A dam that she was carefully maintaining all this time finally blew up and emotions accumulated inside her slender figure poured out like a flood. Tiana's body was shuddering as tears kept streaming from her eyes, soaking Orisa's shoulder.
At first, Orisa was only patting Tiana's back. But as the girl's hysteria raged on without any signs of slowing down, Orisa squeezed her tighter with her left hand. She felt Tiana's arms lift up hesitantly, and a few moments later the girl finally gave up to her loneliness and hugged Orisa back.
Despite the extensive sweating, Tiana's hair felt wondrous to touch as Orisa started slowly stroking the back of the girl's head and her nape. Her right hand swept over Tiana's hair, caressing the pain away.
They spent quite some time under the tree until Tiana calmed down substantially. When Orisa noticed that the girl had stopped crying, she loosened her grip around Tiana's waist, and the girl pulled away. Both her eyes and nose were red, and it was even more noticeable because of her otherwise pale skin.
In contrast to her overall hurt and helpless look, Tiana's eyes narrowed as she stared at Orisa sharply:
"Thank you for your care, but you don't need to concern yourself with me any longer." She spoke in a wary tone as if talking with a known swindler. Seeing Orisa's brows lift in confusion, the girl continued. "You think I don't understand? It's evident why you are so nice to me. I know I'm a valuable asset to have around, so you don't need to prete-"
"Karate Chop!" Orisa performed said motion, hitting Tiana's forehead with the edge of her palm. As the startled expression took over the girl's face, Orisa added irritably, as if talking to a stubborn kid. "What are you blabbering about, silly. To hell with your resources! I honestly want to be with you."
Tiana's face immediately turned red, and she tried to distance herself more, but her back met the tree. A panicked expression plastered over her face, and the perplexed Orisa facepalmed:
"Not in that sense, idiot!" However, if Orisa were to be completely honest with herself, Tiana was indeed attractive. While she was pressing the girl's slender frame to herself, it wasn't just pity and compassion that were coursing through her mind.
That very moment, Mirai's bright smile surfaced in Orisa's memory, and she felt a sting of guilt pierce her heart. She settled down on the grass right under the still standing Tiana and stared into the distance thoughtfully.
Surprised by this turn of events, Tiana glared at Orisa warily for a few seconds, but nothing happened. Seeing no immediate danger to her chastity, Tiana sat down by Orisa’s side:
"You look strange, you know?" There was no reply, so Tiana asked again, "far in the distance beyond the horizon, what is there? What are you looking at?"
"The person I loved but left behind." She muttered, still lost in thought.
"What was he like?"
Orisa smirked from that pronoun and came back to her senses. She let out a long sigh, shoveling away her feelings, and turned to Tiana. Sitting cross-legged in front of the girl, Orisa tried to sound cheerful and carefree:
"Enough with that gloomy shit already," Orisa was master of stowing her pain and troubles in the darkest corners of her mind, sucking up and moving on, "let's talk about something girly-girly, like good girls we are. I must say your scattershot spell is amazing. And how effective it is, it literally blew the gator's mind!"
Tiana uncharacteristically rolled her eyes, although she was slowly getting used to Orisa's company.
"You are one to talk. How were you even able to perform so reasonably with your Enrage?"
"Oh, shit!" Orisa quickly channeled a minimum amount of Mana into the Postponer, and it cleansed her of the Enrage that was still active. It felt like she came to a halt after running a marathon for hours. Fatigue covered her mind in a blanket, slowing every thought process. The only thing that kept her operational was a still lingering effect of the Concentration potion. Orisa had to re-evaluate Tiana's capabilities. The girl looked slightly worn out, but she was in no way as exhausted as Orisa.
They talked about the fight for some time when their peaceful get-together was interrupted:
"There you are!" A slightly resentful voice belonged to Kanai who was pouting while giving her with an intent glare.
"Oops, sorry! I-."
"You accidentally forgot about us, yes." Iten stood by Kanai's side. His voice was more amused than angry, so Orisa expected a quick pardon.
Both boys turned to Tiana and bowed slightly. The girl attempted to stand up to greet them properly, but Orisa grabbed her hand:
"We aren't on the royal banquet, aren't we?"
The all sat under the same tree, looking like a bunch of unruly kids, all tattered and dirty. While the boys were mostly intact with occasional cuts on the gear, both Orisa and Tiana were practically in rags. 'I wonder how red would be Tiana's face if she found out how much skin she is exposing now through these holes," Orisa cackled inwardly.
"Kanai, I'm so glad for you and your progress," she started another round of exam's discussion.
"So, you aren't glad for me?" Iten raised his brow in question.
"Of course I am! But I was sure you'd pass the basic levels easil-."
"Oh, I see. But you had to worry about your poor useless buddy, I see. He had no hopes of earning your trust. I see." Kanai spoke snobbishly and turned his head away in hmph motion.
Orisa stared in disbelief, shifting her gaze between Kanai and Iten until the realization finally hit her:
"You dicks! Stop trolling me!"
"Tch-tch-tch. You shouldn't speak such vulgar words in front of a lady." Kanai gestured towards Tiana then raised his index finger up and said in a lecturing manner. "It is much more appropriate to say wieners."
Tiana went into a fit of giggles, covering her mouth with one hand. 'Is that you, Lady Kaguya?' Orisa smiled warmly while looking at her. It was the first time she saw the girl being so carefree and cheerful.
"Setting aside the topic of this brute's behavior," Kanai waved dismissingly at Orisa, "this was mostly to lady Tiana's guidance. She advised me on various topics that night and helped better understand advanced casting techniques."
"You don't have to call me lady every time. Just Tiana is enough." The girl in question smiled, then added shyly, "and you are welcome."
Tiana still felt slightly uncomfortable in their company. All her inner demons were there, they never left her side. But to her own surprise, Tiana noticed that she wanted to give it a try. She wanted to know the feeling of having friends and sharing memories together. It all was new to her and scared her greatly, but she wished to make an effort in befriending this bizarre trio.
They chatted some more before a deep and strong voice startled them:
"Quite a feat you performed on the field."
Hunter Nowa stood a few meters away from them. For some reason, his helm was not on his head as usual but in his hands instead. Orisa could not help but awe again at how generic his face was. Realizing the hunter was addressing them, Orisa tried to stand up but felt someone's grip on her wrist:
"We aren't on the royal banquet, aren't we?" Tiana spoke, imitating Orisa's tone.
"You grew up so fast..." Orisa wiped an imaginary tear and turned to Nowa. "I'm glad to see you again, Hunter Nowa. Care to join our foodless picnic?"
"As tempting as your kind offer is, there are other matters requiring my attention now. I was solely glad to see you four together, so stopped by to greet your amusing party."
Saying all that, he strolled away with a satisfied smile on his face.
'Glad to see us together? Amusing party?' After looking around, Orisa noticed that it was not only her who was confused.
"While I'm not entirely surprised because it involves you, I still wanted to make sure," Tiana spoke in a rather awed tone, "do you happen to know hunter Goalo in person?"
"Well, yes, but actually no. Nowa gave a lecture during the Foundation festival that I was unable to attend. So out teacher, Miss Satou introduced us, and he then helped me a bit in person. I know he is a famous hunter, but why do you sound so surprised?"
"Famous hunter?" Tiana couldn't help but chuckle. "He is one of the strongest people alive right now."
They sat in thoughtful silence for some time before deciding to call it a day.
"Shower, I'm on my way!" Orisa stood up, stretching her body. "By the way, Tiana, I haven't seen you there even once."
The girl in question quickly backed away, covering her womanly spots, an alarmed expression showing on her face:
"We have our own shower. What is it that you want from me?"
"Oh, I see. Well, nothing of course. I just wanted to wash your back." Releasing a burst of laughter, Orisa walked away.
"I'm sorry for the patient's behavior," Kanai bowed to Tiana with a regretful face, "we are experimenting with new meds, so there are side effects to the treatment."
When Kanai moved to catch up with Orisa, Iten turned to a thoroughly shocked lady and shrugged apologetically. As the boy left to join his teammates, Tiana followed him with her eyes until Orisa's back came into view.
"Thank you." The girl muttered with a smile on her face.
Later this evening, an exhausted but clean and fed Orisa came back to the dorm. An empty bed in the corner of the room looked like a rotting wound. She couldn't help but bit her lip, and her only hope was that the weariness from the day would knock her out.
Both Onuki and Toatre were sitting on their beds and reading.
"Heya, girls. I'm glad that you made it out in one piece and with good results, too."
"Not as good as yours, but yes," Onuki grumbled quietly.
After hearing the girl's voice, Orisa immediately recalled the piercing event that occurred today, and her cheeks reddened slightly. Onuki noticed her reaction and smirked dirty like a drug dealer.
"It was quite entertaining to follow your actions today, Orisa," murmured Toatre in her usual otherworldly manner, turning the page in her book. She then looked up from her read and continued while giving Orisa a closer inspection. "My guess is that you will be a frequent customer among nearby clothiers, judging by the speed at which you obliterate your gear. I have no confidence in your budgeting skills, too."
"Wait-wait-wait, Toatre, dear," Orisa dashed to the girl's bed and grabbed her shoulders with a shocked expression. "Was that a joke?!"
Onuki let out short laughter, while Toatre continued in her usual tone:
"Why, yes. Apparently, you have a finely honed sense of humor, too."
"Thank you, sweetie," Orisa proceeded to cuddle Toatre shamelessly.
She managed to snuggle her way into Toatre's bed somehow. Thankfully, their constitution allowed them to occupy it without significant discomfort to each other.
"Speaking of budgeting, have you thought about your career choice tomorrow?" Orisa asked nobody in particular.
"We had not received the letters of invitation to any divisions yet. Hence, it's hard to say," Onuki said indifferently. "I, however, don't really care and am okay with any division."
"I plan to leave tomorrow," Toatre said nonchalantly, turning another page.
"YOU WHAT, MATE?!" The startled Orisa almost fell from the bed. "Are you out of your mind!?"
"I would know by this time, so I’m probably sane," she said in the same tone. "It occurred to me today that I do not enjoy combat. With that in mind, I spoke to Miss Satou. She was kind enough to recommend me to an artisan, so I am his apprentice as of today."
"Wao, so quickly. Oh, then I'm so glad for you, dear!" More snuggling followed and squirming Toatre finally pushed the perpetrator out of her bed.
When Orisa was about to occupy her own berth, they heard a knock on the door. Curious, Orisa went to check on it, and a moment later Youko Satou came inside.
"Good evening, girls. You were probably expecting them tomorrow morning, but the letters came out earlier. Here they are," she handed each of them a stack of small envelopes.
When her hand moved towards Orisa to deliver her letters, Youko paused and gave her a strange look. After a short silent suspension, Miss Satou left the room, saying from the doorframe:
"Consider them carefully, for they would determine your future."
Orisa crashed soundly on her bed and looked curiously at the thick stack of envelopes. They all were signed and stamped, so it was easy to get an idea without unsealing them. She started skimming through the envelopes:
- Engineering tech. Basic squadron.
- Defenders. Basic squadron.
- Police. Basic squadron.
- Army. Basic squadron.
- Defenders. Special unit: Cover.
- Defenders. Special unit: Nightwatch.
- Defenders. Special unit: Ensealing line.
- Police. Special unit: Chasers.
- Police. Special unit: Control.
- Army. Special unit: Assault.
- Army. Special unit: Powerhouse.
- Defenders. Elite group: Guardians.
- Army. Elite group: Crusaders.
Her hands were shaking. She could not wrap her head around the fact that her efforts were not only recognized but deserved such praise. Orisa probably would have started crying from the emotions that were overwhelming her if not for the last letter in the stack of papers.
It was a letter without any marks and stamps, and there was no seal on it, too. Taking a deep breath, Orisa opened the letter and took out a small note with poor handwriting:
"When you are through with all these geezers' whining, let's chitty-chat. I'll be here until tomorrow's evening. Come to me, baby.
The meeting room they were sitting in was sealed with his Entomb spell. Among other properties, it also blocked all outgoing noises, leaving incoming sounds intact.
The two of them sat across a small table, wrapping up their discussion. Hunter Nowa was patiently studying his charming conversationalist with a frozen expression, although his blood was long past boiling stage.
On the other side of the table, plastered over the sofa was a rather peculiar individual. Extremely thin and heavily tanned man little above thirty wore a small leather jacket that was unable to cover his otherwise bare chest, revealing a six-pack and four seals above it. Bright-green lipstick and deep-blue eye shadow were fighting for the observer's attention on his face. The picture was crowned with a pink curly combover haircut. The man said in a sweet voice:
"I don't know, Nowa, sweetie. Your idea is well and everything and I'll support you however I can. That glorious shit you had shown me earlier this morning was super lit. But sweetie-."
"One more sweetie and I will break your neck." Hunter Nowa said calmly.
The men took a thoughtful look at his hand before continuing the phrase:
"But Nowa, friend, you are asking too much."
"I believe in your elaborate imagination. Both the funds and connections are guaranteed, too."
"Well, I have a few ideas, but..." He let out a long sigh and continued with an amused tone. "But I must say, your tasks are quite demanding. I can understand the ones you mentioned first, but the Supreme Commander's own daughter? I don't know. But, shit, I'm so curious to try!"