Tiana had to retreat, yielding to the endless flow of monkeys. She was cursing herself for the lack of defensive spells, but that was only natural as she rarely fought alone. The vi Durek siblings always stood by her side, taking care of her back and supporting her in every possible manner. Ultimately, her role was to destroy things while Bassa guarded her with his black armor, and Ramulie kept both of them alive and buffed.
The seventh wave was designed to overrun cadets with a horde of small foes, while a slow but powerful gator was casually making its way to seal the deal. Fighters who focused on single target attacks or lacked any means to hamper their foes had no chance of winning. And while Tiana had a few ice spells, they all were tailored against single targets, too.
So she had to slowly but steadily retreat, throwing the monkeys back with her shotgun magic. The spell's might was beyond measure but of little use against tiny foes. Only a fraction of projectiles hit their mark, dealing very little damage. But she still had to use the spell for it was her only skill that could reliably push the foes away.
After making another step, Tiana felt her back bump against something. 'Impossible! I have been tracing all the monkeys until now.' Her mind dosed with a Concentration potion raced to find the answer, but there was none.
She made an abrupt turn only to see Orisa perform the same motion. 'That girl! It had to be now?' But Tiana could not place all the blame on Orisa, for she was at fault, too.
Her staff began to rise after Tiana saw a monkey right behind Orisa, ready to strike her defenseless back. Her own back was probably in similar danger, but she had no time to turn around and fend it. 'So, it's either me alone or both of us? I'm going to disappoint daddy again.' But there was no other way.
Tiana's gaze shifted to focus on the foe, but she still caught a glimpse of Orisa's eye quickly narrowing back from the shocked expression they were showing a moment ago.
Two shouts shook the training field:
It took them a split second to grasp the meaning of each other's actions. Like professional dancers who practiced together for years, both girls moved in sync, taking a small step forward and to the right. Now they stood shoulder to shoulder, each facing the other's enemies.
Orisa turned to face Tiana and swiftly fell on one knee, spreading her hands in the opposite directions:
Two blasts of fire roared, one was directed at Orisa's own sector while the other threw back Tiana's opponents. The girl was quick on the uptake. She instantly turned to face Orisa, shifting her grip on the staff to aim its tip at Orisa's field so that its base would face her own sector.
Her enchanted staff launched buckshot from both ends, surprising both Orisa and viewers. The spell was great against multi-directional attacks, but it ate almost thrice the regular amount of Mana for each spell.
Chemically enchanted senses allowed both girls to track the targets with their peripheral vision, so they now were looking in each other's eyes.
Tiana saw devils dancing in Orisa's eyes. It was her first time observing a person that was having so much fun. By the look of it, Orisa had a hard time keeping her injured left hand straight. It was trembling noticeably. Despite that, a grin of endless joy occupied her face, and her eyes were gleaming with fun.
"Sorry for intruding," she muttered after another dual blast.
"Impudent brat," Tiana's voice betrayed her, showing that she was not mad at all. After throwing another dual spell, she swiftly placed her right hand on Orisa's head as if to pat her:
Orisa swiftly rose to her feet, shot an air-smooch at Tiana and turned to the girl's field, saying:
"Your crock is close."
At the same time, a thoroughly confused examination lead asked Supreme Commander in a nervous tone:
"Sir, what would you like us to do? Should we stop the exam?"
"It is of no importance to me," he answered with a stone face. "Whatever you do, the responsibility will not be placed on you."
With two more rushing walls Orisa cleared an immediate threat, but the gator was only three meters away.
'I can't throw it back far enough. It's too big to imprison. Too dangerous to go melee. Creative thinking is everything I have.'
Her accelerated and focused mind spent more than a second looking for a solution. By based on nothing rough estimations, the chance of successfully performing a feat she imagined was somewhere around seventy-two point two six percent. While the spell was still new and her body had not yet learned it, she still preferred to name it for future references and practice:
Orisa fell on one knee and touched the floor, sending a Mana cloud towards the croc. It moved right above the ground with intent 'Transform in point five seconds. Move.' Exactly half a second later, a horizontal Force Wall appeared under the crock's left side. Its right edge shot upwards, and, acting as a spring trap, flipped the gator on its back.
"Wall Press!" - "Wall Press!"
Two horizontal walls pinned down both front paws, rendering the reptile immobile and unable to flip back. Its tender belly was now exposed to all sorts of interesting activities.
"By the way," Orisa had to interrupt her speech after every other word to cast more spells, "did you try hitting the gator from beneath?"
"No time," it took Tiana quite some time to reply for the same reason, "had to fend off little ones."
Their combined effort halved the foes' numbers, but it was still too much to fight head-on, leading to Mana overuse. Among other reasons for their poor situations was the fact that the monkeys had a rapid regeneration that healed up everything except fatal wounds.
Orisa placed four walls in quick succession, creating a fence to cut off the sector with a flipped croc. The finishing touch was another horizontal wall above their heads, which made the whole construction looks like an unfinished house that was missing a door frame.
Some of the monkeys stood in front of the walls, relentlessly slashing their knives against a semi-translucent surface. Other foes climbed the roof or ran around towards the only entrance. Orisa added another layer of walls inside their fortification and tapped Tiana on the shoulder:
"Stand behind me. Don't shoot my hands off, please."
The girl took two steps back and pointed her staff at the opening while Orisa fell on one knee in front of the entrance, praying for her Thickness to hold on. The monkeys poured in, and Orisa met them with both hands:
"Palm Push Strike!"
"Empower!" - "Major Firebird!"
Three bodies fell on the ground, but more took their place the same moment. Orisa cursed after one of the furry bastards stuck its blade in her leg. From such a close distance her strike cleanly disintegrated the beast's head, but she didn't have time to take the knife out as more apes rushed in.
"Empower!" - "Major Chain Lightning!"
Three more monkeys turned into a poorly cooked barbeque when they heard a sound of wall breaking behind their backs.
'Shit, only villains do that!' Luckily, Orisa made a double layer of fortifications, so they still had some time.
"Palm Push Strike!"
"Empower!" - "Major Firebird!"
A moment later, three monkeys assaulted Orisa simultaneously, and, after toppling her on her back, they started working with their knives.
The pain was many times stronger because of her sharpened senses. While each cut was not deep and too threatening because of her Thickness, the monkeys swung their weapons rapidly and relentlessly.
"Empower!" - "Major Chain Lightning!"
"Empower!" - "Lesser Mend!" - "Lesser Balm!"
"My gosh, are you-." Tiana fell on both knees in front of Orisa and gasped in shock from the amount of blood on Orisa's chest and legs. Both her shirt and pants were full of holes and completely soaked in red.
"Nothing.. unusual... Thank you."
They both slowly rose to their feet glad beyond measure that these monkeys were the last to storm their front door.
"Nothing unusual? Is this how you spend your free time?" Indignation and compassion were mixed together in Tiana's shaky voice. She was not used to people getting injured that much.
Another wall broke, and four monkeys jumped on Tiana's back, stabbing her Energy Coat shield. She fell on her knees under their weight, and a moment later the Coat gave out, so their blades sunk deep into her body.
She cried out, releasing an impulse that threw away the beasts, killing them, and shattered half of the remaining walls.
She was ashamed of crying in front of her father and other people, but the pain was insufferable, as she was under the Concentration potion's effects, too.
It took her a few seconds to catch her breath, and when she raised her head to ascertain the situation, her face became white.
But it was too late. The blast threw Orisa as well, and she rolled well over ten meters before coming to a halt.
She lay on her back, panting heavily with her arms out to the wide when the gator's maw closed on her hand. The only saving grace was that it was her right hand covered with Force Guard, which at least saved it from being bitten off completely.
The gator's tender bite immediately woke Orisa from her shock. One thing that had been saving her the whole exam was her new enraged state. Despite all the pain and suffering, there always was a part of her brain that kept working, kept thinking and operating. That part moved Orisa's left hand and started slapping the croc:
"Shock Poke!" - "Shock Poke!" - "Shock Poke!" - "Shock Poke!"
The overfed lizard released its fanged grip and started shaking its head from all the Mana going crazy inside its body. Orisa rolled to the side, spraying more blood from her broken hand. While two-thirds of her mind was screaming in pain, the remaining third thought, 'Dear Force Guard, I'm going to treat you a bottle of Cola tonight. You are my bro.'
"Empower!" - "Lesser Balm!"
"Empower!" - "Lesser Mend!"
"Empower!" - "Lesser Mend!"
Tiana ran to Orisa, more tears in her eyes:
"I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!"
"What are you talking about, dummy? You were hurt and did the only right thing," Orisa slowly patted Tiana on the head with her left hand. "It's okay thanks to you."
Then she turned around and came closer to a still delirious croc and kicked it:
And another one.
"Stop putting unhealthy things in your mouth!"
Tiana started wondering if the girl completely lost it from the pain. To stop that drama, she came closer to the gator and pressed her staff to its eye:
The beast became the one who completely lost it as its head turned into a mess. Orisa turned to Tiana with an unhappy expression on her face:
"Aww, this crock is broken. I need a new one now," With that, she almost skipped to the other side, Tiana following closely behind and pondering if she should call a qualified healer to save the girl.
When they came closer to the site, what they found was a gator wagging its tail helplessly.
"See?" Orisa turned to Tiana with a bright grin. "Such a good boy! How do you like my new little friend?"
"How is your Mana doing, by the way? I'm around one-third, I think."
"Same here," answered Tiana after focusing on her reserves.
"We will now go our separate ways, my friend," Orisa bent down to the crock and stroke its skin, "but don't worry, for I will never forget our precious time together."
"Palm Push Strike!" - "Raging Fist!"
The crock's neck was almost torn away, and his body disappeared immediately. But instead of the eighth wave, the examination team lead came to them.
"I must say, girls, you made a ruckus here today. After some consultations, we decided to include the seventh wave into your score." He enjoyed their smiles for a moment, and then continued. "If you'd like to, we can summon the next wave, but it won't count, I'm afraid. What do you think?"
"I'm game!" Orisa smiled brightly, looking into Tiana's deep blue eyes.
"I think we can-," her gaze stumbled upon an empty seat that her father had been occupying a few minutes ago. His assistants were gone, too. "I think we can stop now. I am grateful to both of you."
She bowed down and swiftly went away.
'I can't lose this chance!' Orisa quickly bowed to the officer and followed Tiana, receiving a pack of healing spells on the move. When a minute later she finally found the girl, Tiana was standing behind one of the trees near the park, leaning her back on it. She was silently crying.
"It is hard to be unable to reach to your parents. It hurts a lot, I know." Orisa said with a sad voice, carefully choosing her words.
"How would you know that?" The girl spoke with her eyes still closed. Her expression was that of exhaustion, but not a physical one.
"My father always thought of me as a loser inept of anything. He died long before I could achieve something in my life, still thinking that his only child was walking garbage," Orisa came closer to Tiana, their feet almost touching each other. "Every time I conquered another height, I thought about him and his words. I lived my life in dire need of approval, but the only person I wanted it from was no longer there. The one thought I carried through the ages was how useless I was, I am and will be."
Orisa put her hands on Tiana's waist and pulled the girl into her embrace. As her slender frame began to shudder in silent hysteria, Orisa started stroking her back slowly, saying with a soft and gentle voice:
"I understand. And I'm sorry."