They have been horse-riding for half an hour already, moving leisurely among the bushy landscapes of the fort's surrounding area. Their patrol was uneventful so far, but that was not the reason for the group's relatively slow moving speed.
"That's how we do it, missy. You should learn while you can, considering your squad, that's what you are going to do in the future." The Captain was quite cheerful this whole morning, enjoying his guests' presence. "Charge up a bait with lots of Mana and stroll around, waiting for the Beasts to come and eat you. It's better than it sounds, I'm telling you."
A long rope was attached to the Captain's saddle. There was a blue sphere tied to its end, pulsating every other second with a bright blue light it was rolling on the ground more than twenty meters away from the horse, pulled by the said rope. The idea was to attract the Wavespawn to the orb since they were looking for Mana sources, and kill it or at least prepare for the fight while the Beast was distracted by the bait. Its attraction radius was insane, but it would probably be more accurate to say that instead the Wavespawn's ability to feel Mana sources was unimaginable; it helped them find their target even if it was a kilometer away.
"What was your squad, again?" The second member of Captain's group, caster Tinn Varao, asked in a lighthearted tone. While there were no foes around, he behaved like a carefree countryside cowboy, cheerful, cheeky and always smiling melancholically as if everything around him was just another funny story that will eventually come to pass.
"The Hounds," Orisa said carefully. She was yet to discover what reputation her small group had. Was it despised or revered? Maybe the Hounds were ignored as a small and unimportant division?
Upon hearing Orisa's reply, Tinn whistled eagerly. His reaction was so abstract that she could not make any information from it, so Orisa decided to ponder both Rita and Captain later.
She gripped Rita's waist tighter since the horses began to climb over a small hill. Orisa was still inept in riding, so she had to share one mount with Rita.
When they were about to leave earlier in the morning, Rita caught up with the group and voiced her wish to join them, too. This event filled Orisa with joy not only because she was glad to spend more time with her mentor, but she also wanted the woman to get back in a fighting shape. By the look of it, Rita understood this as well.
They were having a quiet talk about the Sealcasting when the first foe appeared, lured by the bait. A car-sized lizard was approaching them rapidly; all Wavespawn had long slits in place of their eyes, and judging by the yellow glow of these slits, it was an unevolved Beast. Tinn took out a lantern and activated it with his Mana.
"Missy, wanna try it yourself?" The Captain looked at Orisa with a grin.
"I don't want to waste another potion, sir..." She thought about it already, and unless the situation was dire, Orisa wanted to save her nectar. "But if you are okay with me going enraged and, well, backing me up, then I'd like to try."
"Be my guest."
The lizard was still twenty meters away, and it was certainly aiming at the bait. Now was Orisa's chance to see the limits in doing non-damaging assault, so she carefully considered her options. She now knew how hard it was to damage the Beast even under the lantern, so this knowledge ought to have some effects on her arsenal and how she could use it without Enrage.
"Wall Rush!" - "Wall Rush!" - "Wall Rush!"
Wall spell was never intended to deal damage, but previously Orisa was still unable to cast in her normal state. Now, however, she knew for sure that it was not possible to damage the Beasts with this spell which let her use it freely.
The first two walls successfully hit their mark, pushing the lizard slightly to the side, but the third one it nimbly dodged. 'Ouch, that thing is quite fast. I need to be careful.' The Beast changed its target and began to advance on Orisa.
"Force Block!" - "Force Block!" - "Force Block!" - "Force Block!"
She placed four barriers near each other, leaving narrow gaps between them. They were big enough for her to pass freely but would hopefully stop the lizard. By the time her foe arrived, she had added five more blocks to the maze.
The Beast hit her Blocks at full speed and came to a halt, spawning little cracks over their surface. It clawed them a few times making even more fractures, but the Blocks prevailed. 'Awesome, I can buy at least five seconds with each wall.'
What came next made Orisa reconsider quite a few things. The lizard suddenly opened its maw, and a small pink tongue shot out, wrapping around Orisa's left wrist. She felt a powerful pull that almost dropped her on the ground. The only thing that helped was that she hugged the Block in front of her with her right hand, resisting the lizard’s yank.
The tongue probably wasn't its most potent weapon since Orisa managed to hold her ground, albeit barely. This stalemate could not last much longer because of a growing pain in the joints of her left hand.
"Shock Poke!" - "Shock Poke!"
Orisa could touch the lizard's tongue with her left hand, and that was enough to launch a counter-attack. Its tongue immediately left her wrist and returned to a now slowed opponent. Orisa didn't want to lose this chance and moved closer:
"Wall Press!" - "Wall Press!" - "Wall Press!"
The lizard was slower than before, but still had plenty agility left to dodge her aerial grabbing technique. Immediately after making sidestep, it spun around swinging its tail which passed freely under the Blocks hanging in the air and smashed Orisa's left leg. Pain shot through her broken femur, and she fell on the ground, screaming.
"Tomecraft: Greater Balm!"
"Tomecraft: Greater Mend!"
Rita reacted in a heartbeat, tending Orisa's wound. Her leg felt numb now but was otherwise functional, so Orisa rolled away, avoiding another tail sweep.
It was so much harder to fight without a Concentration potion. 'Damn, I'm an addict now. Okay, everyone fights somehow, and I should be able to do so, too.' After a few mental slaps, she calmed down a little. While rotating around the blocks and dodging the lizard's tongue and tail, she was cooking a plan.
She had to focus extraordinarily hard to use all of her Mana layers, and when three separate Mana clouds left her, Orisa felt dizzy and almost fell on the ground. The Beast sensed something in the last moment, but it was too late; three Force Blocks appeared from different sides - behind it, to its left and right. After taking their final form and activating an intent left by Orisa, they dashed towards the lizard and trapped it, pushing towards already existing barricade in front of it.
The Beast spun around and despite the pressure from the Block began to climb up, trying to escape upward. Orisa was already there and placed more Blocks above and around it, this time trapping the Beast for sure. It could barely twitch now. Orisa moved around the trap, cautiously poking her victim until it finally slumped on the ground motionless.
She came to the Block that was closest to the Beast's head and channeled the Postponer.
Eight seconds later the device dispelled her enraged state, leaving the girl panting heavily in front of now dead lizard that was missing almost half of its head.
Orisa triumphantly rose from the ground, waiting for applause. But the reality was often disappointing. She saw the Captain's group meticulously dismantling corpses of six more foes that they downed while she was preoccupied with the lizard. Orisa shifted her gaze towards Rita and only saw an apologetic expression on her face that she supplied by a shrug.
They had to lunch in the field as well, but that felt like a nice change of routine for both girls. Rita was slowly getting back in her fighting shape, although she was still miles away from what Orisa heard about her from Youko. All the raw power was still within her, which made Rita look like a high-level character visiting locations designed for novice players. One Greater Firebird was generally enough to blow her target into pieces. But all other skills like casting speed, precision, and mobility were far inferior.
By five in the evening, they had wrapped up the patrol and returned to the fort. Among the spoils were six unevolved magic cores plus some preserved parts of the Beasts. Orisa had five monsters total on her record, and Rita topped their made-up chart with twenty-nine kills.
"What are you going to do with these cores and other loot?" Orisa asked Captain when they were about to part ways.
"The cores a going to the capital to feel our division's monthly quota," he answered with a slightly saddened expression. The cores were valuable and had many uses, but the guards had no choice but to part with the resources. "Beast parts will be used in maintaining our gear or in crafting."
"A quota, huh?" Orisa mused over new information. "Anyhow, thank you for the invitation, Captain. I got a lot of fun and value out of the trip."
"Sure, missy, we had our share of fun, too. Try to get over that crazy thing of yours, and you'll do great in the future."
After a quick shower and light snack, they went to practice in the field again. Orisa was conjuring different forms with all three Mana layers while complaining to Rita:
"I can't stand training without Concentration potion. Why are they so expensive? By the way, how do we even make them?"
"Don't cry, be a man!" She grumbled back while rolling her eyes. "They are made with Mana crafting, and most of the price comes from their main ingredient, unevolved magic core."
"Oh crap, now I get it. Damn, that's sure expensive. So it's possible to Mana craft consumables, too?"
"Indeed. You can make potions, pills, and even enchanted rations. The process is rather easy when you are proficient. However," Rita chuckled slightly, looking at Orisa's eager expression, "I would not recommend consuming them until you are sure of their quality. The process is simple; pick ingredients, smash them inside a mortar, and mix with Mana-infused water. Channel your own Mana inside with a specific intent, and voila."
"Yep, sounds easy for sure. What about the ingredients? For potions like Endless night or Stamina, or any other common and useful one, how expensive are they and where can I gather them myself?"
"Now-now, I'm no alchemist here, you know? I only researched Concentration for the same reason as you. As far as my knowledge goes, aside from something simple as salt or metal powder, most components are the Beasts' parts. So if your new aspiration is to become a full-fledged alchemist, you'd better start learning to dismantle."
For some reason, the way Rita was talking to her now has changed noticeably. Orisa liked her previous warm and motherly attitude; however, now Rita was treating her like a close colleague, speaking in a light, friendly, and a slightly sarcastic manner. She could only guess the reason for this change; was it Rita's nightly confession about her similar cold nature, or has she noticed Orisa's skills and deemed them worthy? Anyhow, this change made Orisa feel proud of herself somehow.
"How long were you planning to stay here?" Rita asked after a long period of silence.
"If nothing serious would go wrong, I'll probably leave tomorrow evening," a slightly saddened tone made it apparent how much Orisa disliked that idea.
"It can't be helped; you have your new duties now. So we need to pace up your practice, too."
Rita stood up and popped her joints soundly, yawning louder than was appropriate for a woman her age and status. She took out a folded piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to Orisa.
"This is a picture of the easiest Seal called Lesser Mana Stream. It slightly enhances your spell's effectiveness regardless of the spell's nature. For example, your shields are going be a bit tougher. Memorize the picture today and practice drawing it on paper." She extended her hand and helped Orisa up. "I will now show you a spell with a built-in Seal. Watch my hand carefully."
A small blue circle appeared around Rita's index finger, and Orisa saw signs and geometrical forms all over its surface. The similarity with the Seals she was using in her Mana engineering practice was evident. Flame erupted from the same finger a second later and took the form of a bird. It flew through the Seal, absorbing it and growing in size, and went away into the distance.
"You first conjure a Seal, then create a spell and fill it with intent. Despite doing it sequentially, you'll need two Mana layers for the simplest spell since you are conjuring two different elements and filling them with different intents. When the spell goes through the Seal, it consumes all effects. I'll write a detailed instruction later."
"The Sealcasting also consumes lots of Mana, that's why people rarely use it. You should know that just for the sake of knowing, I guess. The Sealcasting is slower than normal spells, and you should always keep it in mind. At the same time, it is all about Mana manipulation and Mana control. So, be sure to train both fields as well."
They started walking back to the fort while Rita kept her lecture on the basics. Among other things, both Mana engineering and the Sealcasting were about trial and error in many regards. For example, the order in which the Seals were placed was important, as some had additive effects while others were multipliers. Some Seals could directly affect other Seals as well. The whole theory was rather complicated and seemed like you’d need at least two Concentration Potions to get a gist.
When they arrived at the main building's door, Orisa noticed that Rita was almost licking her lips in anticipation of something.
"You look kinda scary, you know?" Orisa said with, furrowing her brow.
"Oh, you wouldn't even guess how great our evening is going to be!" She grabbed Orisa's arms and shook them in excitement. "After dinner, I will show you a tool that will become your source of power and knowledge for the foreseeable future."
Orisa liked this new version of Rita more and more.