A woman around her forties was in charge of creating the Seals in their training camp. The procedure was as painful as ever, but the feeling quickly subsided, and Orisa stood up to leave. A question suddenly popped up in her mind.
"May I ask a question regarding the Seals?"
"Why not? Ask away."
"It is possible to remove or replace the Seals, right?"
"Indeed, I can remove them with an appropriate tool and reagents, although the procedure is even less pleasant than the sealing itself. Why do you need to know?"
"Oh, I was just curious if there was a way to replace language Seals and learn the language myself."
"Huh? Well, it is, but..." the woman was puzzled as such an idea has never occurred to her.
"Thank you for your time," Orisa bowed and left through an open material displacement gate.
She felt strange. It was as if another sense awakened and was pumping new information that Orisa's brain could not handle yet. Light dizziness occupied her head while her skin was itching from an invisible tickling.
"You look pale, what's wrong?" Iten's voice pulled her out of the thought train.
"Oh, um, probably because of this new Seal, I guess. Sorry, I'll go straight to the dorm."
"Hey, are you sure you don't need help?" Kanai's hand touched Orisa's shoulder, and she almost jumped from a sensation jolt that went through her body. An array of new feelings went through her mind, making her nauseous on top of dizzy.
"No, ugh, just leave me alone for now, sorry."
She was slowly walking to the dorm, feeling a bit better under the night's sky. The tickling sensation was almost gone, and now she only felt uncomfortable around her back. What part of the Seal's effects was responsible for her state? 'Gotta ask Dippo tomorrow. If I don’t RIP overnight, that is.'
Step after step, she was gradually making her way towards the dorm, and an uneasy sensation all over her back grew as well. Feeling paranoid, Orisa turned around and jolted unwillingly after witnessing Onuki a few meters away from her, quietly following her all this time.
"Are you okay now?" Onuki asked, missing Orisa's unnatural reaction. "I wanted to make sure that you would make it in one piece."
"Oh, yeah, thank you. I'm a better now. Mostly."
Orisa was now facing an approaching Onuki, and the tickling sensation moved from her back onto her chest and stomach. As the girl passed by Orisa's side and stopped by her right side, the feeling moved as well.
"Wait, Onuki, I have a request," Orisa said thoughtfully, not willing to believe in the idea that popped just now. "It stupid, but please, can you slowly move around me? I need to check something."
With a confused expression, Onuki walked around Orisa, and the sensation followed her position closely. 'Oh fuck, that's both awesome and terrifying at the same time.'
"Going to explain?" Onuki asked, furrowing her brow.
"Yes, well, how do I put it in words? I can kind of feel where you are?" she cringed over that explanation, but couldn't think of a better way to phrase it. "There is a tingling sensation over the side that is closer to you."
"Is this normal? It's because of that Seal?"
Orisa nodded, and they started walking again, together this time.
Half an hour later, Onuki turned the lights off, and they went to bed. The feeling was still there, and since Onuki was close, the sensation grew stronger. 'And how am I supposed to sleep like that?' she thought, but as it was the case with most senses and sensations, her body became accustomed to this rather quickly.
The next morning, they were sitting inside a classroom and listening to Dippo's lecture:
"Since you shouldn't overexert physically because of the sealing, we are going to study today. My kittens, and their boss, of course, prepare your brains, pens, and papers."
The morning lecture was all about the geography of the continent and the Beast's distribution around the land. Among other things, Dippo confirmed that the number of monsters was indeed roughly the same across the waves.
"Sir, I have a sudden question indirectly related to the topic," Orisa raised her hand after a revelation struck her. "I assume the Hounds have some kind of archive to keep track of the Waves? How far into the past this archive goes?"
"Depends on what is it exactly you'd like to know. The earliest recollection is almost half-millenium old, but some data we only started recording around fifty years ago."
"Perfect! Does it mean that the rough number of the Beasts spawning is known for at least fifty years? What number are we talking about?"
"Around seventy thousand. What are you hinting at?"
"That's not all, here is the second part of the question," Orisa grinned, almost drooling over her theory. "I'm vaguely familiar with the history of the Merdun fortress and the reclamation operation. Do we have even a general understanding of how many Beasts were there inside the city?"
"Hmm, I'm not sure there were any records," he muttered thoughtfully and became silent for a few moments, then continued. "But if I have to make a guess, judging by the reports I read, the city size, and the speed at which the army was wiped out, I'd say something around ten thousand. Come one, missy, don't tease me, spill it already!"
"Wait, the last part is here. Can we compare the number of Beasts appearing with the Waves before and after Merdun battle?"
"We can, I guess, but what is your point, for god's sake?"
"If I'm right, the number of Beasts is not only the same across the Waves, it's the same overall, including these who are alive. It would then mean that if we wouldn't kill them, the new ones won't appear."
"Wow, general! That's super cool! Do you mean it would help us solve you-know-what-problem?" Clemen yelled in excitement, almost jumping on his seat. The sound of three simultaneous facepalms made Onuki and Dippo furrow their brows. Clemen's confused "What's wrong?" added even more idiocy to the whole episode.
The rest of the morning passed without any more incidents, and the whole group, minus Drugan Dippo, moved to get lunch.
"I'm not that used to your insanity yet, so should I ask about that you-know-what-problem?" inquired Onuki quietly, switching her gaze between Orisa and Clemen.
Orisa let out a long tired sigh and in turn exchanged looks with Kanai and Iten. The boys cowardly shrugged, shoveling the responsibility onto Orisa's delicate shoulders.
"I guess we'll talk in the evening, okay?" she finally answered in a dead-tired voice.
The second half of the day started with the lecture about the Beasts and their traits.
"There are many kinds of Wavespawn, forest animals, amphibians, birds, insects, and much more, in total over five hundred different species know to date, including their evolved forms. It's crucial to know them, my cubs, as their behavior differs from type to type, and even between the same Beasts but of different evolution stage."
"For example, frogs and toads are much less aggressive than wolves. But between wolves, the most aggressive are unevolved ones as they blindly charge at you without any regards to their safety; the evolved wolves tend to be more cunning and patient, they could wait for a lone prey or even run away if they deem the situation dire."
"I don't expect you to remember them all, but before our first hike, you should learn at least their general classification, who are aggressive, who might lay traps, and who would run away."
The lecture continued, and Dippo gave more examples and pointed out various detail of the Beast's behavior. His lesson then switched to their job:
"I hope by now it's obvious that you will be spending most of your career in the field as a team. Who can guess what knowledge is crucial in this style of life?"
"How to properly establish daily necessities, I guess?" Kanai began thoughtfully. "Like, where to get water and food, or how to get yourself clean and fix your clothes; also, perhaps how to hide from the Beasts while sleeping? Hmm, and geography and orientation are important since we don't want to get lost or walk into another team's territory."
"Oya, aren't you one smart choco pie? That's right. Everything our cupcake said is crucial for field hunting. You need to make food, set up a camp, fix your gear, trace the Beasts, and so on so forth. It leads us to a very serious topic, my lovely little ducklings. We need to distribute the required skills among you lot and have you start learning them."
"What skills are we talking about specifically?" Iten asked, adjusting his non-existent glasses out of an undying habit.
"For starters, Mana engineering; it is quite simple, and there is not so much to talk about it. The second is Mana crafting, which is way more complex in both its applications and difficulty curve. Ultimately, three directions in crafting are mandatory for the field job, gear crafting, consumables, and repairs. Usually, when someone is talking about Mana crafting, they mean gear. Such dummies, indeed, do not know how important it is to have a potion on your hands as well as your gear fixed."
"But that's not the end of things, my brownies, the list goes further. For example, gear can be further broken down to weapons, armor, jewelry, ammunition, traps, and so on. It's the same for consumables as well since there are enchanted cooking, potions, pills, and more."
"Are we supposed to learn everything?" asked an overwhelmed Onuki.
"Of course not, silly, at least not right now. But I still recommend learning as much as possible now and don't stop in the future, as well. So what's left is for you to split the most important jobs and start learning as soon as possible."
"Anyone should learn whatever they want, or are there any requirements, or maybe it's better to have certain stats?" Orisa asked the question that was bothering her. She already knew that high Dexterity was a good thing for crafting in general, but it probably was not that simple.
"Ultimately, anyone can do anything, but of course there are cases where you should or even need to have some stats and talents. I'll give you a chart that shows which stats are used in what type of crafting."
"Excuse me, but I was curious this whole time about the thing Kanai mentioned," suddenly interjected Iten. "Since the Beasts are attracted by Mana and can spot it from a long distance, how do we find a safe spot to set up a camp?"
"We'd have gotten to it later, darling, but since you asked I'll tell you now. There is a Seal called Repression, and when you activate it with one of your Mana layers, it blocks all other layers and silences your Mana flow. It can't hide you completely, but the Beasts wouldn't be able to sense you from afar. Coincidentally, the same Seal is used by the Police."
The chart that Drugan gave them contained a short, neatly compiled list of skills and corresponding characteristics. By the end of the evening, they decided on the following split of responsibilities that Dippo approved:
Onuki and Clemen - repairs. Clemen was also in charge of camp and geography, while Onuki's tasks were to keep supplies in check and plan the squad's expenses.
By his own will, Iten decided to learn gear crafting since this field required all stats to be as high as possible, and his build was the most balanced among them all.
Kanai volunteered to study consumables except potions, as their preparation involved a lot of Magic and Luck, the stats that were his biggest.
Finally, Orisa took Mana engineering, which was self-evident, and on top of that added a potion production. On that note, they ended an evening class and went to get some rest before tomorrow's Dungeon raid.
Both Orisa and Onuki were in their beds, reading the manuals about their respective professions when Onuki suddenly asked:
"If you think I've forgotten about that something super important thing that for some reason sounds extremely stupid, I have bad news for you."
"Huh? Ouch, that one; sorry, it's me who forgot. I'd like it to be stupid and nonsensical, but it doesn't look like that, I'm afraid."
"Well, what is it?" Onuki closed her book, sat on the bed, and turned to face Orisa. "Are we going to die a most horrible death because a meteor is on its way to crash into this planet?"
"Something like that, yes" she let out a sigh and turned to face Onuki as well. "The first fact is that the time between the Waves is getting shorter."
"Umm, nice, I guess. And what will happen when the time drops down to zero?"
"We don't know that, but at the very least the Beasts would spawn non-stop, that in itself is outside of my comfort zone."
"And how long until the apocalypse?" Onuki asked with a surprisingly calm attitude.
"By our rough estimation, five to six month."
"Okay, thanks for telling me, I guess," she shrugged and lay back in bed.
"Um, Onuki?" Orisa was perplexed by the girl's reaction. "You are surprisingly calm about it."
The girl in question was silent for a few moments, staring into the book she had already opened, and then answered without turning her head:
"Isn't it simple? I don't think I'm in any way different from you. Do you honestly believe that you'll die in five months? Does your brain accept this information?"
After pondering the question for some time, Orisa came to a surprising conclusion. There was no dread, neither had she felt like perishing; there was not a single thought about impending death.
"See?" Onuki said after observing Orisa's reaction. "What's your plan?"
"Nothing much as of yet, I'm afraid. We are collecting as much data as possible, although it's not easy. The only obvious thing is that we should get stronger for whatever is ahead."
"Who also is in your world-saving club?" Onuki chuckled while asking the question.
"Kanai, Iten, goddamit Clemen, and my mentor whom I went to visit," Orisa's voice sounded slightly apologetic as she continued. "I was also hoping to recruit you at a later date, but..."
"If your mumbling just now was an invitation, I don't mind," she said nonchalantly and grinned. "Do I need to sign somewhere with blood, or make a tattoo on the forearm?"
"Not yet, but it's a great idea. Now that you mentioned it, I think we need to add some welcoming ritual. How about we throw an orgy with an intensive fluid exchange?"
A cheerful burst of laughter sealed the deal.
Next morning arrived, and the squad met in front of the Dungeon after having a short breakfast. Dippo was already there, so they entered the stone staircase and began their descent. They had passed many gates and stomped countless steps before reaching their destination, an eighth floor.
"I don't want to think about going back on the same route. My legs won't make it," moaned an already tired Onuki.
The other members of the group ignored her remark, too afraid to imagine a return trip.
"I'm glad to see your eagerness, my dear fellows," said Dippo gleefully. Another figure approached, and Drugan waved towards the Lieutenant Reezpauzo and continued with an even more joyful tone, "greet your assistant, and welcome to your local hell!"