," Orisa bowed slightly. "I know that my words won't please you, but I think we should expect even more trouble that yesterday."
She became quiet to let the information sink into the squad's mind, calmly observing their reaction.
"Lord General Lady Orisa Sir Ma’am," Clemen said with a poker face, putting his right fist to the heart, "why do you think that the forest would bang us?"
"Well," Orisa began, removing the palm from her face, "I see three major reasons. First, we don't know our enemies and their abilities. Second, visibility is low, and this leads to a danger of ambush or long ranged assault. The third is an aggregation of many small reasons like getting lost, setting the whole thing on fire and so on."
"So what is your plan, then? If you have any, of course," asked Crion with a mix of doubt and concern.
"Not a plan, but the general strategy, I think. Our goal is to make it to the center in ten minutes after the signal. So we'll use two formations, and please remember them and your position there."
She picked up a stick from the ground and began to draw on the dirt.
"Formation one is identical to what we used on the previous floor, which is three wings and central part. The left wing is Rakasha and Crion, and we'll call you Lefties. As for the right wing, which is Righties, Iten and Kanai would do. The central part would be Onuki, Toatre, and Clemen. I'm leaving rear to you guys," Orisa nodded to the remaining squad members, "and Mira, if you are okay with that."
As Mira nodded, looking away, Orisa simply shrugged and turned back to the squad, but then Kanai suddenly asked:
"And what about your position?"
"I think I'll be scouting," Orisa grinned, "as I have the best protection against traps and arrows. Anyway, the second one is easier, and we'll use it if we need to push forward quickly. Rakasha and I are the first to go, with Kanai and Crion covering us. Iten moves to the center to protect casters, and both the central and rear parts are intact. Questions?"
They talked some more before the loud ring signaled the start of the test.
"Formation number one," Orisa commanded and moved forward, while chanting:
The moment she made the first step under the trees, a rain of darts and rocks generously welcomed her, followed by a loud squeaky noise.
"Force Wall!" - "Force Wall!" - "Force Wall!"
After taking a few quite painful but otherwise harmless hits, Orisa walled their front, and the squad hid behind the barriers.
"Monkeys in a coniferous forest? Really?" She grumbled, replacing an almost broken wall. "We probably should start picking them, I think."
"No time, so let me," Rakasha simply walked behind the walls, taking a few hits in the chest, and smashed his halberd into the ground:
The ground trembled from his strike, and few people even fell on the grass, but a much stronger wave rolled forward, shaking the trees violently. Like a hail, small monkey-like creatures rained down with obnoxious squealing.
"Finish them!" Orisa yelled, waking the squad from their shocked state. In less than ten seconds the monkeys were obliterated, and she slapped Rakasha on the shoulder:
"Great work, man!" Rakasha grinned back, pleased by her words. It was when the loud ringing sound rolled again, repeating nine times.
"Nine minutes left. Formation number one! Move out!" Orisa quickly commanded, and they began their forest march.
Aside from occasional small groups of monkeys, they met little danger in the next three minutes. Fresh and calming forest atmosphere had a relaxing effect on the squad, and people began to talk, distracting each other even more.
"Guys! Don't lower your guard do-"
Orisa's warning was interrupted by Clemen's panicked yell going through the forest. A picture of a giant clawed paw that protruded from the ground and gripped the boy's leg met the squad when they turned around. More shouts and yelps followed as the earth under their feet started to bugle and wiggle. When the first bump finally erupted, it revealed a fat brown mole that immediately poked Onuki in the hip with its sharp claw, Orisa yelled:
"Everyone, eyes on the ground! Wings, keep watching your surroundings, 'cause it might be a distraction!"
"Force Wall!" - "Force Wall!" - "Force Wall!"
Like a skilled Fortnite player, she quickly placed a few walls horizontally right at the ground level, both blocking the moles and creating some foundation for the squad to stand on. Constant knocking underneath the barriers quite obviously signaled that the clawed bastards were not happy with this development.
"Get on the walls and kill them when they emerge!" She proceeded to place more walls around the squad, covering the ground and leaving only a small opening in the middle of the newly made floor.
That opening was the only spot for the moles to crawl from as the alternative was to dig more than ten meters in any direction to get outside of her Force Floor.
'You should patent that name,' her long-forgotten internal critic emerged with an appealing but untimely idea.
Ten seconds later, the foes finally stopped their death march and left the opening that turned into a deadly trapdoor. Ramming and poking resumed in several spots as they began to claw the Force Floor again, but some moles turned and crawled to the sides.
Toatre jumped from the platform and ducked under the floor:
There are three things one can watch forever, fire, water, and other people working. Even with the absence of the flowing liquid, Orisa was mesmerized by the view. The bright golden flame passed under the semi-translucent bluish Force Floor, mixing together to create a fascinating radiance. Toatre kept blowing more and more flames, and a slightly disturbing smell of a burned fur filled the air.
"Something is coming from our side," Mira's concerned voice yanked Orisa back to reality.
"Central part, deal with the moles. Righties, guard them and watch for the front. Lefties move to the rear and help them."
Real-time strategy games and RPGs were never among Orisa's favorites. To her, a turn-based control scheme was the best, letting her strategize and plan each and every step, afterward enjoying a marvelous execution with a glass of Cola in her hand. So it was hard to call the situation she was in right now a pleasant experience, but she had to make do with whatever was on her hand, that being a squad amidst the two-front mess.
While Toatre was still busy with the mole roasting, Onuki kept healing herself, since for some reason the foes kept targeting her and her alone. Orisa noticed signs of tears on her now dirty face, but the girl remained silent, biting her lower lip in pain.
"Clemen! One more scratch on Onuki's body and I'll spank you afterward," her tone was bright, but the eyes conveyed their message to a shivering squad member.
"Crystal clear, Captain Sir Madam Commander!" He gripped the knives in his hands tighter, moving directly in front of Onuki.
When Orisa passed by the girl, Onuki grabbed her shirt's sleeve and quickly pulled to the side. Ignoring the raging mole battle she muttered:
"I do not need your help, or your pity," she angrily spat the words, looking at Orisa with scorn. "I can handle myself without your guilt-induced special treatment."
"The squad needs its healers in top shape. There is no point in wasting Mana on unnecessary healing when the damage can be avoided in the first place," her reply was calm, even indifferent to highlight the impersonal judgment, but then Orisa's face darkened with regret. "As for your second statement, there is no pity towards you, although I fail to understand why I should not feel ashamed of the situation I caused between us."
Orisa went ahead, while no longer angry but thoughtful Onuki returned to her healing duties.
A background noise Orisa kept hearing rose in volume over time, and now she finally grasped its source being something large bashing through the forest. A number of falling trees heralded the arrival of two huge boars, crashing everything in their way, with the first dark-brown beast being way ahead of the second, yellowish hog.
"Spread out!" Kanai shouted.
The problem with his plan was that they still had not finished the moles, but the dice roll favored the squad this time. The first boar's glorious entrance was tragically ruined be Orisa's Force Floor when it tripped over the first few platforms. They were not strong enough to block its movement or withstand the weight, and the panels kept breaking as the Boar ran over them, stumbling every step until it finally came crashing down, rolling a few more meters. Both its weight and inertia from the rush played a crucial role in squashing most of the remaining moles into a bloody mush, and the last few beasts were quickly disposed of by Clemen's hands.
Orisa was able to assess its size when the brown boar finally came to a halt on the ground. Its height was around three meters, with the body almost five meters long, so by Orisa's knowledgeable zoologist standards, the Boar was enormous.
"Alright chums, let's do this!" And with that, Clemen jumped on the brown boar, ramming his knives in its body and screaming his own name: "Clemeeeen Tiiiiinn!"
The boar let out a screech unbecoming of such a majestic creature, quickly bounced back to its feet and darted away, with Clemen still hanging off of its back, gripping the knives and yelling:
Orisa had no time to help that wannabe Leroy, for the second boar was almost upon them. That yellowish hog was smaller than the brown one, but this only made things worse since it had more maneuverability, making it much harder to dodge, thus more dangerous.
"Force Wall!" -"Force Wall!" -"Force Wall!"
One wall appeared after another as she slowly moved backward, placing more and more barriers to create a multi-layered defense. There might have been a better solution to this situation, but she had no time to think of any. Instead, she mused over another, long-thought question, 'Concentration potion, my precious, should I waste you on the combat next time?'
"Get behind me!" She shouted to the squad, conjuring a few more shields.
The second boar rammed into her walls full speed, breaking one after another as if they were made of glass and not highly condensed Mana, and panic began to crawl into Orisa's mind. But it was too late to change anything.
The beast fell a mere two shields away from the squad, crashing nine barriers on its way. One collective sigh of relief left out the squad members' mouths.
The brown boar ran past the startled cadets, still squealing and waving Clemen like a meat-made flag. The boy's voice became distant again, accompanied by a loud clattering and oinking.
Another movement caught Orisa's attention. The second boar, which had been lying still until that moment, recovered his breath and tried to stand up. Orisa could not let the chance get away and swiftly ran to the hog's side:
"Shock Poke!" - "Shock Poke!" - "Shock Poke!"
Her glowing index finger moved at the same time, tapping the boar's hide. Orisa kept poking the boar while it tried to get back on its feet, and after the tenth strike, her target fell on the ground again, squealing in outrage. It slowly fiddled on the grass as if lazy or too tired to move, and Orisa turned to an astonished squad:
"Do something already, guys!"
As the squad brought down their might upon the poor helpless piggy, Orisa offered her prayers to a lead game designer or whatever god there was for making this possible.
She kept pondering her Pacifism problem time and time again, looking at it from as many different angles as she could. Orisa took into consideration the fact that she could easily slap Tiana's face or kick Kanai's butt, and also recalled all the experiments they performed earlier. It led her to a few theories that she tested with Nana's and Mr. Deer the Guardian's help yesterday.
The results were not as great as she hoped, but somewhat promising none the less. They were based on the fact that she could not deliberately injure a person or cast a skill that would cause direct and obvious harm to them.
She decided to probe what would count for her as direct and deliberate damage. As the tests turned out, she could meddle with her target unless it would cause some sort of normally irreparable damage. For example, she could pull out hair that would grow back, or make a small cut on the person's skin.
That was the reason why the field of crowd control spells appealed to her greatly, and she thought to learn at least something and try it out. But the plan was further complicated by Nana's words about control skills being powered by user's Magic level. So Orisa had to look for another workaround based on her Mana pool and not her stats.
What she got, in the end, was a crude, even barbaric spell that simply injected tons of her own Mana into target's Mana flow with an intent of wreaking havoc and making a mess from the victim’s layers. Her Mana would dissolve rather quickly inside the other body, and she made no direct harm or injury to the target. On top of that, the spell ate her Mana pool like a starved lion, so it was extremely ineffective by any standards and criteria, but she could manage only that much right now.
"Onuki, Mira, help me please with the other one," she said after hearing an already familiar clattering coming to their direction again.
She moved further away from the squad that was still in the middle of beating the giant pig and said to the girls again:
"Mira, shoot the boar in the face. We need to get its attention. Onuki, watch over me and be ready to Dispel."
From that moment, Orisa proceeded to place as many Force Walls as possible, both the horizontal ones to make it trip and vertical that would block the inertia from the boar's charge.
Mira and Onuki stood behind Orisa as she placed the last panel and raised her shields:
The noise grew louder as the hog drew closer, and they were able to her Clemen's already hoarse yells:
"Clemen! Stop fucking around and jump from that thing when we stop it!" She shouted angrily, and then turned to Mira for a final instruction:
"Shoot it a few times and back away when you are done, okay?"
Mira nodded and took aim at the furry target:
"Blast Arrow!" - "Blast Arrow!" - "Blast Arrow!"
Three explosions bloomed over the Boar's snot, enraging it more than doing any real harm, and it squealed angrily and turned to them.
As was expected, the boar crashed into her shabby labyrinth and quickly tripped over an uneven surface, ramming vertical walls as it fell down. She saw Clemen jump off of the boar's back to safety and jumped forward herself. The Postponer was charged up to a maximum of thirty seconds in case something went wrong with Onuki.
The world turned red, and the voice inside her head screamed, rushing Orisa to mess with the Boar's body;
"Palm Push Strike!"
Her right hand made a small dent in its side, penetrating brown boar's hide and making it squeal in pain. She immediately struck her left hand inside, feeling thick and warm blood flow from the wound:
An explosion was born within the gap, showering Orisa with blood and meat, and the boar squealed louder, instantly bounced back to his feet to run away, but she still was faster.
"Palm Push Strike!"
If her palm attack was a shotgun that dealt massive but concentrated damage at short range, then a newly added to her arsenal Raging Fist acted like a grenade, exploding in a cone in front of her. The idea was to use it against small crowds, nonetheless, Orisa's rage-occupied mind decided to test what would happen if you shovel a grenade inside someone's body, and the results were pleasing.
"I'll help you," declared Mira happily and sent a few more blasting arrows towards the boar.
It stumbled, slowing down from the wounds inflicted by Orisa, and she used this moment to strike its leg:
"Palm Push Strike!" - "Raging Fist!"
'More! More! More holes, more blood!' Yelled her critic inwardly.
After its leg was destroyed, the boar fell on the ground and attempted to crawl away from the cadet going berserk.
Orisa reached its position in a blink of an eye and proceeded with her assault relentless when a few more arrows struck the boar's back.
'Stupid creature, I told you to stop shooting,' her already enraged mind was further fueled by Mira's stubborn meddling.
'Meat! More meat! Beat the meat!' Shouts kept pushing her forward.
"Blast Arrow!" - "Blast Arrow!"
Orisa felt two jolts of stinging pain in her back, and a double explosion that followed a second later threw her on the boar. For a moment she blacked out from all the pain these Blast Arrows brought upon her spine. It hurt a lot. If not for her Thickness shield, she would probably have died already.
She quickly turned around only to see Mira making disappointed "Tch" before putting another arrow on her bow, and then a voice in her head screamed:
'LET'S KILL DA HOE!'
Not wasting a single moment, Orisa rushed towards Mira, covering her head with the Force Guard, as another arrow immediately struck the shield, exploding. Her right arm went limp, swinging back and forth helplessly.
"Mira, what the-" Onuki was about to yell at Mira, but Orisa no longer heard or saw anything. Her world turned completely red, as she pushed her left fist against Mira's stomach and shouted: