"Would you agree to stay at my place tonight?"
Any man would rejoice beyond cosmic levels upon hearing such words, especially coming from a gorgeous platinum blond beauty. Many women would gladly join the same line. Being something of both worlds, Orisa was mesmerized by this blushing cuteness but also had some doubts.
'Onuki was an emergency. I have no plans for telling any more people about my secret. But what if Tiana were to learn it somehow?'
"Um, Orisa? I'm sorry, it's okay if you don't want to," muttered Tiana and hung her head.
"No-no-no, I was just thinking about something!" Orisa waved her hands frantically. "I need to take a shower first, so-."
"Oh, you don't have to worry, there is a shower there as well," Tiana's foul mood disappeared without a trace, and she shone her smile, illuminating the entire world.
'Damn, how am I supposed to make this girl sad?' she agonized on the inside.
"That's awesome. Still, I need to get a change of clothes, too," Orisa said awkwardly after some mental struggle.
"No problem, let's walk together," Tiana replied and smiled again.
'Woah, talk about being pushy. But I'm probably Tiana's first and only friend, so it's to be expected,' Orisa mused while they were moving up.
"Remind me your maid is Miss Pestoni?"
"Yes, why do you ask?"
"Well, I'll need to greet her, and I'm not good with names. By the way, is she going to leave with you as well?"
"Of course, Maria never left my side."
They finally made it to the dorm half an hour later, and Orisa stumbled upon Onuki who was gathering her hygiene items for a shower. Orisa boldly left Tiana outside the room and went inside to have a quick chat with her roommate.
"Um, Onuki, I'm sorry for suddenly dumping it that way, but I'm going to stay at my friend's place tonight."
"And who is this friend of yours? Hope this is not some elaborate way to have an orgy with Iten, Kanai, and Clemen?" said Onuki with an innocent expression.
"No, it's the girl you saw today in the Dungeon, thank you."
"A girl, huh? I see. Well, can't blame you. The moment you lost interest in my persona, you quickly moved on, seducing another poor soul," she added with the same casual tone.
"For god's sake, of course not. Tiana is a pure and innocent cinnamon roll."
"I see. Sorry for not being pure and innocent. Was that the reason you rejected me so harshly? Or you had plans for this girl all along?"
"You know what? I have a notepad for grudges, and when you are all over your phobia, I'm so going to slap your sore ass!"
"And now she is threatening me. How quickly the tide turned," Onuki shook her head before both girls finally began laughing.
Orisa and Tiana arrived at the noble's lodging twenty minutes later, and Maria Pestoni greeted them by the entrance.
"I'm glad to see you as well, Miss Pestoni," bowed Orisa with a smile. The first time they met, this elderly maid left a pleasant impression, and Orisa surely didn't mind spending more time in the company of the master teaser.
"The bath is ready. Please, take your time and then come have dinner," Maria Pestoni said with a warm smile.
"Follow me, Orisa. This way," pulled here Tiana.
They entered a small room with a few hangers and baskets for dirty clothes; on the opposite side was another door, presumably leading into the bath itself.
"You should leave your clothes here, and Maria will clean them by the morning," she said and started unbuttoning her robe.
"Should I wait outside?" a hastily retreating Orisa voiced her question, turning away from slowly undressing Tiana.
"What do you mean? I thought you wanted to take a shower. It's here," she sounded a little puzzled.
"Tiana, were you planning to have a shower together? I don't think it's a good idea..."
Tiana came closer to Orisa and looked directly into her eyes.
"Don't worry, Orisa, I know about you and I don't think it’s a problem," she said with a barely noticeable blush on her face. After a short pause, she added in an apologetic tone, "and it is supposed to be more fun together, so I wanted to experience it at least once."
"Wait, what!? W-w-what do you know?"
"That you like women more than men, of course. There is nothing wrong with that, so you don't need to hide it or worry about me thinking something ill."
"Ah, yes, ha-ha..."
"Since we are touching this sensitive topic," Tiana continued, and her cheeks turned a bit redder. "Do you, perhaps, um, like me? I mean, this is great, it’s just that I don’t, um…"
"Huh? Oh, I see what you mean. I do, of course, but as a friend!" she frantically waved her hands.
"Then I see no other reason for us to stop," her excited voice made Orisa's heart shrink. How lonely Tiana's childhood and her current life should have been for her to be so enthusiastic about a simple shower with a friend? 'I will never let you down, my cinnamon roll.'
Despite taking almost two hours, both shower and dinner passed in a blink of an eye, and now they were sitting inside Tiana's room. The girl dropped her guard in front of Orisa, showing her true self, and Orisa's heart has melted ten times already and was melting for an eleventh time right now. Behind her cold wall, Tiana was pure and innocent, kind and caring, smart, diligent, charming. Orisa wanted to embrace and protect that girl, to shield her from every misfortune and bring more light into her life.
While Orisa's noble feelings were genuine, honestly speaking, she was desperately clinging to them at the moment to get rid of an image of naked Tiana that occupied her mind. To her taste, the girl was almost perfect; every part of her body was moderate, including chest, waist, thighs, and other essential regions. And together they combined into an ideal picture of innocent, healthy, petite youth. She was only missing freckles and glasses to become Orisa's living dream of a girl, appearance-wise.
Orisa's will was tested many times during the shower, but now this torture was over, and she was finally able to calm her racing heart and aching bottom. It was a shame, but her male origin couldn’t handle it more maturely, which made Orisa feel even guiltier.
After they had dinner and tea that both were beyond delicious, Tiana moved to her room and sat in front of a dressing table with a big mirror. Maria was standing behind her and carefully combing Tiana's hair.
"Why are you so interested in these two?" she was surprised by Orisa's question about Tiana's cronies, Bass and Ramulie vi Durek.
"You are so different, and yet you train together, they follow you most of the time, I simply don't know what to make of it," Orisa said in a slightly confused tone. "That is if they are like that all the time and not only with strangers."
"I'm afraid not. These two are quite radical and harsh beyond any reason," Tiana let out a sigh and looked at Orisa with a guilty expression again. "I'm honestly sorry for what they did to you, and for how I treated you, as well."
"Gosh, Tiana, we've been through this already, right? It’s in the past now, and I'm sure you had your reasons as well."
Upon hearing that, both Tiana's and Maria's expressions darkened. A few seconds later, Maria forced an awkward smile and said to Orisa:
"I'm almost done here, would lady Orisa like to get a quick haircut?"
"Really? That would be perfect, thank you!"
Her hair was long, to begin with, and in the past month, it has grown even longer, so Maria's offer was more than welcomed. The maid returned with a haircutting kit a minute later and seated Orisa on the same chair that Tiana occupied a moment ago. While Maria was working on Orisa's hair, Tiana moved on with her answer:
"As you already know, there are five Greater houses and sixteen Lesser houses in this country. These siblings are members of a vi Durek family, which is a Lesser noble house and our vassal."
"By a strange twist of fate, we were born the same year, so my father arranged for them to be my entourage and bodyguards. So it is outside my power to reject their company. And even if I could, I'm not sure if I wanted to do so anyway."
"Don't worry, I understand," Orisa squeezed Tiana's palm and smiled encouragingly. "It's tough to be alone, I know. But now you have me, and others from my squad would be glad to meet you, I'm sure."
"Yes, and tomorrow I'll leave..."
Tiana hung her head dejectedly, and Orisa exchanged worried looks with Maria. The maid let go of Orisa's hair, and she moved to sit by Tiana's side and hug her.
"Parting is a crucial element of any relationship. Without a parting, there couldn't be any reunion, don't you agree? I'm sure we will meet again, and spend long hours talking and eating delicious food of Miss Pestoni."
"Glutton..." Tiana giggled while wiping away her tears. After lowering her guard, she became more emotional as well. She turned to face Orisa and looked her in the eyes, then hugged her so tight that Orisa felt her ribs being squeezed. "I'm sorry for this inappropriate behavior. It's just that you are my first friend..."
"Don't worry, it is perfectly fine," Orisa answered while stroking the girl's back. "You are no longer alone. We have each other now, and we'll stay as friends forever."
Tiana nodded and squeezed Orisa even tighter. At the corner of her vision, Orisa noticed how Maria subtly wiped away a tear from her cheek.
'But damn, so many red flags. How am I supposed to survive now?' Orisa cursed on the inside while stroking Tiana's back.
"Ahem, we need to finish lady Orisa's haircut. And it is getting late already."
Maria not only cut Orisa's bangs but also made two beautiful braids around her temples. It was almost midnight when Maria had left the room after asking Orisa to force Tiana into her bed.
"Come on, get under the blanket, or Miss Pestoni would scold us," Orisa said in a fake stern voice.
"Gosh, I'm not a little kid, you know!" Tiana pouted but obediently climbed under the duvet. Orisa tried to get up, but Tiana grabbed her hand and pleaded, "please, stay a bit longer."
'How could I say no to these puppy eyes?' Orisa was melting on the inside for the twelfth time during this evening and climbed over Tiana's blanket to lay by her side. They were separated by a thick duvet, but Orisa still felt Tiana's presence.
A few seconds of silence later, Tiana turned to face Orisa, hugged her around the waist like a big stuffed teddy bear and asked:
"Tell me about your world and yourself, please."
"Hmm, okay. I'm from Earth, and by the look of it the majority of people here are from there as well. It's a big world where more than seven billion people leave."
"Seven billion?! How is that possible?" Tiana exclaimed in awe. As a part of her education, she studied basic information about each world, but it was mostly about the traits of inhabitants and their behavior.
"Yes, and it sadly grows by the day. Anyway, our world is divided into a few big continents, and each continent is populated by different countries. There are around two hundreds of them, all with different culture, languages, beliefs, and even skin color."
"Unbelievable. Even the skin color is different?" said Tiana after letting out a yawn.
"Well, not as different as you've probably imagined," Orisa chuckled after imagining gray and green aliens.
"Since our world has no magic, our technology moved forward to compensate for that," she continued after a short pause. "We now have this thing called electricity, and it is used everywhere and for every purpose possible, like you use Mana. For example, illumination is powered by electricity, and elevators move because of it as well. Almost everything and everyone relies on it."
"Aside from electricity, there is a cool thing called the Internet. It's like your mail service, but instant and not limited to text. You can communicate with someone on the other side of the world using a device called a computer. It is even possible to see each other or talk in real time."
Orisa stopped her tale to check on a suspiciously quiet Tiana, and as she expected, the girl fell asleep. She was breathing quietly while still hugging Orisa. 'God, my sleeping friend can't be this cute.'
A new problem appeared on the horizon. What was Orisa supposed to do now? She didn't want to wake Tiana while crawling out of bed, but staying like that was beyond her conscience acceptance level.
She was agonizing over what to do when the door opened and Maria looked inside. The only thing Orisa was able to squeeze out of her brain was to smile awkwardly and apologetically. Without a single word, Maria went inside the room, took out a spare blanket, and covered Orisa. When she was in the doorframe, she turned around and bowed deep down with a grateful expression.
"Thank you," she whispered, turned the lights off, and closed the door.
Tiana's leave was scheduled earlier than Orisa's morning practice, so she calmly closed her eyes and quickly fell asleep.
Their morning was quite rushed since Maria woke them up thirty minutes later than she was supposed to, saying she didn't want to spoil their dream.
Tiana's luggage was ready, and Orisa had nothing to pack or gather, to begin with, so that left them with their morning hygiene routine and breakfast. They had to squeeze everything into forty-five minutes that were left before Tiana's departure, but even so, they managed to have a small talk.
"I'm so sorry for dozing off in the middle of your story," said blushing Tiana, spreading jam over another toast.
"Actually, I fell asleep as well, so we are even," lied Orisa to make her friend feel less guilty.
When the time was up, they left the building, and Orisa stopped in her tracks, staring in awe. In front of the building was parked a vehicle. It closely resembled a car but had three pairs of tires, was bigger than a typical Hammer and glowed from lots of active Seals stamped all over its body. Remembering the book she read on Mana crafting, Orisa couldn't even begin to imagine the price of this monster.
Maria finished loading Tiana's luggage and stood by the car, holding an open door. Tiana glanced at her maid and turned to Orisa. It was evident how much effort it took her to remain composed since it was inappropriate for a true Noble to show their feelings when some bystanders could be watching.
"Yesterday was great. I wish we could spend more time together," Tiana said with a trembling voice.
"I'm sure we will. Tiana, my dear friend," Orisa started a little officially, but then smiled brightly and said, "you are a wonderful person, and I'm glad that I met you."
It was the last hit that Tiana's will could take, so she dropped all her Noble attitude and hugged Orisa while crying.
"I don't want to leave!" she muttered while sobbing.
"And I would like you to stay," Orisa started stroking Tiana's back, "but it has to be done. I will miss you greatly, but that much more I will be glad to see you next time. Take care, my dear, until we meet again."
She let go of the girl that quickly dashed inside the monstrous car. Maria closed the door and approached Orisa:
"I'm not sure if it is possible to properly display my gratitude or explain how happy I am for the young lady," she began, and Orisa noticed that Maria's voice was trembling from emotions. "I won't denigrate these feelings by a mere thank you."
She took Orisa's hand, put a small item on her palm, and covered it with her own hand:
"I understand that you became lady Tiana's friend without an ulterior motive or at least your feelings towards her are genuine now. That's why I want you to take this item as a symbol of my gratitude."
Maria removed her hand, and Orisa saw a golden ring with an emblem on its surface. She also sensed Mana circulating inside the item. Orisa looked up in confusion, and Maria added:
"It is a vas Kavenfenn sigil that only the most trusted members of the family could get. Every capable institution will be able to validate its authenticity. It may help you out of a tight situation. Use it wisely. And thank you."