"Go eat and rest now, we'll meet me in three hours," said Dippo, calmly eyeing the squad.
"Eeh!?" was their collective reaction.
"But you said you'd let us rest!" Orisa was outraged.
"Quit screaming, would you?" he retorted with slight irritation. "We are leaving tomorrow evening, and all the time is yours. But before that, we need to buy you all the basic equipment."
"What kind of equipment?" Iten voiced everyone's question.
"Gosh, dummy, what do you even mean? Equipment is equipment; weapons, armor, tools, this kind of crap."
Their eyes started glittering, filled with hopes and expectations.
"Don't give me this puppy look, kids. Your starting gear will be shit, alright? It's to get you rolling," continued Dippo with a higher level of irritation. "You'll have to craft your things later or buy them with your salary, I guess. Everyone starts like that, what were you expecting, gosh?"
They were slowly riding inside a carriage that Dippo commissioned for the group. It was rather spacious but still too narrow for six people to fit comfortably. One side of the cab occupied Kanai, Iten, and Clemen, while on the other side sat Orisa in the middle with Dippo and Onuki to her left and right. Orisa was eyeing Onuki with concern all the time; the girl looked pale but was still holding.
"There are trains and Mana cars in this world, but we are still riding a carriage," Orisa decided to grumble since the awkward silence inside the cab made her sick.
"Do you even know how freaking much these toys cost?" Dippo laughed after his initial reply and continued with an earnest tone a few seconds later. "Horses are way cheaper initially and in their upkeep. Speaking of which, I'll have you learn horse riding when we get to the lair."
"Oh, I like horses!" happily intervened Clemen.
"Oya, can you ride them, perhaps?"
"Don't know, sir. I sure did last time I was alive, but things changed somewhat, right? But I'm sure I'll do just fine, sir," Clemen's usual enthusiasm was contagious as everyone inside the cab started smiling.
"Guys, does anyone have plans for the evening?" Orisa asked a few minutes later.
"Do you have another training session in mind?" asked Iten with a suspicious tone when he saw that others remained silent.
"Huh? Am I some training maniac for you?" she asked in outrage, but everyone around her nodded without even a moment of hesitation, making Orisa groan and Dippo chuckle. "That's how it is? Okay then, I won’t tell you anything, I guess."
Orisa pouted and turned all silent, pretending to be hurt.
"Say it already, you training not-completely-maniac-I-guess," elbowed her no longer pale Onuki.
"Stop kicking a person when they are already down!" Orisa's pouting came to an end when she said in a serious tone, "since we are leaving tomorrow, I thought about throwing a little party tonight. You know, grill something, and maybe invite Nene and Nana, that kind of stuff."
"Meat! Ouch-," jumped Clemen on his seat, hitting a roof of the carriage with his head.
"I thought about suggesting the same," began Iten hesitantly, "but stopped after thinking about the ingredients. Where and how are we going to get food?"
"Don't worry," Orisa waved away Iten's doubts, "aren't we going to the city now? I have some money left, so that problem should be solved. When we are back, please check on twins to see if they are okay."
They finally arrived in the city. Unlike Orisa, who was there three times already, the others were escorted to the training camp without any chance to go sightseeing or even looking around, so they were staring with eyes open. Mostly because they almost forgot how anything besides the training camp looked at all. 'How cute,' Orisa chuckled inwardly.
Gear procurement went smoothly because the process was long since established, and the only tricky moment was Orisa's weapon.
"I'm not sure what to get either," shrugged merchant after hearing about her characteristics. "You have no Magic at all, so there is no point in using caster's weapons, they won't enchant your Mana-based skills. Physical weapons are even more useless to you."
"What about rifles?" Orisa asked after remembering Nana's weapon. "How do they even work?"
"Regardless of how they work, my dear leader, their price is hundreds of times higher than what we are spending today," Dippo quickly interjected. "For now, there is nothing for us to do. Come, we are leaving. I'll craft you some fancy crap myself later."
While the other four members were quite content with their new gear, Orisa turned all grumpy. They slowly passed by an accessory shop, and she tugged Dippo:
"Won't we go here as well?"
"Oya, little bossy likes to get cute and fashionable? Well, it won't hurt to take a look, but I doubt we would find something cheap enough to stay within our wallet."
While the squad was eyeing the vast selection of items, Orisa took out the purse Rita gave her. She was hesitant to check it before, so this was her first time looking inside. Orisa thought that even if it would eat a substantial part of her budget, it was still wise to invest in gear.
Letting out a sigh and resigning herself to Rita's mercy, Orisa opened the purse and counted its contents. She recounted it again, then once more, and abruptly put the purse inside her bag with a pale face.
This evening a small letter was sent to a certain red-headed mentor. Its content was concise as only two short sentences were written there:
'I looked inside. Are you out of your fucking mind?'
Thankfully, among the big shiny coins which Orisa didn't even know how to use since their value was astronomical, were few stacks of smaller ones.
While Dippo gave her a shocked look, and the other squad members were grateful, Onuki asked in a confused voice:
"Why are you doing this? Why are you going to such length for people you'd met a month ago?"
"Because this," Orisa swung few coins that she was going to use for their purchase, "is worth less than your lives."
With this, their conversation was over. Everyone proceeded to equip new items immediately, and the overall reaction could be described as "Wow, I feel its effect already!"
For a split second, Orisa pondered about wasting Rita's money, but immediately smacked herself for using such an awful word towards something related to her friends and comrades. 'This is why Rita gave me money, so I don't have to feel bad about using it for the right things.' She also found a moment to give both Onuki and Clemen their wristwatches as well.
They made a trip to a local food market to get groceries, packed their things, and left on the same carriage. It was already six in the evening when they finally arrived back to the training camp.
"Okay, so Iten will go get the twins while we are heading to the canteen to prepare everything," Orisa said as they were unloading everything from the cart.
"Before that, let's drop our gear in the campus, okay?" Kanai intervened with a reasonable suggestion. Only the accessories were equipped, with other equipment neatly packed in boxes and bags.
"Oops, sorry, why haven't I thought about it in the first place?"
"Because someone only thinks about food," chuckled Kanai, and other members followed his lead.
Since they were no longer mere cadets but members of a special unit, they were allowed inside the kitchen. The head cook even let them borrow knives, forks, spoons, and other tableware. After they set up everything and Iten left to check on twins, Orisa was pulled away by a grumpy and irritated Onuki.
"What happened already?" Orisa asked while rolling her eyes. Onuki kept staring at her silently, but her face was getting redder with each passing second. Letting out a sigh, Orisa asked again, this time with a gentle and sympathetic voice, "come on, what is it? What's wrong, sis?"
"Sis? That's something new, alright. And sounds gross, please never say it again." At the very least, it made Onuki relax a bit and start talking; she shuffled uncomfortably for a few more seconds before finally blurting out, "I can't cook; never held a knife in my entire life."
"Gosh, it's fine, okay? Or do you think I won't be able to find you some work?" Orisa grinned like an evil overlord.
"I wasn't planning to slack in the first place, you slave driver!" exploded Onuki with a purple face.
"First, find firewood. Ask Clemen if you need help to move it. Second, reserve a spot for our party. It's best to ask someone about it, I guess. Third,-"
"Oi-oi, wait a minute! Am I some robot or a servant of yours!?"
"You are not paying attention, private Onuki," Orisa's grin was even wider now. "Third, procure chairs or benches, plus something to work as a table. You should ask Clemen for help as well."
"You...monster..." she grumbled but still went to do the tasks.
Together with Kanai and Clemen, Orisa started chopping the food. A few minutes later, however, an extremely reluctant Onuki pulled Orisa on the sleeve of her shirt. This time Orisa decided to be quiet until the girl could spill it out without her help.
"They want money for the wood," she blurted out and turned her head away.
"I don't get why you are so frustrated about it?"
"How hard should it be to guess? I'm not used to asking for money, alright?"
Orisa shook her head in amazement and handed the girl a few coins.
Iten finally showed up half an hour later. Both his hair and look were quite messy, and he rolled his eyes tiredly under Orisa's questioning gaze.
"Their shift should be over by eight, and they'll come straight here."
"Do you need to, umm, take a break?" Orisa's sympathetic question made Iten roll his eyes again, and he went to chop a salad.
It was already dark outside by the time Nene and Nana showed up. The squad settled down by that time and began preparations with only Iten being away, waiting to meet the twins and bring them to the campsite.
"I say this is an awesome idea from my awesome friend!" Nene stormed in and hugged Orisa until the girl's ribs began to crack.
"Thank you for the invitation, or so they say," Nana appeared behind Nene and pulled her sister away from already half-chocked Orisa.
"I'm also glad to see you both," she said after catching her breath. "Guys, here are Nene and Nana vas Flamie, they are nice girls, treat them well. And these are our squad members Kanai, Onuki, and Clemen."
While people started to greet each other, Orisa moved to the campfire to begin the grilling. She was calmly installing skewers when Nana sat by her side and asked:
"Was it your plan to create an intimate atmosphere, or there is another reason to sit in the dark?"
"Yeah-yeah, I forgot to think about the light," pouted Orisa while skewering another chunk of meat.
Nana patted Orisa on the back and declared some bizarre poetry:
"Darkness is, I'd say, the best. You cannot see your partner's chest."
Remembering how flat Nana was, Orisa almost fell into the campfire with a burst of laughter. After coming to her sense, she turned to a mischievously grinning Nana and said with a bright smile:
"Nana is the best, or so I'd say."
Suddenly, they were startled by another example of marvelous kindergarten poetry:
"If you are flat, it is okay. Some people like it more that way," declared Onuki from behind their backs.
"Hmm, I see you are a lady of rhyme as well?" a very pleased Nana mused.
The girls slowly drifted away in their conversation, so Orisa was left alone again. Thankfully, the other four members of their party came to check on her a few minutes later.
"Sup, grill, how is grilling?" a grinning Kanai elbowed Orisa.
"You are talking mad shit for someone in skewering distance."
"I yield!" shouted Kanai while dodging a smoking skewer.
"I say this is some great meat right over here," a drooling Nene eyed food while hugging Iten's forearm without a chance for him to escape.
"Completely agree with you on that," yelled Clemen.
"The only question," Orisa looked at Clemen with a furrowed brow, "is why you are looking at me instead of food?"
"Apologies, Supreme Overlord Dark Demon Army Commander Orisa!" he yelled while bowing down.
"Do you need help?" Iten asked with a twitching eye.
"You can set up a table if you want, I guess."
Upon hearing that, Iten pulled both Clemen and Nana with him, and the only person left now was Kanai.
"Let me finish this," he said while taking remaining skewers from Orisa's hands.
"You don't need to help, man," Orisa protested unenthusiastically.
"Yeah-yeah, you don't say. It's clear that you are tired, you know? But you are a damn stubborn girl and won't ask for help. So shut up and take a seat."
Since there were not enough seats, they also brought a few quilts, so Orisa spread one of them out not far away from the campfire and sat there to enjoy the fire.
"Why are you so set on doing everything yourself?" grumbled Kanai while still working on the food.
"I'd like to that myself. Maybe I'm afraid of people saying no? Or doing something awful and expecting me to praise them? It's also possible that I'm expecting everything to fail, and quite easier to blame myself than others for a failure?"
"Yep, just as I thought, you are a hopeless idiot. Reminds me of someone I knew from before; this person also wanted to shoulder everything. As if someone is going to fail in skewering meat," while grumbling, Kanai waved the skewer in his hand and accidentally hit two already placed skewers. They immediately fell into a campfire with a loud hissing sound.
With an eyebrow furrowed to its limit, Orisa stood and went to get a bottle of water while Kanai was cursing, trying to get the skewers out. When Orisa got back, she saw a pouting Kanai healing his burned hand; there also were Onuki and Nana who settled on Orisa's spot and gave Kanai supportive looks.
At first, Orisa gave both girls a ‘Are you kidding?’ look, but then her gaze stumbled upon Nana's weapon that she was still carrying after their shift.
"Nana, can I see your gun?" Orisa asked, remembering her talk with Dippo.
"But I'm a girl," she answered in confusion.
For a good five seconds, she had been enjoying the blank stares before finally letting out a chuckle.
"I was not expecting a dad joke from you of all people," said a thoroughly shocked Orisa.
"Nana is positively nuts," suddenly added a smiling Onuki. It was the first time for the past few days that Orisa saw her smiling so carefree. To say that she was glad because of this fact would be an understatement.
"My-my, am I not popular today for some reason? Dear sister, I'm not ready for this," Nana mused in her usual calm voice which made the entire phrase even more hilarious.
The food was finally ready, so everyone gathered to obliterate it. Nobody among them was as great as Crion who cooked the last time, but fresh air, good company, and severe lack of meat for most of them made this simple barbecue into a magnificent feast. They were munching silently for some time, but then conversations began popping up here and there.
"I wonder what our new headquarter looks like and where it is," Kanai muttered thoughtfully.
"I say it's hella far away, man. In the central part of Lazra, in fact," saying that, Nene hugged Iten even tighter.
"Oh, yeah, I heard that you two decided to stay as friends because of the distance?" Orisa raised a painful issue, but Nene kept her smile and answered nonchalantly:
"That's for the best I say. I mean, I like my brave knight here," she soundly smooched Iten on the cheek, "but we had our share of fun. As things are, it would be a pain to go on when there is almost no way for us to see each other. So no point in dragging it I say."
The conversation moved on, drifting between topics, breaking into smaller ones. Onuki and Nana were sharing the first blanket, with Iten, Nene, and Clemen using their three chairs. So together with Kanai, Orisa occupied the second blanket as they were slowly sipping on juice and picking the remnants of their feast.
Somewhere amidst the evening, Clemen stood up, grabbed another skewer and went to the campus, saying he was too sleepy to go on. Iten and Nene slowly drifted away sometime after that as well, leaving Onuki and Nana with their quiet conversation on the first blanket.
Orisa was too tired to sit, so she dropped on their quilt and looked at the night sky. The stars were as bright as they were numerous as well. The view, completely impossible in one of the brightest cities in the world, made Orisa shiver from the realization of how insignificant she was compared to the world. The feeling was daunting and depressing, but the view that brought it up still left an indelible impression.
Amidst the stargazing, Orisa failed to notice when both girls left. Another surprising find was that Kanai settled by Orisa's side and was silently gazing in the sky as well. Orisa decided not to think about it too much and returned to the endless space.
An unknown amount of time passed like that, and Orisa felt cold crawl under her shirt. The fire was almost gone, but Orisa still managed to check her wristwatch. Midnight. 'No wonder it's so cold here.'
"Can you help me clean everything up?" she asked Kanai without getting up.
"I will, but let's stay like that a bit longer."
"I sense some romance brewing here," Orisa added teasingly.
"Shut up, idiot. You are ruining the atmosphere," Kanai retorted calmly. "And I'm not interested in that, so thank you for your kind offer."
"That's reassuring," she let out a sigh of relief and grabbed now unoccupied blanket to cover them both.
Another hour had passed in complete silence before they finally stood up and began cleaning the place. When tired and almost asleep Orisa barged into her room, Onuki's bed was empty to her surprise. Even more surprising was that the girl showed up only during their lunch the next day. Her figure turned all defensive and ready for a fight when she noticed Orisa's intent gaze. Onuki came closer and asked abruptly in an indignant voice as if expecting to be resented:
"What? Have something to say?"
"Oh, nothing," Orisa waved her hands vigorously to calm Onuki down. A moment later, Orisa smiled brightly and said with a kind voice, "I'm just really glad for you."