"It's clear why you are sulking, Orisa," Rita said gently. "Don't be like that, dear; the thing you are going through now is perfectly normal."
They sat on the grass outside of the fort, looking at a sunset. An hour had passed since the end of the Wave, and soldiers had finished most of the work accompanying the Wave while the girls were eating. Most corpses had already dissolved, the Mana cores were carefully collected and stored, and damage to the fort was almost non-existent.
"I went through the same experience after coming from the training camp," she continued in sympathetic tone. "It was so easy to crash the summons left and right. But the Beasts are different, and it's simply not possible to recreate all their traits. And their resistance is one of these things; shocking, I know, but you'll find a way to deal with it."
"How?" Orisa sounded even more depressed than before. "I won't be able to grow my Strength or Magic, so how am I supposed to empower the skills?"
"Oh please, aren't you smarter than that?" Rita slightly teased the sulking girl, elbowing her side. "Mana is both a resource and a substance. You can enhance it in a variety of ways. The simplest one is to use more Mana for spells. But there are other ways, too."
Rita stood up and waved to guards who were standing by the fort's gate:
"Boys, we'll train a bit, don't worry," she then took Orisa's hand and pulled her further away from the entrance. "Time for the first lesson, so get yourself together and focus."
While Rita kept smiling, her voice became serious:
"Can you come up with an idea to measure up your spell's power?"
The easiest way would have been to view the spell's description, of course. But they were not inside some game, so this method was sadly unavailable. 'What is the power level, then? To simplify, that's an amount of damage I can deal with the spell. There are other significant elements, too, but that's the gist of it.'
The answer came quicker than she expected, so Orisa proceeded to place five Force Walls one after another. Her Palm Push Strike broke the first one, but barely scratched the surface of the next Wall.
"That's my girl. I expected nothing less," Rita clasped her hands in joy. Her voice, however, remained serious and focused. "Now place a couple of your stronger ones, please."
Orisa conjured five Force Blocks in the same fashion and backed away.
Her fire spell flew in a straight line, crashing the first block nonchalantly and almost shattering the next one. 'Wao. These Blocks are like eight times stronger than Walls. Moreover, she used a lesser tier, too. Just wow.'
A rather small blue Seal appeared above Rita's left palm, hovering vertically in the air. Another Firebird spell flew right through it, seemingly absorbing the Seal and growing bigger somehow. That little blazing bird destroyed all four remaining Blocks on its way and traveled another ten meters before dissipating. Rita turned to Orisa with a triumphant smile saying, "See? The same can be done with your Mana, too."
"Holy crap, Rita's power level is over four barriers," muttered a thoroughly impressed Orisa. "So this is the Sealcasting? That small supplementary spell made your attack four times stronger?"
"Of course not, silly!" Rita laughed lightly and came closer to Orisa. "Here is some magic theory question for you. What is resistance?"
"A layer that absorbs a percent of the spell’s damage? No, that's wrong. Surely not percent, but fixed value, or else every attack would deal at least some amount of damage," out of habit Orisa was slowly chewing her lower lip while pondering the question. "If you say it didn't make the spell four times stronger to deal four times more damage... Hmm, then I think that..."
With each passing second, Orisa became even more puzzled. She was tossing ideas and variants back and forth, but none fit what she just saw. The effects of the Concentration potion were not enough to solve this puzzle, but Orisa hated to give up without doing everything she could, so she made the last possible step:
As her mind cooled down to a scientifically impossible level, she took a notepad out of her backpack and started scrabbling. Orisa failed to notice how brightly shining Rita’s eyes were as she was admiring the girl's passion and determination. Rita even remembered her old self; she was just like that, but slightly colder to other people. Maybe not slightly but way colder, for she would have never done what Orisa did for her on that day.
"I have two ideas that fit, but both sounds too complicated and absurd to be true," she snatched Rita back to reality with her slightly annoyed voice. "First is that resistance is a barrier that requires a certain level of power from the spell to break through it. We'll call it X for this formula. The trick is that when your skill passes through, this resistance layer deducts some amount of power from the spell, but less than X. But it still doesn't fully explain why the spell was that much stronger."
Rita nodded silently, waiting for Orisa to finish.
"Here is another one that is even more complicated," she pointed at the lower part of her note. "Each spell has two components, and we'll call them damage and penetration. When magic clashes with the target's resistance, it checks if there is enough penetration power in this spell. If there is, then magic passes through without a hitch and deals its damage in full. If there is not enough penetration power, the amount of damage is going to be reduced to compensate for that."
She had barely finished the phrase when Rita grabbed her shoulders with both hands and shook Orisa in excitement:
"This! My girl, you are as brilliant as I suspected!" Because of the constant shaking, it was hard for Orisa to keep her puzzled expression, but she managed well.
"I mean, we would never know for sure," Rita continued after calming down slightly and releasing her hold over perplexed Orisa, "but this is what we thought out with TanYan after experimenting for almost half a year. There is, in fact, not that much theory on the true nature of the magic or the processes around it, so we had to perform a thorough study."
What they found out was that all magic and skills were made of two parts already mentioned above; together, they named them Breach and Might. These parts, however, were not the same across various techniques, skills, elements, and forms. For example, the Breach of slashing weapon skills was much higher than that of a blunt weapon; but Might of these weapon types was the opposite. It all led to the fact that it was easier to cut through foes with sword skills, but easier to finish them or fight weak opponents with hammers and maces.
The same applied to elements of the spells. Fire element had the highest Might, making a great combo with slashing weapons. Lightning skills, on the other hand, gave the best Breach across all element types, possessing low Might. Orisa instantly recalled how her lightning outburst made its way through the toad they fought inside the Chargery, dealing almost no damage but penetrating the whole Beast twice.
During Rita's detailed explanation, Orisa also realized why it took them so much time to figure things out. They had to test both spells and weapons in various combinations and with different opponents. The sheer amount of work and theory crafting they did was astonishing. Rita was not only a prodigy, but she also worked hard.
"Anyway, I'll give you my notes to copy later, so let's do some practice," Rita sat on the grass and gestured Orisa to join her. "The Sealcasting I use is almost the same as Mana engineering where you paint Seals with Manaink and then feed your Mana to receive positive effects. The difference is that I'm making Seals from my own Mana and letting the spell pass through, absorbing their effects."
"So your Attack Seal raised the spell's Breach and Might to a level where it had enough Breach to pass through resistance every time, and plenty Might for breaking the Block's structure?" Orisa asked, looking back and forth between Rita and notes.
"Exactly!" Rita was both excited to find a soul mate to share her findings and glad to see more of Orisa's brilliance. "There are many types of Seals you can use for various effects. With them, you can boost power, speed, Mana concentration, elemental affinities or add even more complicated effects like self-repeating. You'll have to learn them by yourself later on."
Orisa nodded gladly as her mood finally turned for the better. There was a clear goal in front of her now, and the only thing she needed to achieve it was time plus effort.
They began the training session from the basics. Rita made her conjure random forms like spheres, cubes, then spheres inside cubes and so on. The Sealcasting demanded from a caster an extreme concentration and precision in wielding Mana, so days and weeks of training were inbound.
"There is a trick that will help you speed up your training," Rita announced with a sly smile. "The more layers you use to do the same thing, the faster is your training."
"Sounds great, but I only have two layers so far, so..."
"Are you sure?" Rita became puzzled after hearing that and looked at Orisa closer. "I mean, your arsenal clearly shows a lot of improvement on the concentration front. Honestly, have you even tried using the third layer?"
No, after her first failure, Orisa had not tried it yet. Embarrassed of her inactivity, she hastily started the testing. Ten minutes later, three different figures were hovering over her palm to both girls' endless joy.
Orisa continued her training while Rita was pouring out more information on the Sealcasting and how to incorporate it better. They made significant progress in two hours thanks to Orisa's focused state, but it was too soon to think about actual implementations.
Now, after they sneaked some food and drinks out of the kitchen and Rita brought a pair of blankets, they sat atop one of the watchtowers of the fort. The girls talked non-stop jumping from one topic to another when Rita suddenly became melancholic.
"This is one of the spots we Watchers use to relax a little," she said, slowly sipping light red wine. "It may not look like it, but the job is tough. I'm not talking about the cases where people suddenly go wild with their Mana. The hardest part is that on a daily basis you are forced to tell people that they are dead."
"Even after nine years, I was unable to detach myself from their hurt expressions. They cry about their families, the jobs and opportunities they lost, all the hard work that went for nothing", she continued after a long pause, her voice filled with sadness. "I can't bring myself not to care, ignore them, and treat their problems as a noise. Something is unquestionably wrong with me."
"You are a kind and compassionate person, Rita. Nothing is wrong with that, and I genuinely like you as you are, so don't change, please." Orisa reacted by squeezing Rita's hand lightly.
"Thank you, dear, I like you, too," she chuckled with a warm smile and continued after a moment. "Speaking of which, how is your private life going?"
"What a sudden turn of events. Well, it's complicated, I guess? I mean, setting aside some random urges of this body or unpredictable hormonal triggers, I'm a more or less a man on the inside." Orisa had thought about her gender recently, but it was certainly a complicated matter. "The thing is, I was never super manly in my past life, both due to my hobbies and probably because of my character, too. But I was always adamant about my, well, sexual preferences. So I can't begin to think about boys, and don't want to even imagine myself with them."
"As for the girls, I don't know. It won't be an exaggeration to say that there dozens of reasons for me to skip on them, too." Now it was Orisa's turn to be melancholic. "It feels like I'm cheating on them because I'm a man. Relationship is an additional complication, considering the situation the world is in right now. I hate to be half-assed with anything, love affairs including, so it would take a lot of time and effort which I'm not sure I'm ready to deduct from the training and investigation."
"What about that last girl from your squad? You are going to share a room with her from now on," Rita added with a smile, "which certainly leaves a lot of space for further development."
"Onuki? Oh, it's even more complicated, I'm afraid. She is pushy, but I like this part of her. If I'm right about her character, she is cunning and stoic, which is awesome. And her body is nice, of course." Orisa let out a dirty laugh before pausing for a long time. "I have only little scrapes and clues so far, but I think she has some deep problems with men. I'm not going to betray her by playing a lovely girl when I'm not entirely sure of her mental state. Imagine if she is afraid of men, and then she'd learn about my true nature?"
"I like how honest and open you are, dear," Rita said with a proud voice. "Such a kind heart-"
"No, please, don't say that, Rita. I know it's rude to say that, but you honestly don't know much about me." Her voice became stiffer, "you only saw my pleasant side, but that's because there was no chance for me to show my true self."
Orisa launched a thorough recollection of what she did to Mira and how she was celebrating inwardly, gloating over the girl's fate; how manipulative she was with Tiana despite genuinely liking the girl; and other little details of her dark self.
"I'm sorry, but do you think you are unique in this regard or something?" Suddenly, Rita's voice turned much colder. "Don't flatter yourself, Orisa. Every human being is like that to a various degree."
Orisa shivered inadvertently under Rita's piercing gaze. Her eyes were unusually cold and loathing beneath the moonlight.
"Even now a part of me is laughing over this whole situation. To think that I'm playing family with a person I barely even know?" When she continued, warmth returned to her voice, "I like you and feel there is a bond between us. But that doesn't stop a cold and rational part of my mind from judging the situation from a different angle. Everyone is like that, so don't be hard on yourself too much."
Orisa had to re-evoluate Rita yet again. Today's result was that now she saw not only a caring mother and mentor but a brilliant experimenter and a pragmatic scientist.
They talked for a while before going to bed. Orisa had to settle on the guest sofa in a meeting room since there were no guest quarters in a small fort, but she didn't mind at all.
Next morning, she woke up a little stiff from the not so comfortable bed but otherwise Orisa felt great. She was making her way out of the morning shower when the Captain caught up with her in the corridor.
"Greetings, Captain, sir. Can I help you?" Orisa was mildly surprised since it was evident that the Captain was looking for her specifically. With a grin on his freshly shaved face, he spoke cheerily:
"Heya, missy. Care to join us on a little hunt?"