The time to pack things has come since today was their last day of training camp. Looking at the training field where Captain Paulo Cardelio aka Captain Pain was scolding a fresh batch of cadets, Orisa even felt a sting of nostalgia. The captain noticed her and waved to come closer. They had a small talk, and when she was about to take her leave, he suddenly grabbed her forearm and whispered:
"Remember, girl, that the Military is a rotten place. You are a smart lad but still keep your eyes sharp, would you? They won't hesitate to push blame on you or even frame you for something if you'd get in their way."
"Are you talking about Merdun and the Reclamation operation?" Orisa remembered from Youko's story that Captain Pain was in charge of the entire operation.
"Among other things. So if you feel that things are getting hot, cover your back or run."
"Thank you, captain, sir," she nodded with a troubled expression and left to pack things.
Onuki was still away, so Orisa guessed that she was with Nana. Letting out a sigh, Orisa started packing.
She felt a bit lonely and left out but at the same time scolded herself for such thoughts. It was one of her many problematic traits, a feeling of ownership; from the moment someone treated her well and fell in the range of her friendship, her brain marked that person as Orisa's possession. And when that person left her even for a moment, she always felt all sorts of negative emotions, including sadness, anger, and betrayal. Orisa wanted to be their everything, the center of their universe. It was awful, she knew it and tried to fight, but this pattern was etched deep into her mind.
So Orisa had to force her thoughts into a positive direction, thinking how good it is for Onuki to find another friend or even someone more than a simple friend; she also pondered about the influence of this event over Onuki's daily life and her character.
She was going through mental warfare when a knock on the door startled her. Orisa looked outside and saw Youko Satou, her teacher standing there with her usual calm expression.
"Hello, Orisa. I heard that you are leaving today, is that correct?"
"Greetings, Miss Satou. In a few hours, yes. I planned to visit you before our departure, but it is really nice to see you now. Please, come in."
"I have another class in ten minutes, so forgive me for not sending you off properly," said Youko with a guilty expression.
"No-no, you don't have to worry. I'm sure you are busy with the new cadets and your tasks."
"That is true, but I also wanted to speak to you. Orisa, you are not the first student with an unfortunate starting condition, but you are the first one among my students who managed to overcome it this well and without much help either. It's impossible to ignore your willpower and determination."
She gave Orisa a small notepad that rested in her hands until now.
"I gave it a thought about how to help you more. While you won't be able to use right away what I'm about to show you, I believe it is within your abilities to adapt and adjust. Now, stand up and cast any spell you'd like."
With a puzzled expression, Orisa stood up and went to the other side of the room. Youko stayed at the entrance, so there were a few meters between them.
The moment Orisa's barrier appeared, Youko shot a small white projectile that hit the wall and made it glow with the same white color. Half a second later, her wall dissolved in the air without a trace.
"Cast something else, please," Youko asked.
"Major Takeover!" - "Major Dispel!"
The shield around her wrist began to burn, and only Youko's Dispel helped Orisa avoid serious injuries. After quickly healing Orisa's hand, Youko apologized and began her explanation:
"This is my specialization, a counter-spell. There are quite a few technique and methods in this field; you can simply break another spell; you can reverse its effects to make a debuff on your enemy or even transform a fire into a healing spell on yourself. All of them rely heavily on Magic, but I'm confident in your ability to adapt them. In this notepad, you'll find my compressed thoughts, instructions, and descriptions on how to train them or about their nature and implementations."
She looked at her wristwatch and abruptly stood up.
"I have to go now, apologies for the rushed explanation."
"Thank you so much, Miss Satou. You are a great teacher and a very nice person!" Orisa quickly hugged a flustered woman and smiled brightly.
Orisa's backpack and crafting case were both packed, her bed linen and other small things returned, and she was ready to leave. On her way from the dorm, Orisa met Onuki; she couldn't say that the girl was shining, but Onuki was clearly in a good mood. They agreed to meet by the gate, and Orisa headed that way since it was less than half an hour until their departure. Everyone except Onuki and Dippo was already there.
They chatted merrily for some time, and then a panting Onuki appeared on the horizon. She stopped close to Nana and started whispering something that made them both chuckle wickedly. It became evident for everyone that something bloomed between two girls, and this time Orisa was happy for them from the bottom of her heart.
Dippo arrived soon and urged them to get into the carriage. Orisa swiftly grabbed Twin Lightning Sisters to say her farewell:
"Three things, girls. First, thank you for saving us at that time. I will never forget it. Second, I'm so glad that we met. And lastly, I hope we'll meet again!" she hugged astonished sisters and jumped into the cart.
Three hours later they boarded the train. Onuki and Clemen seated themselves alone on the nearby sits while the other members of their travel group occupied one spot with four seats and a table.
"How long until our destination?" Kanai asked out of boredom and a spark of curiosity. Usually, it was Orisa's role to ask trivia questions, but sometimes he substituted her in that regard.
"Four hours on the train and a little bit later on," answered Dippo lazily. Unlike his usual self, he was unenthusiastic right now for some reason.
The moment their train departed, a familiar immaterial sensation passed through their bodies.
"By the way, why the Beasts don’t attack trains?" Orisa joined the conversation.
"They do, of course. It's uncommon since the train is too fast but not entirely impossible."
"You don't like trains? Are you perhaps getting sick from the shaking?" Orisa wondered about Dippo's mood.
"No, my dear missy smarty pants, I merely hate doing nothing. Wasted time, you know?"
"Aha! Don't worry, captain, we'll definitely use your time wisely." Orisa grinned, looking at Dippo eagerly. He shuddered under the realization that nothing could save him from four hours of interrogation. Even Iten chuckled after looking at him.
"So, how does a rifle work?"
"Mana engineering. You channel Mana which then goes through a series of Seals to shoot out. Can be used both with and without additional projectiles," answered Dippo absently while staring outside.
"Why are they so expensive?"
"Many Seals are required to achieve a good result. Constant Mana usage also adds strain, so you need a sturdy and well-crafted base for the weapon which costs a lot." Dippo was silent for a moment, then turned to Orisa and asked with a suddenly appeared lively expression. "My turn, little captain. Why do you dig into the Waves?"
While both Kanai and Iten turned pale, Orisa replied after a momentary thought:
"Why wouldn't I?"
"What do you mean?" Dippo stared at her with a blank expression, blinking his eyes in confusion.
"I came to a new world where some strange shit is going on. How little people here know about it is borderline insane. Isn't it obvious to start learning about the phenomenon I'm going to encounter almost daily?"
Drugan Dippo kept blinking. He certainly didn't expect such reply.
"There are places where Beasts gather for no apparent reason, right?" continued Orisa her barrage. "Do we know of all these places?"
"Nobody would swear on their mother's pants that we know about all of them. However, as far as I can tell, we most probably do. There are five of them; one not far from our headquarters, that's why it was founded there in the first place. Another is the capital city, Mitras. The remaining three you can find scattered across the continent."
"What do we know about the Cataclysm?"
"Read history books."
"What world are you from?"
"For how long have you been leading the Hounds?"
"What do you know about hunter Nowanzi?"
Dippo turned to Orisa and smacked her on the forehead while his left eye was twitching slightly:
"Go play with your boys. I need to plan things for now," with that, he stood up and left the cab.
"Gosh, you broke our captain," said Kanai jokingly.
"I'm afraid of becoming the target of your questioning spree one day," added Iten.
"Screw you all. I'm doing it for science, of course. If that's how it is, I'm going to practice now."
Orisa took out a notepad Rita gave her and started making various Seals. Her plan was first to memorize the creation process of at least a few of them then start making spells that could use the Seals.
"Do you think I should learn them as well?" asked Kanai after some time.
"Not for now, at least. The Seals use a lot of Mana, and that's one of your weak spots. Also, I think you have other things you can learn first."
"Speaking of which, show me your exercise for Mana pool, great teacher Orisazuka," Kanai was clearly in a good mood. Orisa groaned but put away the notepad and took the crystal. When she was about to start her explanation, Onuki landed on a now vacant seat:
"I heard you are doing something useful for once. Show me as well."
"Is this a country-wide insult Orisa contest that I missed somehow?" she grumbled and pouted.
"I'm interested as well," Iten added.
Orisa glanced over a sleeping Clemen and proceeded with a sigh. She ended up showing them all of her training methods, including Mana control, Mana layers, concentration, and so on. Since there were not enough materials, Kanai took the crystal, and Onuki grabbed two bottles of Mana-infused water. Like diligent pupils, they immediately jumped into training, which made Orisa a little proud of herself.
When Dippo returned an hour later, he caught an entire group doing something useful. In the case of Clemen, it was sleeping, but other members were indeed practicing. He chuckled and sat by Clemen's side.
They left the train when it was already dark outside. Dippo marched straight out of the station, and the squad followed him like a row of ducklings.
"How are we going to get to the headquarters?" Iten voiced everyone's question.
"Oh, my dear, you'll see very soon," Dippo now was in a good mood for some reason.
They turned twice to the right, and on a small square saw a parked monstrosity. Orisa couldn't call it a car; it was a long, six-wheeled reinforced buggy with eight seats inside. It looked like the transport was made for an extreme safari since it had no roof or windows but many sturdy-looking metal pipes to shield the passengers.
With his back leaning on the car, there stood a grumpy teenager. He was a little taller than Orisa, clothed in dark-brown leather jeans, grey jacket reinforced with metal plating, and a white shirt underneath. The most peculiar part was his hair; the right side was red with the left side being light-blue. His entire look radiated absolute unhappiness.
"Shou, dear, I'm glad to see you!" waved him a brightly smiling Dippo.
"Tch." The boy turned and got into the car with his face even sourer.
"My-my, stingy as usual," the captain shook his head while still smiling.
Another person deftly jumped out of the car. The girl landed on the ground and everything around her shook slightly. If compared to the grumpy boy, she was a few centimeters taller, which in place made Orisa half a head smaller. The girl wore extremely small and revealing light-gray shorts, and the same revealing short-gray skintight top, which made her legs and stomach free to observe. And there was enough to feast an eye. Her legs were thick but not fat, and the same applied to the abdomen; she left the impression of a bodybuilder who hid her muscles with a thin layer of fat. The last part of her magnificent build was a huge chest; for a girl of her height, a D-sized bust looked great, especially when barely covered and perfectly seen through the skintight shirt.
"You are finally back, cappy!" she skipped to their group, and her midnight-blue long hair swung behind. The girl hugged Dippo, easily lifting him from the ground.
"Now-now, Marina," Dippo ruffled her short bangs and quickly pecked her forehead, "I'm glad to see my sunshine, too."
As if she instantly lost interest, the girl dropped Dippo and rushed to Orisa.
"Te-he-he, you must be the super cool sis of whom the cappy was talking! Yahho!" she grabbed Orisa's both hands and started shaking them in a violent greeting. Not giving her time to reply, she swiftly moved to Onuki, then Iten, Kanai, and Clemen.
After finishing her one-sided greeting, the girl dashed back to the car and took the driver's seat. With a sigh, Dippo turned to the squad and said:
"These are your two new members, Shou vas Todo and Marina Kanami. Now, get inside, it's late already, gosh."
As the squad members loaded their luggage and took the seats, without any additional sound, the car began to move. With her newly acquired Seal, Orisa felt Mana move inside the car's engine and across its carcass. She was almost drooling over the thing, expecting to study its every nook and cranny.
"But you said they were expensive," Orisa asked Dippo with a slightly offended tone.
"Oh, they are. But it's not like we can't afford one for an entire platoon, you know? In case of emergency and whatnot."
Upon saying that, Dippo tapped Shou on the shoulder and whispered something. The boy grumbled in response and handed the captain a small purple crystal which Dippo immediately gave Orisa.
"Know how to use it?"
"Yes, should I light it up?" asked Orisa. As Dippo nodded, she channeled her Mana into the Lantern. It started emitting a bright purple glow.
"Why do we need a Lantern?" inquired Iten with a slightly worried voice.
"Gosh, do you need to ask? The Wave was a few hours ago, dummy. We don't want any fully powered Beasts to ram into the Deju."
"The Deju?" asked Kanai with a furrowed brow? Instead of a reply, Dippo slapped the car's metal carcass a few times. "Oh, I see, that Deju..."
"By the way, sir, what are the effects of the Lantern? I mean, it makes the Beasts weaker alright, but what it does exactly? Makes them slower, easier to hit or reduces their strength?" Since her first fight with real Beasts, Orisa was curious about the Lantern, its effects, and internal mechanics.
"Meh, it all depends on the pests. Generally, the first and foremost thing it does is it reduces their resistance to attacks. The other effects are weaker and correspond to the type of the Beast; agile cats go slower while stronger wolfs hit weaker, and so on."
The car's lights illuminated a path ahead as they rode through the night. The road was rather bumpy, but they soon got used to the constant shaking. Marina skillfully steered the wheel, so their speed was considerable, even by Orisa's old world's standards.
Half an hour later, Orisa tapped on Dippo' shoulder and asked:
"How long are we supposed to ride?"
"Impatient, are we? Don't complain. We are half-way through now, I-"
Dippo wasn't able to finish his phrase since something smashed into the car's side, sending Deju roll over the ground.