"Oi-oi, Supreme Demon General Overlord Orisa, what are you three talking about!?"
The time has come to a halt. Only Orisa's sweat kept pouring from her face, flooding the world. Old civilizations came to an end, giving birth to new cultures. Species went extinct, replaced by unknown life forms. The sun died out, and the universe collapsed into one giant black hole, creating another Big Bang. And Orisa kept sweating.
'Fuck. We screwed up.'
She took her time slowly turning around, as her mind raced like a hound, searching for an exit strategy.
'Wait-wait-wait. Why is that a bad thing, actually? What's so wrong with Clemen knowing about this?' Orisa grabbed this thought, clutching it tightly as the last straw that could save them all.
'Are you stupid? He is a blabbermouth. In mere five minutes, everyone in this world would know that it was your moronic trio behind this discovery.' The internal critic was merciless.
"E-he-he, hi, Clemen," awkwardness of Orisa's smile could rival the sweetness of her tone. "How are you? Nice weather here, right?"
"Yeah, the weather is cool. I actually kind of wanted to walk around, you know. Chilling, listening to birds, looking at the sky when-. Wait a minute! That's not the point."
The boy slowly shifted his gaze between all three culprits and made a step back with a panicked expression:
"You aren't planning on brutally murdering me, slowly taking my small and miserable corpse apart with a giant kitchen cleaver, digging a giant pit under a big tree, dumping my remains there so that mister worm and his family could slowly eat my meat and poop it out to fertilize the ground and give more strength to the said beautiful green tree?"
He spat out that nonsense under one breath in a blink of an eye.
'Fuck-fuck-fuck, what should we do!? If only we had some time to...' The time was of the essence, but they could squeeze out a bit of the precious resource quite naturally. With this in mind, she stepped forward and hugged him around the shoulders with her right arm, pulling Clemen real close. Her conspiratorial whisper went directly into his ear:
"Listen up, cadet Clemen, for this is damn important. We found out something big and now looking for competent crewmembers. You are a perfect candidate for the task. We'll discuss it at length tomorrow after the final counseling session. Everything I said is top secret. Am I clear, cadet?"
"Crystal clear, Great Conspirator Shadow Master Puppeteer Orisa!" She released her conspiratorial grip for Clemen to instantly salute her.
The dumbfound trio observed the cadet jugging away. The scene lacked two elements to be complete, a cawing crow and a rolling tumbleweed.
"My only hope is that he is a level eighty troll that is laughing at us inwardly right now. Or else we are doomed."
They shook their heads synchronously and went to the canteen.
The central field that housed the exam was divided into four smaller sectors. Each section was big enough for the cadets to not get in each other's way, but they were still close enough for the viewers to see what was going on in each part of the field.
Two hours later the trio sat on improvised stadium-like seats, watching the show from a participant's area. The other side of the field had more comfortable visitor's seats, and Orisa saw a number of charismatic division representatives and even hunter Nowa in the first row.
Under an absolutely illogical impulse, she waved him despite a fifty meters wide field separating them. She was already cursing her own stupidity inwardly when suddenly the hunter slowly raised his hand and leisurely waved her back.
Every participant got a number indicating their position in the queue and was looking at a huge Manainked placard at the side of the field. There were the current participants' numbers, their results, and who was next in the queue.
On the other side of the field, division representatives were constantly skimming through cadet's cards and taking notes. The first row was reserved for teachers and special guests. Besides already mentioned Nowa, among dozens of unknown people Orisa noticed both Captain Pain and Youko.
Suddenly, her gaze stumbled over Tiana who sat by the left side of a tall man with long platinum-blond hair.
'Is this her father? He looks like Malfoy. He even talked like Malfoy. Hence, you are Malfoy now.'
A man by vas Kavenfenn leader’s right hand was a stark contrast to him. There sat a chunky middle-aged man without a single hair on his head. The lack of haircut was probably of no concern to him since the man owned an enormously long handlebar mustache. To his right side sat both pink sugar overdose and her black-armored brother.
The exam was going quicker than Orisa expected. Most cadets finished either on the second or third wave, with occasional hard workers tackling the fourth or even fifth. Interesting feature of the exam was that every wave was simultaneous for all four participants, leaving earlier birds some time to rest while the slow cadets were still fighting.
Since the numbers were given randomly, some of the squad members were already done, while others still waited for their turn. So far, the results were the following:
Onuki: two plus healing skills' showcase.
Toatre: five plus healing skills' showcase.
When Kanai's number appeared on the placard, Orisa quickly squeezed his hand:
"Good luck, bro. Plus Ultra."
He smiled back nervously and moved to the field, trying to gulp with a suddenly dry throat.
"Everything is going to be okay," Iten already got back and was sitting by Orisa's side, comforting her with a pat on her back.
So far only a handful of cadets got injured, and Orisa was quite confident in Kanai getting unharmed. Considering his build and stats, she was worried about his results, hoping for him to get at least three waves done.
When the first wave began, Kanai went for a surprise that Orisa was not expecting from him:
"I didn't know he had buffs!" Orisa squeezed Iten's knee in excitement.
"You are giving us too little credit, young lady," there was no need to be a skilled psychologist to notice how proud Iten was of his own and Kanai's progress.
"By the way, I don't see Nana and Nene here."
"What would they even do here?" Iten asked back in surprise. It seemed that a few seconds later he finally understood Orisa's question, so he added, "ah, you thought, that they were going through the camp's training, too? They are actually two years older than us, and simply serving in the Defense division."
"Really? Who would have thought..." Orisa murmured in surprise. "Although considering their height, it's really hard to guess their age."
Kanai already finished the first wave while they were chatting, and now was going against the second. One after another, zombies and skeletons were conjured five to ten meters away from him, and they quickly moved in his direction.
For a few seconds, Orisa was unable to perceive his strategy, as Kanai was simply back stepping, occasionally ducking to dodge firebirds. When it became apparent that all monsters of the second had been summoned and neatly lined up, Kanai took aim with his small wand:
A cloud of gray smoke came out of his weapon and began to move slowly through the foes. Orisa saw them shake and bend inside the cloud, turning to dust as it passed over them. The last skeleton standing was familiar knight, and Kanai finished him with two more Decays before it got closer.
The third wave began with one more Skeleton Knight and another archer that immediately shot Kanai, its arrow grazing his forearm.
The Skeleton Knight moved quicker this time and swiftly made its way to Kanai's location while the boy was taking care of the archer.
The skeleton glowed dark-green and noticeably slowed down. As more and more knights appeared, Kanai slowed down them all, spreading more Decay. The wave was over, and Kanai decided to renew his buffs.
Orisa was constantly jumping on her seat in excitement.
"I raised that boy," she said, elbowing Iten cheerfully.
"Is that another quote from somewhere?"
She chuckled slightly, and they returned to the action. While Orisa was extremely happy, she couldn't ignore that Kanai was already panting heavily.
When a fourth wave came into action, Orisa yelped at the sight of a big white wolf that almost gave her PTSD. Iten's hand that she was squeezing nervously now was all white. He shook his head in amusement, mistaking her expression for extreme care about Kanai, and muttered under his breath with a smile:
"Get married already, naive youth."
After the wolf howled, his body began to glow yellow, signaling about some kind of empowering. Kanai was quick in his judgment:
The wolf jumped without any warning, but his attack was slow, giving Kanai plenty of time to get away. Orisa began to cheer on him audibly. Suddenly, the ground under his feet bumped up, and a clawed paw cut his left leg.
The cloud moved forward, cursing a few moles that already got on the surface. The wolf was already close and ready to bite when heavily panting Kanai raised his wand with shaking hands, pointing it at the wolf's face:
The wolf's jaw melted down, hindering his biting attempt. His head followed shortly after. The beast's body fell on the ground with a loud thud, while two remaining moles were evaporated entirely by the Corrosive Ray.
Kanai slumped on his knees, unable to catch his breath. His hand rose up to signal the end of his exam.
"Whaaaa! Did you see that!?" Orisa began slapping Iten's knee in a madly excited outburst.
"Yes-yes, I did. Now, leave my almost broken leg. I still have ideas on how to use it, please."
"Eww, gross! I won't hug you!" She said after a fully drenched in sweat Kanai came back to his seat. "Bro, that was so cool! Your Ray is super lit!"
"Maybe you'd start paying more attention to your party members now," he muttered, pretending to be hurt by her words.
Outraged Orisa was gasping for air, moving her gaze between grinning faces of her crew members.
"How dare you lot conspire against me. This grave offense is punishable by tickling!"
They kept the light conversation going for quite some time. Despite that, Orisa's hands began to tremble as she felt panic crawl into her heart.
'Don't fret. It's going to be a piece of cake.' For once, the internal critic was in a good mood.
'You are raising red flags on purpose?' Orisa grumbled inwardly, knowing all too well how this type of foreshadowing worked.
'If you are so scared of jinxing, then knock on wood and spit over your shoulder, you pussy.'
Orisa felt someone elbowing her. After Kanai finally grabbed her attention, she saw her number on the placard next in the queue. 'Time to get ready,' with that in mind she pulled out what remained of the Concentration potion and drunk it swiftly, passing the backpack to Kanai.
She already had her gloves equipped, which left only the ring. As her experiments proved, the ring worked normally even when she wore it over the gloves.
As she was readying herself to stand up, Kanai lightly pinched her on the thigh:
"Relax. We believe in you, Supreme Demon General Overlord Orisa."
The trio laughed brightly, and Orisa stood up, no longer nervous:
"Thank you, guys. I really appreciate you, even if it's not that evident."
And so, she went down to the field.
While waiting for the last group to finish their exam, Orisa was looking at the other side of the field, observing the Noble kids. Both families could not look any more different.
Mustached fatty put his arms around both kids' necks and pulled them all together in one happy cuddling blob, rubbing his cheeks against their faces vigorously. They tried to protest and pull away, however, either their father was actually stronger, or they were only pretending, but he kept his grip until his fatherly desires were satisfied.
On the contrary, Orisa wasn't able to see vas Kavenfenn family interactions at all. Tiana stood up, bowed to her father, and left the seating area. The man sat all this time as a statue, and Orisa wasn't even sure he reacted to his daughter's departure at all.
As Orisa sat her foot on the field, the Concentration potion's effect kicked in. They added more to her senses already sharpened by the gear, allowing her to hear more talks and whispers:
"Who is that, a lesser Noble?"
"Do you know the girl to the left?"
"Are they adamant on letting her wet herself in front of all the representatives?"
"Is this a joke?"
"What's going on here?
"Oh my. Finally, something fun."
They were forbidden from casting before the signal, so when the first wave appeared in front of her, Orisa chanted:
Both her concentration and all senses skyrocketed due to the clash between the potion and her spell, increasing her reaction time and calming Orisa's nerves even further. She leisurely observed skeletons and zombies move towards her, listening to people's gasps and yelps:
"Dear me, a berserker?"
"Imagine her going completely nuts and killing the Nobles? Hilarious!"
"This chick is crazy!"
"Well-well-well, I'm intrigued."
"What's her number? Quickly, give me her profile."
Orisa turned her head towards Tiana's section just in time to see her wipe out all the enemies with a single Firebreath spell. Without further ado, Orisa thrust her left hand forward:
All six enemies were shattered in a single swipe.
She decided to conserve Mana from the get-go, leaving her shields down for as long as was possible.
The second wave was no different. Luckily, the Summoners spawned monsters at the same spot, which gave Orisa a perfect opportunity to use the Raging Fist as was intended. After her strike, only the Skeleton Knight still stood, and she quickly finished it with another Palm Push Strike.
When the third wave hit the field, Orisa saw a bunch of mages and archers, so just in case she activated her forearm shield:
All weak skeletons perished from the first raging fist, and four remaining Knights each crumbled after just one more Palm strike. She now had the luxury to observe others.
"Bright Nova!" - "Lesser Smite!" - "Lesser Smite!"
Sugar sister scattered weak enemies with a wave of golden light and finished the Knights with two more spells. In the meantime, her brother simple slashed them all apart, cutting even armored skeletons with his sword.
'Must be a darn good sword to cut through their resistance. Well, the kid can swing it alright, too.'
"Empower!" - "Lesser Firebreath!"
Orisa moved her gaze just in time to witness Tiana's empowered fire wave melting down everyone in less than three seconds.
"Force Wall!" - "Force Wall!"
As the next wave began and the wolf appeared, Orisa placed two horizontal platforms to use as a floor against moles. With a loud thud, the jumping wolf crashed into another Force wall that she made last moment. The already familiar sound of someone poking the wall came beneath her foot, but Orisa paid it no heed.
Recycling the idea of a flying wall, she made another spell to fixate strong targets and crush weak ones. A semi-translucent horizontal wall appeared a few meters above the wolf and rushed down, pinning its victim to the force floor.
"Palm Push Strike!"
A jet of condensed Mana pierced the wolf's skull, prematurely ending his career. Orisa followed Toatre's example and jumped down from the force floor to roast the moles. Two Raging Fists sealed the deal with the fourth wave.
Conversely, Tiana dealt with the moles first, and now she was facing a lone wolf.
Her staff glowed blue, waiting for the wolf's attack. Instead of jumping like usual, the beast leaned closer to the ground and dashed forward in a mad rush.
Her staff acted like a shotgun, releasing buckshot of small purple projectiles. Although more than two-thirds of them missed their mark, the wolf's front paws left their owner and flew away. The beast had no other choice but to perform a nose-dive into the ground, rolling forward like a furry ball.
In a cool heroic gesture, Tiana stopped its movement with her foot and pointed the staff at his head:
Even without Empower, the wolf's head and upper body were both removed from existence, leaving a meaty puddle on the ground.
'Whoa, girl, you are doing some real shit there.'
The corpses of the beasts turned to dust, freeing space for the fifth wave that greeted Orisa with a barrage of various projectiles. Thanks to her sharpened senses and extremely quick reaction, she had time to examine her foes while placing the shields.
There were two harpies shooting their feather with one more drawing closer to Orisa. From the backlines, two echidnas assisted them with a spike torrent. While both groups were already troublesome, much more concerning was a giant boar that began accelerating towards Orisa's fortification.
Any sane person would be scared, but Orisa was far from normal. A huge grin distorted her face as she sat down, placing both her hands on the ground. When the hog reached an appropriate momentum that Orisa later described as 'Near the light speed' and was about to ram her shields she chanted:
It was a complex two-stage spell that she designed yesterday under the Lieutenant's gaze. The first stage created a two-meter long spike that tilted heavily towards the boar. Orisa's evil genius supplied this construction with two additional features. The first was quite evident to observers and consisted of an X-shaped thick hilt. The goal of this addition was to stop its victim from advancing further and possible smashing Orisa with its weight.
The second feature was hidden literally under the ground. To make this construction more stable and secure, Orisa also added an underground part that acted as a foundation to anchor the whole construction and prevent it from moving under the target's momentum.
Orisa was familiar with how thick the skin of the beasts was, making it hard to penetrate. The second stage of the spell added an explosive tip to her skewer that was supposed to pop on contact, creating a dent in the target's resistance.
Both stages were performed in a little over than second, and Orisa jumped back, placing two Force Walls. Even with her accelerated reaction, it was not possible to see the details, but the result was evident. The pig now was successfully impaled, squealing and shaking violently.
Orisa quickly made her way closer to the barbeque and finished it off with a combo of Palm Push Strike and Raging Fist in the neck.
What happened next proved that harpy saved her life, or at least made her last longer on the exam. She saw a harpy coming down on her from above but had not time to dodge. That left her only one option that she was delaying as much as possible:
Her body shield, while being useful, also drained her Mana like an ice-cold Cola on a sunny summer day. The claws of the harpy were not very sharp, so Orisa safely took the beast literally head-on, bending her knees slightly under the weight.
That very moment three razor-sharp spikes from echidnas clashed with Orisa's body barrier, penetrated it and dug into her left arm. Due to her sharpened senses, the pain was immense.
She screamed and dropped on the ground, exhausting all her luck for the day as another barrage of spikes missed her head thanks to the fall. The harpy kept kicking her and Orisa blasted her away with the Raging Fist before chanting:
Her figure was now enclosed in the triangle of barriers, giving her a breathing room. Gritting her teeth in pain, she pulled the spikes out of her limp left hand. Thanks to Tiana she learned one support spell that she could use despite her lack of Magic stat:
The most basic spell that even Orisa could use stopped the flow of blood around injured spots. It was dangerous and ineffective for many reasons, but she had to make do with just that.
It left Orisa behind a barrier and against four long-ranged attackers. She learned from Youko that the summons used their owner's Mana to constantly replenish their munitions, rendering any war of attrition pointless.
It left Orisa with no choice but to use her last novel spell. The trick behind the conjuration of long-ranged attacks was in precise timing and aim. Orisa learned from Lieutenant Reezpauzo how sugar princess' Smite was made and even felt a speck of respect towards the girl.
While launching a cloud of Mana, one had to clearly command it where exactly and when to transform into its real form. For harpies hovering over Orisa, she had to measure the distance and height and take into consideration the speed of her spell. Ultimately, during the spell's chant, it all boiled down to intent similar to 'Transform in one and a half seconds. Fly.' She also chose the final form for an aesthetic reason:
"Hand of God!"
A barely visible cloud of Mana swiftly flew towards the harpies, transforming into a huge horizontal palm which rushed down to the ground, slapping both creatures like mosquitoes. The hand dissolved after turning the beasts into a bloody porridge. Echidnas met the same fate a few seconds later.
Orisa sat on the ground, panting and sweating. She had no strength to look at other participants, her alarm being the boar's body. As long as it was present, she still had time to rest.
The body turned to dust twenty seconds later, and Orisa got back on her feet. Before the sixth wave arrived, she quickly peeked at the other parts of the field. Both brother and sister bailed out after the last wave, which left only her and Tiana still standing.
One thing made Orisa happy, that was the fact that her Mana pool was only half empty. All her hard work and training paid off.
The next wave was tough. Three heavily armed and armored knights encircled her while two robbed mages kept her busy. She had to overuse her Mana on Wall Rush spells to throw the Knights back, constantly sheltering behind Force Walls under the long-ranged assault. It was even harder to fight because of her limp left hand being useless in combat.
The moment her Palm Push Strike pierced the last mage, their bodies vanished. It meant only one thing - the seventh wave was already here.
At least seven-meter long gator stared at her curiously. At least that's how Orisa's accelerated mind perceived the beast's gaze. More than two dozens of dagger-wielding monkeys rained on her from behind the croc's back.
"Wall Rush!" - "Wall Rush!" - "Wall Rush!"
She slowly walked backwards, supporting every step with a barrage of spells. Every second or two, a fresh cut appeared on her body, left by an endless horde of monkeys. They were strong enough to surpass her Thickness, and that frightened her.
The gator was another piece of bad news. It was too slow to impale on the skewer, too thick-skinned and tough to harm with normal spells. The only thing Orisa managed was to slow it down while she backed away and tackled the monkeys.
"Hand of God!"
After another step, her back bumped into something. When she turned around, Orisa saw a beautiful girl with long platinum-blond hair stare at her in shock.
Everything happened in a split second. A look of surprise and panic on the girl's face shifted into one full of determination. Orisa saw Tiana's staff move upward and in her direction, and she understood. Her own hand rose up, pushing Mana forward.
It was the only way.
Two shouts shook the training field: