The rest of the day passed without any incidents. After a few hours of walking, Orisa returned to their room to spend more time with Onuki. The girl resolved to overcome her mental problems and tried various things in front of Orisa but to no avail so far. Using this impulse, Orisa talked her into spending more time with other squad members, and they had lunch together with Kanai.
The trio ended up in a small gym, where Kanai and Orisa performed a little showcase, presenting their new skills and techniques.
"I should probably start doing something as well," Onuki said a little dejectedly. "The only things I can do right now are some basic healing spells and one support buff."
"Don't worry, Onuki. You'll surely be fine, for unlike us, you have decent stats. A bit of practice, and you'd rock the stage," supported her Kanai, smiling in encouragement.
"Yeah, I think so too. We need capable backline support, and you fit perfectly," a huge grin was plastered over Orisa's face.
"Oh, if YOU are so sure, then I’m all set," the girl in questions answered sarcastically.
Late in the evening, they sat inside their room together with Onuki, and the girl gave another try in her dressing quest. She slumped on the bed half a minute later, panting and sweating.
"I believe in you, so don't push yourself too hard."
"I’m not doing it for you, so you’d better stop this sweet murmuring," muttered Onuki slowly, turning away. Orisa heard another quiet phrase a few seconds later, "but, again, thank you for not giving up on me."
"Oh, don't be like that. I told you already that I like you, so how could I possibly give up?"
Onuki turned on the bed to face Orisa and gave her an intent gaze before she decided something and said:
"Thank you. If there is anything I can do for you, anything that is in my power, I will."
"Be my friend? Be our friend and our support?"
"Sorry, I was wrong. This suggestion is revoked. I won’t survive more of your sugar talk," the girl blurted with a sour face.
"Urgh, you are such a pain, you know?" it was Orisa’s turn to grumble. “But don’t worry, dear, I’m not gonna give you up, not gonna let you down~.”
And like that came the last morning of their vacation. Orisa left a bit earlier to let Onuki dress up, and later, to her joy, Onuki joined them during breakfast. Another guest of honor arrived as well:
"Oh, Iten, are you alive?" Orisa asked in a mocking concern.
"I will be in a few days," he answered tiredly. "Also it's great to be young again. If not for this body, I would have died already."
"Wao! Such macho, very womanizer, too Don Juan, so wow!"
"And here I thought that I missed you..." he said with an ostentatious sigh.
"Kyah, so harsh!"
"Glad to finally see you with us, Onuki," said Iten, ignoring squirming Orisa.
"Thank you," she was on guard, but Orisa saw that the girl was genuinely trying to fit now.
"By the way, Iten," Orisa dropped her joking attitude, "not that it was my business or anything, but at this rate, are you not afraid of becoming a father?"
"I am most certainly not. Nene knew beforehand that she was infertile, so there is no danger at all."
"What about Nana?" she asked again, this time half-jokingly.
"On the contrary, Nana is not infertile," he answered to Orisa's shock. "From what I heard, most noble houses prefer to perform various expensive tests on their offspring to be sure. That’s how they know even before their children are of age."
"Isn't that good?" Kanai was puzzled by Orisa's reaction. "I mean, they are so concerned about continuing the bloodline and everything."
"You see, from what I understood, Nana is more into girls, so..." Orisa shuffled uneasily.
"Oh, that's how it is? Well, it sucks to be her, then."
"Nene said that her sister is okay to do whatever is best for her family," Iten added suddenly. "She said something similar to 'When the time comes, I will be ready,' or so Nene told me."
"Uh, such dedication. Nana is cool."
"They sound like an interesting family,” added Onuki musingly.
After they finished breakfast, Orisa apologized to Onuki for leaving her for the time being and pulled Kanai and Iten away. They ended up in the boys' room where Orisa opened her backpack with 'Tah-dah!' and presented them the book they were looking for so long.
"Damn, son, where'd you find this!?" Kanai exclaimed in shock.
"Money is power! Modern society developed far and wide, inventing various contraptions," she continued with a posh expression. "One of them, my fellow countrymen, is called a book store OUCH!"
Kanai's patience ran out, so he pinched Orisa's thigh, which made the girl in question almost jump on the bed:
"Hey, that's harassment! Workplace sexual assault! Iten, do something with this pervert, please," she yelled and wiped away a lone tear from her eye.
"Well, if you insist on doing something with a pervert, you should prepare yourself," Iten calmly answered while straightening his shoulders.
"So that's how you wanted to play it? Uh-huh, I see. Then you leave me no choice, so I'm going to use my trump card," she grabbed her backpack and pulled out a pair of wristwatches. "Bribery!"
The boys accepted illegal gifts and put them on. After a short dramatic pause, Kanai bowed his head and said with an obedient voice:
"I'm at your orders, my lord."
"Okay, enough with foreplay, let's get to the action," she said while putting the backpack away and picking the book. "If you want you can have it because I already checked its content and calculated the dates again. The deadline is more or less the same, which is around five months."
"Any other useful pieces?" Iten asked after taking the book.
"First, the number of Beasts across all waves is more or less the same. And second, although Dippo had already mentioned this fact before, there are places where the Beasts gather for no apparent reasons, and places that they avoid as well. But there are also some details I was able to pick from my trip," a tattered and wrinkled notepad appeared from within the bag. "The thing is that with each passing year there are fewer Beasts away from the epicenter and much more near it. Epicenter probably is a tall white tower at the western end of the continent, meaning there are fewer of them at the eastern side. But their total number is still roughly the same if we were to count every wave across the continent."
"Wait-wait-wait, I have a vague idea, but can't articulate it yet," Kanai waved his hands in agitation, "so don't talk for a minute!"
Orisa and Iten exchanged confused but resigned looks and obediently shut up, waiting for Kanai.
"So here is what I think," he finally decided to speak. "On the one hand, we have Waves that are becoming more and more frequent. On the other hand, there are the Beasts that appear more frequently near the epicenter and less often away from it. To add, there is the fact that their number is equal between different Waves."
He looked back and forth between Orisa and Iten in hopes for them to catch up but then said it anyway:
"Doesn't it look like there is a limited capacity for their army, like in StarCraft or other strategic games? Something is creating the Beasts at a constant rate, and they move away from the epicenter in an unfinished state, but since there is less time between the Waves, the Beasts can't move far away from the epicenter before appearing in the world. The Waves are a trigger for them to materialize wherever they are."
"While I can't argue with your first part," said Iten with a puzzled expression, "but your second point is too far-stretched. Isn't it more logical to assume that since someone or something behind the Waves is nearing its goal, it pulls more and more forces to defend its base?"
Kanai pouted at Iten's words, but Orisa interjected with another point:
"Whoever is right is irrelevant. If Kanai is correct, it means there is a crazy and overly complicated system in place. If Iten is right, then we'll have to deal with some mastermind. But so what? How this knowledge helps our current situation?"
"It doesn't help us right now for sure. But it might do so in the near future," said a slightly disheartened Iten.
"Yes, sorry for being negative," Orisa backed down and started writing both ideas into the notepad.
There was a meeting with Dippo scheduled in the evening, so the trio went to train in the gym after picking up Onuki. Clemen was still nowhere to be seen, but the boys assumed that he went into the Dungeon to get more practice.
After a quick dinner, they all gathered inside one of the classrooms, and even Clemen was there, discussing something with Drugan Dippo.
"Oya, my sweet kittens, how nice of you to finally show up," he was as extravagant as usual and gave the squad a curious look that stopped on Orisa. "And your potential lady captain is here as well. Greeting-greetings have a sit."
They all took the seats in the first row, and Dippo began the meeting.
"From tomorrow and onward, you'll all be a part of my wonderful group, the Hounds. As I said before, I want you to finish all ten floors of the Dungeon to get more combat practice before we move out to the lair."
"The lair? Do you mean to the headquarters of the Hounds?" Kanai asked with a hint of discomfort in his voice.
"But of course, what else could I mean by that? It's just too boring to call it headquarters, won't you agree?" Dippo waited a few seconds, but there was no reply, so he continued. "Anyhow, there are a few details I'll need you to know beforehand. First, since you are through with the basic course, the Summoners in the Dungeon will be more active. Their pets are going to be more strategic, aggressive, and dangerous, so be prepared."
"Another thing is that I will be tutoring you personally, so be sure to bring any notes, books or whatever you might have on your preferred style and skills to make both mine and your lives easier. We'll also study everything you need to know on the go, too."
"And the last thing, my pancakes, is that you'll get your third Seal right after this meeting," he paused to let the shocked silence linger for a moment. "You should choose one carefully. Most people go with the Seal of Might because it's average in everything. But in many cases it's way better to get something more specific."
Everyone became silent, thinking about their builds, stats, and things they wanted to improve.
"In case of this fine young gentleman Iten, it would be cooler to get, let's say, the Seal of Colossus. Or the Bulwark Seal even. They would enchant his poise or make his shield handling more efficient, and so on. You get the idea, right?"
"Would you mind consulting us on a wiser choice then?" Orisa asked thoughtfully.
"That's exactly why you are here today, my, ahem, young leader of the squad," Dippo gulped under Orisa's intent gaze. "I will give you a list of Seals, and we'll discuss it once you are all done with reading."
He gave Orisa the papers he was swinging all this time and took a sit. Orisa, on the other hand, gathered everyone around one table and said:
"We are going to read it together page by page. If you see something that you think is fitting for the others, say so immediately," she observed puzzled expressions of everybody except Kanai and explained. "It's often easier to spot problems or needs of other people because you are unbiased by their difficulties and their way of thinking. I often used this trick at my work to spot my shortcomings and errors."
At the corner of her vision, Orisa spotted Kanai's expression that darkened after her words; a depressed look on his face made Orisa worry over his wellbeing. But when she elbowed him and gestured a silent question, Kanai only shook his head and returned to the papers on the table.
They skimmed through the pages quickly to get a grasp of the magnitude of possible effects and then started all over with a more thorough attitude.
The sheer number of Seals was impressive, but their effects were even more so. From simple body empowerments to extravagant and exquisite ones, such as a decrease in sweating or enhancement of taste buds on one's tongue, the Seals were diverse and peculiar.
After the first reading, Orisa already knew what she would like to get unless Dippo would suggest something even more useful. She was torn between two Seals at first, but after giving it another thought, it became clear what to choose. The only thing she needed to do now was to help her friends.
"Lady General," Clemen started shortening Orisa's made up names for some reason, "what do you think about mine? Should I get something to add more speed?"
"It's a valid option, Clemen, but I think you should look into the piercing power of your attacks," she answered with a thoughtful expression. "I mean, you guys don't know yet, but the Beasts defense is way higher than that of the Summons we fought in the Dungeon."
Other squad members took her knowledge for granted, but Drugan Dippo gave her one long look full of curiosity and silent questions.
Twenty minutes had passed before they became confident in their choices. Iten decided to get the Bulwark Seal; Kanai's choice went towards Dexterity Seal; Onuki wanted to get more Mana regeneration, and Clemen choose the Seal of Breaking after listening to Orisa.
"So, I heard everything, and you sweethearts are more or less on point," started Dippo his part. "However, there are better choices for at least two of you considering I haven't heard your leader's choice yet."
"First, you," he pointed at Onuki. "It might seem smart to get more Mana for a healer, and it indeed is rather bright, so you have my approval. But there is a better Seal for you. The Seal of Spirit would give you slightly lower regeneration, but other benefits of getting more Spirit are too yummy to pass by. They are, of course, increased resistance, a larger Mana pool, and various other little things."
"As for you and your durational build," Dippo looked at Kanai, "I see that you are trying to do. But my cupcake, you are doing it wrong, I'm afraid. Your goal is to cover your low Dexterity, but you don't need it, right? You only need some of its effects, such as better Mana control and manipulation. So why not go with Mana Control Seal instead?"
Everyone looked impressed by his words. That was the difference between being smart and having real experience. It all boiled down to finer details that were not visible from merely reading the books and descriptions.
"So, what's our captain's choice?" Dippo turned to Orisa with a sarcastic grin on his makeover-heavy face.
"I think I'll go with the Seal of Layers," she said solemnly, hoping for approval and commendation. Instead, Dippo started laughing like crazy, which in turn made Orisa's face purple from embarrassment.
"Oh, girl, I love you," he finally said, wiping tears and splattering his makeup. "You are so brilliantly predictable that I almost died just now! I gave it a thought beforehand, pondering what you would choose. And I was absolutely sure that you'd go with this exact Seal."
This whole time Orisa was pouting heavily like a kid that got no present on Christmas. Other members' reaction varied from puzzlement to barely contained laughter.
"Okay, that was fun, but let's get back on track," his face turned serious as he gave Orisa a stern look. "The Seal you should use instead does a number of things related to your, let's say, style. It's called Mind over Matter Seal."
Orisa struggled to remember the Seal's effects, but nothing came to mind for some reason. Seeing her puzzled expression, Dippo let out a disappointed sigh and added:
"This Seal slightly boosts your concentration, surrounding awareness, and feeling of other people's Mana. It also enhances your Mana control, casting speed, and Mana manipulation power," he looked at now curious Orisa. "It's a Seal that best suits a caster commander who is willing to keep everything around under his strict control. By the way, knowledgeable people call it the Overlord Seal."