Tiana vas Kavenfenn left the training camp number fourteen, leaving a hole in Orisa's soul. Luckily or not, she had absolutely no time to feel down since their training paced up even more.
The day of parting with Tiana passed in a blink of an eye. They fought, trained in team tactics, practiced their crafts, and learned new spells. While the other four members of The Childhood's End were learning new skills, Orisa kept hitting her head against the wall of the Sealcasting.
"So, what's the problem, girl?" Dippo asked when his patience finally ran out.
"I don't know, sir. I tried both methods my mentor taught me, but it feels like they don't suit me at all. It’s as if I'm trying to wear another person's clothes."
"And you were, by chance, trying only these two styles this whole time?" his voice oozed with sarcasm.
"Well, yes, what else am I supposed to do?"
"I don't know, alright? How should I know? It's not like I have even the slightest understanding of this mysterious art of yours," he said before swiftly unsheathing his knives and crossing them in front of him:
Orisa saw three Seals appear in front of Dippo. Her vision blurred for a second, and when she blinked again, there were three copies of her Captain standing in front of her.
"I thought you were slightly on a smarter side of things," three voices rung in unison, mocking Orisa and pointing at her with three knives. "If it's not yours, then come up with something that is yours, idiot!"
Two copies disappeared, leaving original to stare at Orisa in disappointment.
"I don't know how to come up with some other way," she almost yelled in frustration.
"Have you even tried?" Dippo asked in a provocative voice.
"Yes! Of course, I tried..."
"And how exactly?"
"Huh, well, I mean..." It was unusually hard for her to explain how exactly she approached this problem. ”I thought about it, I guess?"
"Bullshit!" he smacked Orisa on the forehead. "I can give you the answer, but what's the point? Turn on that allegedly creative brain of yours already, would you?"
When Orisa looked around, she saw the other squad members staring at them quietly, and a burning shame assaulted her. She was supposed to be their leader, if not the smartest then at least the most cunning. But she dropped her hands and was mindlessly banging against the wall that wasn't even made for her in the first place.
Remembering how she tackled production problems in the past, Orisa went to the resting room and grabbed the first thing that came into her view, an apple-like fruit. The method was called rubber duck debugging.
'Okay, listen here, not-an-apple. I'll tell you about the Sealcasting,' she began an internal monologue while staring at the fruit. 'It is a unique technique to utilize the Seals. What the heck are these Seals? They are like coded pictures, containing various effects that depend on the Seal's form and type. They originated from Mana engineering where...OH, FUCK!'
She left the fruit on the table and took her Mana engineering supplies. There was a large sketchbook filled with her attempts at different Seals, and she opened an empty page and took the instruments. One of the engineering tools was a large stencil that helped in drawing various geometrical forms.
'So how I did it last time?'
Orisa began by placing an outer circle, the base form of the Seal. Four prime figures followed as she added them one by one. The last step was to connect them with small symbols that she knew nothing about but memorized their usage and appearance.
'Great. And how do I transfer this into the Sealcasting?'
Orisa closed her eyes and stretched her right hand out. She grabbed one of the Mana layers and led it outside her palm while imagining that it was her brush. First was a blue circle big enough to house other elements; then four figures to make a primal property. Orisa's Mana danced over her palm, swinging left and right, up and down while drawing the forms. The finishing touch was these symbols that she mentally called runes, and she left that Mana layer connected to the last rune she drew.
Fearing the worst, Orisa slowly opened her eyes and stared in awe at a blue Seal that was shining in the air in front of her. She was overjoyed and almost jumped, squealing happily.
"Took you long enough," Dippo chuckled while standing behind. Without anything more to say he turned and left, clapping twice in the process.
The next morning came with an excellent but at the same time horrible surprise from Dippo:
"We'll go straight to the last floor, my cupcakes. If you succeed, I'll give you the rest of the day and also tomorrow to take a break."
Seven people were descending to the deepest level of the Dungeon. While five squad members stayed silent, Drugan was leisurely chatting with Reezpauzo. The last floor surprisingly was the same as the first, an empty room with an even stone floor; no obstacles, no covers, nothing.
"This is as close as you'd get to the real combat. Signal me when you are ready," Reezpauzo said with his usual husky voice, and they left towards an observation balcony together with Drugan Dippo.
The atmosphere was tense; the squad members faces turned pale, their lips tightly pressed into thin lines; they all were eyeing Orisa.
"It will be tough, but I'm sure we'll manage. We did so at every other floor, and we trained hard. Together, we can do it," Orisa felt horrible while raising so many red flags, but she couldn't come up with anything better to say. "Friendship is magic, and magic is power, and power makes you right and um..."
Thanks to Orisa's awkward and pathetic cheer speech, other squad members broke out of their uneasiness. Kanai made a vomiting sound, Iten and Onuki rolled their eyes, and Clemen wholeheartedly saluted.
"That was a new definition of being lame," Kanai muttered while shaking his head. He then asked a troublesome question. "You are not using the potion?"
"I can't rely on them forever and for everything," she said in a slightly depressed tone, and they became silent for a moment.
"Anyhow, guys let’s focus," Orisa called for everyone's attention. "Just don't panic. Even if something goes horribly wrong, don't panic and keep doing your job."
Orisa turned to Onuki and looked the girl straight into the eyes:
"You are our life, so everything is on you. Even if someone is badly hurt, you simply throw more healing. If you get hurt, Kanai would balm and throw regeneration."
"You should also buff Iten and Clemen while Kanai would buff me, himself, and you," Orisa continued giving last minute instructions. "Don't overextend, stay close. When the fight starts, wait for buffs and my shields."
"We'll be alright," said Iten and gave an encouraging smile to Onuki who was now under even more pressure.
A few seconds later, Orisa waved towards the balcony, and their final push began.
Five foes appeared on the other side of the room, and Orisa reacted in a blink of an eye:
Three Force Blocks appeared right in front of them. Since Orisa was more or less confident in using three Mana layers, she trained few upgraded versions of her spells. Learning on her mistakes from the lizard’s fight, she placed all blocks on the ground and back to back, so there were no gaps between them or the floor.
A tiger, armadillo, snake, and two dogs were their enemies now. 'Looks like there is no ranged attacker among them, that's neat,' she thought and turned to the group.
"Buffs, please," she said while covering herself with the usual set of shields.
Kanai and Onuki started their chanting, and Orisa turned back to observe the foes, but what she saw instead was an enormous lump of something green slowly flying along an arc path towards their position.
She hastily made a roof over their improvised hideout. Because of the spell used in haste there were gaps between the horizontal block and vertical walls, and when the lump of acid landed on the blocks, green splashes went all over the place. Screams followed.
Luckily, Orisa was unscathed, but upon turning around, she saw that Iten's right hand was boiling around the forearm. He fell on both knees and yelled.
Both Kanai and Onuki, despite getting little splashes of acid here and there as well, immediately focused on Iten's wound. A quick look at their roof revealed that acid already ate away most of the shielding.
"Triple Block!" - "Triple Block!"
Orisa threw more shields to reinforce their position and at the corner of her vision noticed movement. Two dogs were running around their bunker from both sides. On the bright side of things, they were not as big as Orisa imagined, only one and a half meter tall. Only.
"Clemen, the right side is yours!" she shouted and ran outside the blocks to pull monster's attention away from the healers and injured Iten.
"Fog of War!"
A thick cloud of Mana burst out of Clemen's body in all directions. Since both the Beasts and the Summons used Mana sense as their main source of vision and situational awareness, the Mana cloud made it harder for them to navigate and target their opponents.
"Wall Rush!" - "Wall Rush!" - "Wall Rush!" - "Wall Rush!"
Without an enraged state, this was Orisa's practically the only offensive spell against agile targets, and she used it to throw the dog away.
The second dog jumped at Clemen but missed its mark because of the fog, and Clemen used its misstep to counterattack:
"Twin Blazing Strike!" - "Twin Blazing Strike!"
Both his daggers went ablaze and cut deep into the dog's side. The creature howled and jumped away from the attacker. By the strange twist of fate, it ended right in front of their bunker, almost touching the healers with its tail.
Kanai reacted brilliantly, shooting his most damaging spell. It ate away his Mana pool but was extremely potent, in a close range especially so. The dog jumped again, away from their hideout, but Orisa saw that it was barely moving already since almost half of its back was devastated by Kanai's spell. Clemen stepped in and swiftly finished his prey.
It was at that moment that they heard a loud crashing noise. The armadillo slammed into the Force Blocks, sending cracks all over their surface. 'They won't take another hit like that,' Orisa thought and turned around to place new walls. The dog that she sent flying just a few seconds ago was already there and jumped onto her, knocking Orisa down. They rolled on the ground a few meters; the only things Orisa could do was to block its maw with her forearm Force Guard.
Despite having low Luck stat, Orisa lucked out of a bigger predicament thanks to the dog's attack. A second had passed after that, and another lump of acid fell onto the spot where Orisa stood just now. It was exactly how during their exam one of the creatures knocked her down, saving her head from echidna's barrage of spikes.
A wave of Mana threw the dog away from Orisa, and when the girl looked around, she saw Onuki pointing her wand there, panting heavily. They finished getting Iten back into fighting shape and joined the fight.
It would have been a pleasant moment if not for the armadillo that finally broke through the walls. Kanai survived the creature's body assault only because Iten covered him with his shield.
"Back off to regroup!" Orisa yelled.
Clemen didn't waste any time and clashed with the second dog, taking the most agile enemy away from the squad.
His body started periodically emitting Mana, blurring his image in the dog's eyes. This spell was bread and butter for agile classes, one of their best and cheapest self-defense options. Orisa believed in Clemen believing in his own strength and turned to face a literally bigger threat, the armadillo.
Onuki saved Iten from a jumping tiger of whose existence everyone successfully forgot. The unnaturally aggressive oversized cat waited for the squad to get distracted enough and slowly approached them to strike in a crucial moment. The tiger was too large and heavy for Onuki to throw it far away, but her spell altered its jump's trajectory enough to cover Iten who was still bashing against the armadillo.
"Triple Block!" - "Triple Block!" - "Triple Block!"
Orisa's sixth sense told her to place more roofs over their heads, and another lump of acid splashed over its surface a few seconds later.
Iten's standoff against armadillo was a tough one since none of his attacks worked on the heavily armored target. His opponent bashed against Iten's shield unsuccessfully and backtracked for more than ten meters. Suddenly it dashed towards Iten with surprising agility and turned into an armored ball halfway through. This Bludger of death was inches away from Iten when the boy dropped on one knee, covered behind his shield and shouted at the same time as Onuki pointed at him with her wand:
Onuki's spell was the most basic defense buff that increased the target's own Toughness by reinforcing it with Mana. The second spell, Barricade, was way trickier; it rooted the user and his shield to the ground, freezing them in this position for five seconds. This completely disabled state was a reasonable price for an extreme increase in the user's defense, poise, and stability.
The armadillo crashed into Iten and rolled over him, flying into the air as if it stepped onto a trampoline. The boy, on the other hand, remained in the same position and didn't budge even a centimeter, but Orisa noticed a pained expression all over his face. And he won't be able to move for four more seconds. Iten was lucky since he still had a roof over his head, so another acid projectile splashed above his head without any harm. Even the armadillo somehow missed these few precious Blocks.
But that was the end of his luck. As if knowing the spell's price, the tiger jumped on Iten and started slashing him with his clawed paws. Blood flew in all directions, and Iten began to scream for the second time during their test. It was only thanks to Onuki's and his own defense buffs that he got bruises and deep cuts over his head and shoulders but nothing more serious. And he still couldn't move yet.
"Fucking Garfield, now you've done it!" Orisa yelled and rushed to the rescue while Onuki and Kanai focused on Iten's healing once more.
The problem was the armadillo that came back to its sense and was now looking around for a target.
With a series of Block Rush and Hand of God spells, Orisa managed to ward off the tiger and turned to face the armadillo. A few more spells succeeded at grabbing its attention, and now the foe was rolling towards her like a defective Sonic. He almost broke her barriers with a single strike last time, and it wasn't hard to imagine how much more powerful his rolling attack will be.
'It better works or I'm going to become FLAT.' She focused on her Mana layer and imagined a brush. She managed to create the Lesser Mana Stream Seal from the second try.
It might have been her imagination, but Orisa thought that the wall shone brighter upon appearing in front of her and absorbing the Seal's effect. The armadillo slammed into the obstacle and shattered it anyway, but at the very least it stopped in place, shaking its head in confusion.
"Triple Block Press!" - "Block Prison!"
Orisa pinned it down to the ground and trapped inside the prison, rendering the foe completely immobile.
"Haha, you are captured, stupid beast!" she rejoiced, remembering a certain character from a certain game.
Orisa saw upon turning to Onuki and Kanai that another lump of acid was flying towards their position. 'I won't make it on time...' she thought in horror. Still bleeding and cursing from the pain, Iten abruptly stood up and raised his shield:
A wide barrier appeared around his shield that covered Iten and both healers who ducked behind him. The acid splashed over the shield and dripped down to the ground. At the same time, the tiger approached them again, but Kanai stepped aside and threw his new spell"
A dark-purple sphere flew forward and hit the tiger's front leg that immediately turned black and began to wither. The beast began to limp away, and Orisa saw the black mark spread further and further over its body. Kanai threw two more spells, so the tiger fell onto the ground and stopped moving a few seconds later. The price for this incredible feat was an almost fainting Kanai who was drenched in sweat now.
They all stood in silence to catch their breath. It was a tough fight, especially for Iten. She couldn't even imagine how painful it was for him and shivered after remembering the first acid splash.
Orisa jolted in realization and abruptly turned towards the snake in horror, expecting another acid projectile. What she saw was Clemen lazily walking towards them, and a body of the sneak laying motionless on the ground behind him. She let out a relieved sigh.
While Onuki was still healing Iten's wounds, both Dippo and Reezpauzo approached them, and their Captain asked Orisa:
"Okay, what you did wrong?"
"Got distracted at the start of the fight and missed the projectile," she answered in a voice full of regret and shame.
"Failed to understand that the snake was a shooter."
"I don't know! Everything!?" yelled Orisa in frustration. She didn't need another person telling her about her mistakes since she was plenty able to berate herself without outside help. It was her weak spot from her previous life; she could clearly see her own shortcomings and would mercilessly bawl on herself inwardly, but if someone else would do the same, it will hit her ten times stronger.
"Well," Dippo sighed after looking at Orisa's pathetic state, "besides these little details, you more or less did okay. It could and should have been worse, and I even expected you to fail the first attempt. Good job, everyone."